The plan we three friends made on Saptami evening was simple. We would visit North Kolkata, see a couple of heritage pujos and pretty much gorge on the awesome streetfood on offer. The focus that day was not so much on visiting Pujo pandals, but more of a one-dimensional pursuit of food. And guess what, it turned out to an evening of pure gastronomic delight!
Two things here. If you want to taste Kolkata streetfood during the Pujos, North Kolkata is the place to be. And secondly, the actual fun is when you are with like-minded people, which was totally the case here.
We started with the king of all streetfoods, phuchkas, enjoying every morsel of the crisp flour balls, filled with spicy potato mixture and topped with tangy tamarind water. Standing with the saal leaf bowls in our hand, there is something very disciplined about having phuchkas, you pop yours in your mouth and savour the taste just for the time it takes for your turn to come again. In case you are still munching, the phuchka seller will even stop a bit before refilling your bowl. We did not have too many, and ordered a bowl of ghugni ( dried yellow peas cooked in spicy gravy) and all of us dug into it with wooden icecream sticks. Tomatoes, lemon juice and corriander leaves added the required zing.
Next, there was this uncle who asked us to taste his dahibhel ( a mixture of papdis and potatoes, dipped in curd and topped with chutneys) and we were not disappointed. The thing was perfectly made, the papdis, just soaked enough in the curd but still crunchy and the mixture deliciously pleasing to the taste buds.
We spent some time at a Pujo Pandal where the dhaak was playing in full swing and the aarti in progress, and it was a very soothing experience, but before long we were back on our food trail. Our next stop was at a stall selling chowmein and eggs rolls. We ordered chicken chowmein. The best part of such stalls is that you have plastic tables and chairs laid out on the pavement and you can sit and have your food. Chowmein, which refers to stir fried noodles is the name by which roadside noodles in Kolkata is known by. It is kind of oily, but with added onions and tomato ketchup it tastes great.
After devouring a plate of chowmein we stopped at a tea stall. There is something about the sweet milky tea, freshly boiled and served hot in earthen cups that those in cafes cannot match up to. You just need to remember to blow on it and get it to the right temperature, so that you do not scald your tongue!
We visited one more old Pujo where we spent some time soaking in the atomosphere. Have to admit that the weather was a tad grumpy and we were slightly tired from all the walking but there was this old and friendly man selling daab ( tender coconut). We asked for those that had the maximum water and the minimum malai and the sweet water was just what we needed to fulfil our isotonic requirements and refresh us.
There were stalls selling samosas, aloo tikkis ( patties), popcorn and bhelpuri, but what caught our eyes was a stall selling usual South Indian street food. One could hear the fizz as the dosa mixture was poured on the oil glazed tawa and then the crispy dosa rolled up and filled with curry to be served to the customers.
We tried out a plate of fried idli, which was essentially mashed fried idli to which potaoes and tomatoes were added , served with sambar and coconut chutney. We took a while to get used to the taste, but once we did, we loved every bite of it. Not getting too much into the details but we then had fun shooting balloons with airguns and my friend who has a good hand even extinguished a candle flame with one sure shot!
No trip to North Kolkata is complete without some sweets from its age-old sweet shops. We stopped at more than one shop and had sandesh, made of chena and also the more recent avatar of chocolate sandesh which has the best of both worlds. Having sweets from a shop is also an experience, you ask for one of this and two of that and again one of that yellow looking one and the shopkeeper patiently picks it up and puts it on your plate. We also packed sweets for home.
We were by now kind of full and deciding to call it a day, when we came across this shop selling sherbets and lassi. We ordered a plain lassi and a badaam lassi and it was a treat to watch how it was being made, the milk and the flavour and the crushed ice all slowly stirred in a steel saucepan with a stick before being served to us in large earthen cups.
We had just completed a walk through an amazing food street that sold awesome stuff at very pocket friendly prices. The sights, the sounds, the colours, the tastes and the very friendly people making and selling the tasty fare ensuring that our stomachs were full and our heart cosily content.