Street food in Kolkata fits itself in neatly with the city’s revolutionary heritage. In a state once ruled by the babulok-the bureaucratic classes, a college student arriving home saying they had already eaten became a form of rebellion. And in response to this new generation seeking to carve it’s niche on the streets, to give them an excuse to loiter and dissent, the parallel Chinese and Bengali cuisines in the city developed a line of lip-smacking dishes iconic to the age. The availability and range goes beyond what this post can express, so I’ll stick to the dishes that are bound geographically with the city, that cannot be found anywhere else the world over.
Yes, technically this is available everywheree, but the Bengali version of the Western Pani Puri or the Northern Golguppa is unique in its perfection. Crisp, airy deep fried dough cases are cracked open, stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes, dipped into tetul-jol (tamarind water) before being dunked generously into the icy-cold, spicy-hot paani or water and eaten whole. It also comes in a dahi variety where the paani is replaced with thin sweetened yoghurt.
A boon for the meat lovers who thought they’d have to go green for this trip, the kathi roll is all about that filling. Chicken rolls, mutton rolls, egg rolls, even egg-mutton combination rolls, they’re enough for a full meal. A paratha (flat bread) is fried on both sides, sometimes with a veneer of beaten egg and stuffed with the meat, vegetable or kabab of your choice, dripped with an array of sauces and sprinkled with chaat masala and toppeded off with onions. The paratha is then rolled around the filling and held together with buttered paper or foil for your convenience.
Served by travelling salesmen in a paper bag, this is a good option for health enthusiasts. Puffed rice is mixed together with boiled potato chunks and diced onions among many other ingredients, flavoured with spicy and sweet chutneys and maybe some sev or crushed puchka puris.
Another one for the meat eaters, it’s inspired by the English version, but that’s where the similarity eds. Fish filets or ground up meat cutlets are spiced, coated in bread crumbs and fried to and almost-burnt level of crispiness. Served up with schezuan sauce and mint chutney, you’re never going to miss the original.
The ‘chop’ title is sometimes extended to these batter-fried vegetables, particularly the aloor (potato) version. anything from brinjal to beetroot goes into the batter first, then the hot hot oil and is finally plated up with puffed rice for a crunchy evening snack.
A winter favourite, ghugni is essentially a thick lentil soup made from the black matar daal. It’s served hot with a salad topping of chopped onions and coriander and is rumoured to be the best around Gariahat.
The settling of the Chinese in Calcutta has birthed many great cultural fusions, most famously the delicious Bengali strain of Chinese food. Chowmein is great value for the stutdent budget, served up in steaming piles. The noodles are distinctly Indian in flavour, full of assorted crunchy vegetables and heavy with oil. You can have it with any variety of meat under the sun or stick to just the vegetarian option.
Brought in from Tibet by the refugees, it’s a soft, moist dumpling stuffed with chicken, pork or vegetables. Alternatively you can have the fried version, crispy and hot. Both are served with a super-spicy gravy that’s absolutely delicious.