This all-time favourite snack is essentially puffed rice mixed with peanuts, fresh chopped onions, tomatoes and chiles, drizzled with mustard oil. This is an omnipresent snack available almost anywhere in Kolkata. If taking a train ride to Kolkata, you can find hawkers selling jhaal muri on the trains and stations en route to Kolkata.
‘Chops’ are deep-fried treats either stuffed with chopped veggies like carrots and peas, or with egg or minced chicken. The Telebhaja, which literally means ‘fried in oil’, are an amazingly lip-smacking and soulful group of food items. There are made by coating the key ingredient with a besan batter and deep-frying it. The main ingredient can be a brinjal (making a beguni), onions or potatoes.
The phuchka is a larger version of the golgappa, as North Indians call it. It is lighter, bigger, and crispier than its rest-of-India variant. The filling is mostly potato, unlike those found elsewhere.
Radha Bollobhi, Luchi with Alu Dum
This is a breakfast favourite of the locals, and stalls end up selling all their wares even before the end of breakfast time. It is a dal-stuffed puri served with either chana dal or dum aloo.
Luchi is a variation of puri, made with refined white flour or maida. A lunch plate of four luchis accompanied with dum aloo can be purchased from road-side hawkers at Rs 20!
The shingara is a Bengali version of the well-known samosa. They are either baked or fried and mostly come with a potato/peas/cauliflower stuffing. The non-vegetarian version can include a stuffing of minced meat. Shingara and tea is one of the most popular evening snacks in Bengali homes.
Ghugni is an extremely flavourful dish made of boiled white peas, mixed with chopped onion, chiles, tomatoes, coriander, coconut, and tamarind juice. It can be had with luchi, radha ballabhi, or simply on its own.
Well-known as ‘Kathi rolls’, Bengalis love to call them only ‘Rolls’. They come in variations of paneer, egg, chicken, or mutton. The egg roll is layered with a omelette, and the same can be ordered for a paneer roll or chicken roll, making them a paneer egg roll or a chicken egg roll, respectively.
Kolkata Chinese stalls serve such huge servings of chowmein that two people can easily share them for a meal, at Rs 30-35 a plate. Bengalis love to eat a combination of chowmein with chili chicken, so most Chinese stalls sell both together. The chowmein generally comes with chicken and egg, but vegetarian options are also available.
The best place to try Chinese food in Kolkata would definitely be Tangra, Kolkata’s Chinese district, but the chowmein served across Kolkata’s street stalls are no bit less tasty.
Momos have recently proliferated into India’s metropolitan cities through mall setups or small street vendors, but the momos of Kolkata have been selling for a really long time and have a definite Tibetan charm to them. They have always been an all-time favourite and growing in demand with numerous stalls coming across all over the city.
Momos are served in both vegetarian and chicken variations, and come either steamed or fried. The spicy sauce accompaniment works wonders for the steamy delight.
Bengalis are extremely proud and protective of their biryani. The Kolkata biryani came into being when exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow had to move to Bengal, and brought the Awadhi biryani with him. With reduced riches, and yet an urge to keep traditions alive, the Awadhi biryani underwent changes with addition of readily available and cheaper potatoes, to replace some amount of meat. And thus the Kolkata biryani was born. The addition of potatoes can only be seen in Kolkata biryani.
This stuffed unleavened deep-fried flatbread is another example of the Mughal influence on Bengali cuisine. The word paratha might confuse someone to believe it with its popular namesake. The Mughal influence brings in a culinary twist to it, and makes it the treat that Bengalis love to gorge on.
For food connoisseurs, a deviled egg is generally a light snack of just a boiled egg with the the yolk spiced and buttered up. The version of deviled eggs found on Kolkata streets are the deep-fried version of it. The boiled egg is coated with a thick layer of mashed potatoes, then covered with breadcrumbs and fried deep golden brown. It makes for a lip-smacking snack or meal, depending on what time of the day one prefers to have it.
The fish finger, or cutlet, are a European influence on Bengali food. Cutlet comes from the French word côtelette. The cutlets can be made of minced fish, chicken, or mutton, and are deep-fried in crispy batter. These are a popular snack or starter item in Bengali parties as well.
The mishti doi is a quintessential favourite, other than the rosogollas. It is a sweet-tasting heavy yoghurt, and serves as the typical dessert. In certain parts of Kolkata, it is also known as Cheeni pata doi. The typical way of selling the yoghurt is in a clay cup with a wooden ice-cream stick to scoop the yoghurt with. Bengali households purchase it in larger volumes in slightly larger clay pots and store it to enjoy the dessert with the entire family.
A list of Kolkata food items is not complete without mentioning the long list of sweets. Though most have heard of the quintessential rosogolla, sandesh and cham chams, there are some other unique sweets that a food lover should definitely try. Nalen gur Sandesh is a variety of the Bengali Sandesh that is available only during winters due to one of its key ingredients, which is a form of jaggery. Pantua look similar to Gujab Jamun but are made of cottage cheese, deep fried in ghee, and dipped in sugar syrup. Then there’s your Chandrapuli, Pitha, Langcha, and what not. Just visiting one of Kolkata’s sweet shops will open a person’s eyes to the numerous delights the city has to offer.
P.S. Don’t forget that when traveling to Kolkata, completely stop counting calories and give in to the sinful delights of the city!
By Purba Mazumdar
Growing up in India, her travel enthusiast parents fueled Purba’s love for discovering new destinations and cultures. Now she and her husband team up to keep their life-long exploration dreams alive.
She has traveled to 14 countries across 5 continents. She and her husband share their travel stories at:
http://fourblissfulfeet.com | www.facebook.com/fourblissfulfeet | www.twitter.com/4blissfulfeet