Golgappa/ panipuri/ phuchka

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The Times of India, Dec 5, 2014

In the northern realm of the country, it is known as golgap pa, whereas the denizens of the western frontier call it pani puri.The Sultans of the medieval era called it paani ke batashe and the people in Bihar and Odisha call it gupchup. But puchka, as we call it here, can be regarded as a staple evening snack for the Kolkatans. A deep fried hollow sphere stuffed with a delicious mix of mashed potatoes and tamarind water is as much a treat to the eyes as they are to the mouth. It doesn't matter if you are a tourist or a resident in Kolkata, but your day in the city is not complete if you haven't been to the street stalls that offer a variety to the food aficionados. And when it comes to street food, phuchka is the indisputable leader. We embark on a quest from Russell Street to Victoria Memorial and from Vivekananda Park to Chakraberia, to seek the most unique phuchka stalls that are a taste apart.


Homemade spices and a distinct flavour distinguish the phuchkas that one gets to savour at the streetside kiosk owned by Krisnakant Sharma. Sharma, in his late twenties, inherited the legacy from his father. The aroma of methi, kasuri, dhaniya, ajwain, saunf and jeera invade the senses even before you dig into it. You cough up `20 for six phuchkas. The hard-hitting tangy sensation of the pickled water served along with the phuchka is the result of an amalgamation of pudina, lime and tamarind. "The phuchka here is costly but it tastier than what I get at Burrabazar. It is a delight to the taste buds," says homemaker Taniya Guha, who came down for a quick bite.


Dilipda's phuchkas are so famous that apparently he has been invited for a party hosted by LN Mittal in Chennai next week! Apart from normal puchkas (`20 for six), chur mur (`40) and ragada chat (`40), he has a lot more to offer. But his best item is dahi phuchka, garnished with a sweet chutney made from dates, mango pulp and pudina. The water that is had with the phuchka smacks of green mangoes and gondhoraj. "A decade ago, I used to get Marwari customers. But now, Bengalis have also Bengalis have also started crowding the stall," he says. Dilipda also makea mut ton, chicken and cocktail phuch kas on order. This apart, he is a stickler for hygiene. He installed a water purifier way back in 1999. And now, he insists that his custo mers use hand sa nitizers before they gulp those phuchkas.


Nankuram Gupta had set this shop 30 years ago after coming from Uttar Pradesh. Gupta is very possessive about his phuchkas and doesn't easily divulge the ingredients used in the aloo masala, but would rather let the customers take a guess. His is a kiss-and-tell, err, tasteand-tell affair. "Is it pudina?" "Is it methi?" "No! It must be hing". One gets to explore varied flavours in the item which Gupta puts in your plate. And he will chuckle at you, bemused as you keep get curious. He cheekily adds that the masalas are all made at home using recipes from UP. Pocket pinch? `20 for six pieces.


If you are a Jain and can't eat phuchkas with mashed potatoes, don't fret. Look for a phuchka stall near Triangular Park in Chakraberia. Upinder, who has been running the business for 40 years, uses mashed green bananas instead of the potatoes to cater to the large Jain community that resides there. It doesn't mean that people belonging to other communities don't flock to the stall. "I also make potato phuch kas. But I use separate ingredients for the item that I pre pare for the Jai ns," he says. Mine ral water, shredded chillies, boiled grams and mashed bananas are the main elements. Other than that, there is tamarind flavoured water with pudina leaves dipped in it."


Ram Gupta gets nostalgic as he recalls the time when he would sell 32 phuchkas for `1.With an animated gesture he tells you that the stall was set up during the Bangladesh Liberation War. He now sells four phuchkas for `10. "Whenever I get an off, I come to this place with my granddaughter. I have been his customer for many years. The price may have increased, but I don't have any complaints," says Manoj Kumar Mondal, a resident of Garia. What makes his phuchka stand out is the tamarind paste and powder, which he mixes in the mashed potatoes.The flavour explodes in your mouth and makes an impact with a sweetness that lingers in your mouth even after the phuchka has reached your stomach.


From a distance he just looks like a boy in his late teens, but there is more than what meets the eye. Bijay Prakash runs a 45-year-old phuchka stall, previously owned by his father.The price is set at `10 for five phuchkas. Aditi and Paromita, regular customers at his kiosk, say, "The size of the phuchka is larger than any other in the city.And it tastes heavenly." When asked if there is any competition from Bada Phuchkawalla, another popular stall in the same area, Prakash says, "He has his own customers and I have my own.The presence of other phuchkawallahs in the locality doesn't affect my sales."

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