Whether it is a Kathi roll, a Macher chop (Fish Croquettes) or a Kobiraji cutlet, there are several iconic Bengali dishes to try out all year round. The festive season, however, is a foodie's paradise in West Bengal, with plenty of lip-smacking dishes to enjoy and savour. Most food enthusiasts agree that Bengali cuisine always has something to cater to all kinds of tastes and palates. Check out this list of five delicious streets foods and their recipes that can spice up your days as summer fades away and the winter months draw closer.
Flavours of Bengal
Bengali cuisine is as rich as distinct as the state itself. The staple food of Bengal is rice and fish. The fish which are commonly used in Bengali cuisine includes of Hilsa (Ilish), Carp (Rui), Dried fish (shootki), Indian butter fish (pabda), Clown knife fish (Chitol maach), Mango fish (Topsey), Sea Bass (Bhetki), Prawns / Shrimps (Golda chingri / kucho chingri), Catfish (Tangra / Magur), Perch (koi) and Katla.
Lightly fermented rice is also used as breakfast in rural and agrarian communities. All these dishes are majorly cooked in mustard oil. Flowers, like those of bokphul, pumpkin, banana, water reeds, tender drumsticks and peels of potato or pumpkin are also eaten and enjoyed.
Here is a list of my favourite street foods:
1. The Kathi roll - (Kebabs wrapped in 'eggy' parathas in cylindrical rolls)
The Kathi roll of Bengal is a famous Mughlai influenced dish. The dish includes mutton and chicken rolls, spiced with fresh lemon juice, finely chopped green chilies, red onions and salt, served like a roll in egg paratha. They are simply mouth-watering!
When you are hungry and find yourself on the streets of Kolkata, the best option for a quick bite are freshly made rolls. This popular street food was a staple at my home, though the kebabs my mom prepared were made in a pan instead of the traditional ‘tandoor’ which is usually commercially available.
I could happily have this for breakfast, lunch, dinner or evening snacks. Nizam’s restaurant in Kolkata invented the first rolls. It is colloquially known as ‘kathi-rolls’ as the kababs are skewered on a thin skewer or kathi. It has now become the source of joy in the ‘City of Joy’.
For the filling:
· 1 cup small cubes of boneless chicken
· 2 tablespoons yogurt
· 2 teaspoons tandoori masala (optional)
· 1 tablespoon oil
· 1 tablespoon sliced onion
· 2 tablespoons chopped green capsicum
· 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
· 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
· 1 tablespoon green chilli paste
· Salt to taste
Dough for parathas
· 1 cup refined flour
· 1 tablespoon oil + to cook
· Salt to taste 2 eggs
Ingredients to assemble:
· 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
· 1 tablespoon chopped cucumber
· 1 teaspoon chopped green chillies
· 1 teaspoon chaat masala
· 2 teaspoons lemon juice
· 4 teaspoons tomato ketchup
· 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves
• Take chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl, add yogurt and tandoori masala and mix well. Keep the bowl in the refrigerator to marinate for 30-60 minutes.
• Take flour in another large mixing bowl, add oil, salt and sufficient water and knead into a soft dough. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 15 minutes.
• To make the kababs heat oil in a pan Add onion, capsicum, garlic and ginger and sauté till fragrant. Add green chilli paste and mix well.
• Add marinated chicken and salt and mix well. Sauté till the chicken is done and the mixture becomes dry.
• Divide the dough into 4 equal portions.
• Dust each ball with a little dry flour and roll out into parathas.
• Heat a tawa and cook the parathas, one at a time, flipping till they are evenly done on both sides.
• Beat eggs with a little salt in a small bowl.
• Heat the tawa again and drizzle a little oil on it. Pour ¼ egg mixture on it and place a paratha on it.
• Drizzle a little oil all around and cook till the parathas turn a golden brown. Repeat this process with the remaining egg mixture and remaining parathas.
• Line each serving plate with a piece of aluminium foil. Place a paratha on it, put some chicken, onion, cucumber and green chillies on it. Sprinkle chaat masala, lemon juice, tomato ketchup and coriander leaves.
• Roll it with aluminum foil and serve.
· These rolls can also be made with mutton, vegetables or cottage cheese.
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2. Jhal Muri
This Bengali take on chaat, distinguishes itself with the use of mustard oil or paste. Jhalmuri is a street snack, made of puffed rice and an assortment of spices, vegetables, and bhujia.
This is an easy dish to make as all you need to do is dry roast the muri/puffed rice and add roasted peanuts, cucumber, green chillies, cilantro, tamarind paste, mustard oil, bhujia sev and boiled potato to the mix.
This pungent treat is a must have for tête-à-tête over tea!
3. Kobiraji Cutlet- (Cutlet, usually made of prawns)
“Kobiraji”, is a juicy cutlet, usually made of prawn on inside, with a coating of lacy fried egg on the outside.
‘Kobiraji’, the name seems to have emerged from the word “coverage”. When I was young, I remember going down to the Shyambazar-crossing for evening walks with my grandfather. After the walk we would regularly eat Prawn-Kobiraji from a food stall called Allen’s Kitchen. This tiny place has been serving the delicacy for more than 80 years.
Since I don’t have my beloved grandfather’s company any longer, nor do I live in Kolkata, I figured out a way to treat myself to this mouth-watering delicacy, in my own kitchen. Each time I prepare the ‘Kobiraji’, it gives me an opportunity to reminisce my childhood.
· 4 jumbo prawns, cleaned, deveined, head removed but tail intact
· 1 teaspoon ginger paste
· 1 teaspoon garlic paste
· 1 teaspoon green chilli paste
· Salt to taste
· 1 teaspoon lemon juice
· 5 eggs
· Oil to deep-fry
· 1 cup breadcrumbs
· 1 teaspoon cornflour
• Flatten the prawns with a meat mallet.
• Marinate the prawns with ginger paste, garlic paste, green chilli paste, salt and lemon juice for 1 hour. Flatten the prawns.
• Beat 2 eggs in a bowl. Beat the remaining 3 eggs well with a pinch of salt in another bowl.
• Dip the flattened, marinated prawns in 2 beaten eggs first and then coat them with breadcrumbs. Shape into proper cutlets leaving the tail intact. Deep-fry in hot-oil till golden. Drain on absorbent paper.
• To make the netlike cover on the cutlets, add cornflour to 3 beaten eggs and mix well till smooth.
• Dip fingers in this mixture, lift the hand and make quick vertical hand movements above the hot oil.
• A net-like structure will form on the oil. Carefully place the fried cutlet in the middle of the prepared egg-net.
• Cover the cutlet with the egg-net from all sides to envelope completely. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve hot.
• The cutlet should be fully covered by the egg net hence the name Kobiraji or ‘coverage’ cutlet.
4. Mughlai Parata (Flaky parathas stuffed with keema and egg)
This dish is surely not for the faint hearted! It’s a flaky, crispy paratha stuffed with mutton mince and eggs. Have one and it will keep your tummy full for the rest of the day! The Anadi- Cabin, a restaurant on Dharmatala streets in Kolkata, is one of the pioneers in making “mughlai-paratha”.
I fondly remember our family’s Sunday evening treats. My dad would take us to Anadi-Cabin restaurant on Dharmatala Street in Kolkata, one of the pioneers in making ‘Mughlai-paratha’. He believed one Sunday meal outside home would give our domestic help a much-desired rest! Needless to say, none of us complained and waited eagerly for Sundays to come.
· 1 cup refined flour
· 3 tablespoons oil
· Salt to taste
· 250 grams or 1 cup mutton mince, boiled
· ½ cup chopped onions
· 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
· 2 green chillies, finely chopped
· 2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
· 2 eggs
· Salt to taste
· Oil to shallow-fry
• Knead together flour, 1 tablespoon oil, salt with sufficient water to a smooth dough. Pour 2 tablespoons oil on the dough and keep aside to rest for at least 1 hour.
• Mix the mutton mince with onions, garlic, green chillies, coriander leaves and eggs. Add salt and mix again.
• Divide the dough into 4 parts and form balls. Roll out each ball into a very thin rectangle.
• Place 2 tablespoon of the mince mixture in the middle of each rectangle. Spread it evenly in the middle leaving a margin of 4 cms on all sides.
• Fold the uncovered dough from all 4 sides to cover the filled portion to form an envelope. This forms the paratha.
• Heat a skillet tawa, and cook the parathas, one at a time.
• Flip, drizzle a little oil on all 4 sides, flip again and drizzle some more oil on all 4 sides. Cook, turning sides, till it is evenly golden on both sides. Serve hot.
5. Macher Chop
Among the many influences that the British gave us in their 200-year of reign, the “chop” preparation is very popular. You go anywhere in the world, the word “chop” usually means “cut-of-a-meat”. However, in Bengal, it typically means fish, meat or vegetables, that are crumb-fried.
I can never forget that familiar whiff of appetising aroma that rose from the local roadside snack counters every evening around 5 pm. This not-so-subtle reminder that it was snack time brought on the hunger pangs without fail. In case you have never seen this dish, it is similar to cutlet preparations, which you may have had.
· 2-3 large pieces of fish, boiled and deboned
· 2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
· 1 tablespoon oil + to deep-fry
· 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
· 1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
· ½ teaspoon finely chopped green chilli
· 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
· 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
· 1 teaspoon cumin powder
· 1 teaspoon chopped cashew nuts or peanuts
· 1 teaspoon raisins
· 1 teaspoon chopped fresh coriander leaves
· 1 teaspoon sugar
· Salt to taste
· 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
· ⅓ cup refined flour + for dusting
· 1 cup breadcrumbs
· 1 egg, beaten
• Heat oil in a pan. Add onion and sauté till translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste, green chilli, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and cumin powder and mix well.
• Add boiled and deboned fish and mashed potatoes and mix everything well. Add cashew nuts and raisins and mix.
• Add coriander leaves and mix. Add sugar, salt and garam masala powder and mix well. Set aside to cool.
• Heat sufficient oil in a kadai. Spread flour and breadcrumbs in two different plates. Divide the mixture into equal portions and shape them into balls. Roll them in flour. Then dip them in beaten egg and finally coat them with breadcrumbs.
• Deep-fry these chops/cutlets in hot oil on medium heat till golden brown on all sides. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve hot.
• For vegetarians, instead of fish, use mocha (banana blossoms) to prepare mochar-chop (banana-blossom cutlets)
• Another non-vegetarian variation: Instead of fish, use mutton mince to make mangsher chop (mutton cutlets).
This list is barely a preface into the sheer delights Bengali cuisine has to offer but these must try are sure to get you hooked!
(The writer, Ananya Banerjee is a celebrity chef, TV host, food stylist, artist and cookbook author. Chef Ananya began her journey by publishing Planet Gastronomy which was a compendium of 100 global recipes from 60 different countries in 2014. Soon she was invited by India’s first HD Food Network – India Food Network to create compelling video content for their subscribers.)