Durga Puja in Kolkata is not just a religious festival. It is a deeply sensorial experience that sees the city reverberate to the rhythmic beatings of the dhak, mingled with the sound of conch shells and sounds of chants interspersed with the kanshor and a hundred different cacophonies.
The air is fragrant with the smell of blooms and flowers being offered to the ten-armed goddess and the sizzle of delectable being fired on roadside stalls or the sound of cutlery hitting cutlery as innumerable chaats find their way from the vendors’ hands to a hungry soul's mouth. Be it the sizzle of a Mughlai Paratha (fried flatbread with egg and minced meat stuffing), or the crunch of a freshly fried Alur Chop (potato croquette) or the smell of a freshly made Makha Muri (puffed rice mixed with spices and a host of other condiments), come Durga Pujo (or Dugga Pujo, if you are a Bong at heart) the streets of Kolkata get lined with innumerable food-stalls selling wares to be eaten while out pandal-hopping.
Durga Puja is perhaps the perfect time that the rich diversity in Kolkata's street food culture gets best exemplified as one dig into a plethora of quick edibles that have over the years made the city their home. The twinkling of larger-than-life marquees become even more crowded thanks to the innumerable dinky street food counters that dot the pavements leading up to the temporary temples housing the Goddess and her family for the five days of Durgotsav.
While Kolkata street food evolution can neatly be divided into the neighbourhood they are housed -- for example, scrumptious prawn cutlets from Allen in Sovabazaar, or dumplings from Tiretti or even the quintessential Hinger Kocuri from College Street, street fares that one should definitely not miss while pandal hopping includes:
Chowmein, Rolls, Chops and Cutlets: The roll has to be extra saucy -- the dripping down your fingers type. Flaky parathas that are filled with chunky pieces of chicken, mutton or paneer and are sometimes fried with a battered egg and layered with sliced onions, secret spices and dollops of ketchup, chilli sauce and wrapped in butter paper, rolls are a Durga Puja staple. Apart from that spicy noodles tossed with julienned veggies along with eggs and meat which is topped with tomato sauce and salads in some cases, roadside noodles have no competiton when it comes to Kolkata.
Chops and cutlets are however, more institutionalised. There are quaint old shops dotting neighbourhoods which shell out amazing croquettes, chops and cutlets that are filled with minced meat, fish, vegetables, banana flowers (mocha) or the humble potato. Perfectly paired with slices of onions and the tangy kasundi, they are a perfect foil to hunger pangs while on teh go during pandal hopping.
Phuchka and Jhal-muri: You can take a Bengali out of Bengal, but you cannot take their craving for a proper Kolkata phuchka out of them. Delhiites may have their pani puri and Mumbai may have its gol gappe, but nothing beats a good old, large, crisp and potato and tamarind water filled Kolkata puchka. every marquee has at least three to four puchkawallas lined up selling their wares, and every seller usually sees a queue.
Jhaal-muri is another staple. Puffed rice mixed in various spices along with potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes and onions; it is mixed in raw mustard oil, giving it an amazing kick. It is perfect for those adda session that one can have while pandal hopping.
The Sweets: Be it Sondesh (and there are varieties of them), or the mishti doi and the rasgulla, no Durga Puja celebrations can be complete without Mishti. Every neighbourhood boasts of its special mishtir dokan (sweet shop) and one can gorge on them at economic prices outside most pandals they visit.
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