Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5 Issue 26, Tuesday, June 29, 2010



SO why should it be any different for Kolkata street food. Walking down the memory lane, I vividly remember the late evening strolls along hawker free Deshapriyo Park with my parents. The air heady with the smell of “chingri cutlet” and mutton chop. Inviting oblongs of unidentifiable food objects with a neon red tail of shrimp sticking out. A ball of mashed potatoes with minced meat filling. Both crumb fried to a crispiness that survived the humid Kolkata evenings. To be served with a dash of mustard sauce. A small portion of slices of cucumbers, onions, carrot and beetroot provided the health angle.

Those were not for me.

Those were grown up food.

For me, there were orange lollies. From an ice cream cart unbelievably orange in colour with bold lettering shouting out “Magnolia”. We were taught to notice the spelling. Spurious “Mangolias” and “Mognolias” also crowded the market. Unsafe, we were told. It was either Magnolia or Kwality's for us.

On the day of annual school results, if I somehow ended up in the top three, a special treat - Choc Bar. A creation of God. A slab of frozen milk coated with a thin layer of chocolate, all impaled on a stick. Heaven was within reach.

As we grew up and shunned our parent's company for evening, the snacks changed as well. Now my friends preferred "phuchka". And the best, without a doubt, was the guy in front of Mehta Building on Southern Avenue (still there).

We were prepared to send his name for a Nobel Prize nomination. For a mere rupee, we would be gulping down ten crunchy globes full of potatoes and chickpeas. A quick drowning in tamarind water provided the perfect solution to smother those orbs in our mouths, savouring the spicy, tangy taste.

Salt and spices were according to taste, the first step of food customisation.

On the odd days when we had money or a resourceful friend, we would go for “Moglai Porota” at now extinct Southern Cabin. Our first interaction with knives and fork. After all, we were in a restaurant and proper decorum needed to be maintained. None of us knew how to use the utensils. We looked around and proceeded to pick up the stuff and bite right into it. A strangely weak potato curry accompanied the order. A weird counterpart to the soggy, eggy parathas.

Days changed yet again as we started going to High School. New friends, new set of realities, new places to go to. Suddenly, the streets were full of carts selling omelette and parathas wrapped together.

The Kolkata rolls were upon us. And soon enough, Bedouin at Gariahat became our favourite place for egg rolls. We had also heard of Nizam's and the legendary rolls that they churned out by the hundreds every day. One of my uncles took me to Eden Gardens to watch test cricket. On the way back, he stopped the car at Nizam's and bought me a Mutton roll.

I sold my soul to him that day. I never knew raw onion could taste so good when wrapped inside a paratha and had some morsels of meat for company. A dash of lime and we were good to go.

By that time, Chinatown in Kolkata was changing in nature. From being traditional cobblers and dentists, Chinese, or who remained of those people, turned to cooking. A faraway dirty place called Tangra opened up. Little holes in the walls, old ladies cooking large pots of soup, chicken running around the places before they became lunch.

Kolkata could not get enough of it. And sure enough, smart entrepreneurs started noodle carts, selling very basic noodles mixed with par boiled cabbage, shredded carrots, sliced onions. Protein came in options of egg or chicken. Some carts offered slightly smelly prawns as an option as well. And charged a premium for it too. Soon, roadside dhabas started offering their version of Chinese. Red sauce doused, deep-fried, they were the perfect thing for the thick Bengali palate.

Little later, we got exposed to another wave of new cuisine. Tibetans took to Kolkata and introduced the small white dumplings called momos. A plate of six large dumplings would cost next to nothing. Add a coke to that and what you have is the best middle class Bengali date menu.

Small room, plastic furniture, one slow moving fan, no hygiene to speak of. Nothing could deter Calcuttans. We took to momo like fish takes to rice.

Question is, why am I babbling away about all these things? Partly because the editor has sharply asked me to do a piece on Kolkata street food. But more importantly, I had a leisurely tea with a doughy chicken patties at a streetside stall, not too far away from Deshapriyo Park. As I chewed on the patties with a few chicken strings as filling, I could not but think back on those good old days and the good old food.

Sorry if I have bored you with this inane description of my culinary evolution.

THE prospects of a late-summer trip to Rajshahi were not bright, not in the least bit. First there was the frying pan of hell (read: the harsh northern climate); vying head-to-head for the coveted first spot was the traitorous power supply. But there were perks- mangoes, mangoes and mangoes!

Lip-smacking, juicy-to-the-bite "langras" and scrumptious "fazli" -- satisfying to the palate as well as the stomach!

Even with a medieval heritage that goes unrivalled, a folk culture that boasts time long traditions in the likes of "Gombhira", mangoes remain unparalleled, a bounty of nature to the simple people of the Borendro land.

Descending from the vehicle at the break of dawn, we were instantly greeted by the freshness of the air, stark contrast to our habitual grime. And even in those early hours we saw cartloads of mangoes being transported, the fragrance of the ripe fruits watering the taste buds.

In the evening, the scene at the fair ground was something quite extraordinary. Despite the ongoing Fifa World Cup, the tremendous response received shows how vibrant our culture still is. Youngsters in horse drawn carriages came to the venue in hundreds. A young boy barely past 13, banged the drums with vigour. It was a wonderful occasion in the laid back city.

Sponsored by Banglalink for the third year in a row, "Mango, Silk and Folk Festival 2010" was organised at the Rajshahi City Corporation Green Plaza from 18 June till 20 June 2010. "Amra Rajshahibashi", a regional organisation was behind arranging the festival.

Rajshahi region has a rich cultural history, which has made significant contributions to the folk heritage of not only the country but also the whole subcontinent.

Researchers of folklore have traced the traditions of "Gombhira" almost 1500 years back in time, and although it has underwent change in over one millennium, the appeal remains within the masses and has been widely used as a tool for propagating social issues across the country.

The vibrant "Gombhira" tradition of Rajshahi was aptly highlighted in the days of the festival.

Silk, another heritage piece of the region was central to the festival. Although demand far exceeds the present supply, Rajshahi silk is noted for its superior quality and makes significant contribution to the total national output.

And of course there were mangoes. If "Sushmita" reminds you only of a former beauty queen, think again.

Over 64 variants of mangoes were on display and the assortment came in a plethora of fancy names- Jamaibhog, Rupali guti, Kalibhog, Rat aam, Tikka, Golua, Guti, Shurjopuri, Kalubhog, Kolom baji, Kohitur, Kalua, Shundori, Batashi, Amrapali, Potol aam, Brindaboni and others.

For many hundreds of years mangoes have been distributed from the regions of Rajshahi throughout the country. Historians noted that during the Mughal reign, mangoes from the northern Bengal were carried on foot to vast distances, as far as Delhi. Unripe mangoes were picked from the groves, so that by the time they reached the regal dinner table, a journey that took many days, the mangoes would be perfect for consumption; ripe, juicy and sweet.

The festival is a success and credit goes to the organisers and sponsors, Banglalink. Speaking on the inaugural day, A H M Khairuzzaman Liton, Mayor, Rajshahi City reiterated the desire of the organisers to take this event on a national level. Abu Doma, CEO of Banglaink, said "Through patronisation of national culture and heritage, Banglalink has made its place within the hearts of the people." He also assured a wholehearted support in all future endeavours that would attempt to highlight the traditions of the country.

Even in its infancy, "Mango, Silk and Folk Festival" has been able to make its mark. It is only a matter of time that the festivity evolves to the national level. And brings the heritage of Rajshahi in the national limelight.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Anisur Rahman



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