27 | Jan | 12

Richard Johnson

The City That Never Sleeps

Sanjay Kumar is the chef behind sanjayskitchen.co.uk. He’s now settled in Cornwall, working at the Amethyst in Truro, but he recently went home to Kolkata “to breathe in the cosmic city air”. It was his first trip home in eight years. “I just wanted to soak in the smells and sights of the road side food stalls that roar into life as dusk falls….”

In Kolkata, the city that never sleeps, a lot of the economy still exists on barter. When I approached the enterprising street food seller, and convinced him to share his secret recipe for a tummy tickling Egg Roll, I had to hand over the sports section of my newspaper (along with an explanation of why footballers are paid stupid amounts of money back in England) in exchange. Not a bad deal. As I munched happily through every bite of the egg roll, remembering the past, I was unaware of ketchup trickling down my chin. But what did I care? I was having the best meal of my life.

Growing up on limited resources – as a student in Kolkata – I had an excellent platform to savour the joys of street food. Economic necessity! But the thought of it still makes my mouth water. Variety is definitely the spice of Kolkata street food. Taste Jhal Muri (an ingenious spiced mixture of salt and sugar, crisp and soft, fresh and cooked in a mouthful). Simple as it may seem, this one dish is made of puffed rice, a drizzle of pungent mustard oil, along with chilli, tomatoes, potatoes, coconut, fresh coriander and monkey nuts. Savoured out of a paper bag called a thonga (not to be confused with anything lacy) this is a taste that thrives in its simplicity.

Everyone who is Indian at heart grew up on the joy of chai – or tea. Thanks to the Raj, and it’s effort to break the Chinese monopoly, tea gardens were planted in Darjeeling and the foot hills of South India and the drink became affordable. Chai was the drink of the masses. And there’s nothing better for washing down street food. Street food can adapt to its location. From the unpaved cobbled steps of a village by the sea, to an upmarket mall in the heart of Kolkata’s financial district, you’re bound to find punters enjoying a plate of Chola Tikki (chickpeas and potato cakes) and Pao Bhajis with fervour and zeal. Globalization and the meteoric rise of the middle classes won’t effect the market for street food in India. It has a tradition, strongly rooted in its simplicity.

Kolkata Egg (Kathi) Roll:
Feeds the imagination of one hungry taste adventurer. Ready in minutes.

One Flour Tortilla
One Egg
One Red Onion Sliced Thinly
Half A Cucumber Sliced Thinly
One Green Chilli Chopped Finely
A Drizzle Of Vegetable Oil
Ketchup And Chilli Sauce
One Lime

Drizzle some vegetable oil on a pre heated non stick pan. Place the flour tortilla in it, and fry for 10 seconds on both sides. Crack open the egg, on top of the tortilla, and scramble it. Cook the egg, for a few minutes, and flip over the tortilla, in order to cook
the egg firmly. Remove the tortilla from the pan, and place on a dinner plate. Sprinkle the raw salad of sliced red onions, chopped chillies and cucumber on one edge of the tortilla. Top with a proper squirt of ketchup, chilli sauce and a few drops of lime juice. Roll the tortilla, from one end to another in the shape of a cigar. Wrap three quarters of the egg roll in a newspaper, and serve hot, with a chilled bottle of Thums Up [Indian cola]! Taste the thunder of life!