Street food in India, is not for them eeuu's and euck'ies. If 'safe' = spotless utensils, bug-free environment, paper napkins and Bisleri water, it is best to avoid street food altogether.

Street food in India, is more-oft-than-not... fresh, fresh, fresh. This is because of the daily turnover at the shacks/stalls. Also because, the regular clientele consists of more-or-less the same locals, day in and out - one cannot afford to lose a single man, woman or child to a bug. Street food hawkers are daily wage earners.

The stuff that could give the uninitiated tum tum a tug with the bug are the spices and green chillies.Then again - it wouldn't be street food without 'em… would it now? 

It tantalises them senses, titillates them tastebuds, replenishes the soul and nourishes the being - without burning a hole in the pocket. It cuts across classism, casteism, communalism, and all other 'ism's'.  Uufff - what a great way to be! 

Enough cannot be written or be passionate about - the street food of Kolkata… this is my version.

Read: Tips on Eating Street Food Safely in India

The Puchka

Evening. The salivation begins. Nothing, but nothing can satiate that hunger. It's gotta be just Phuchka. Them senses crave for the juices caused by the explosion of the sour, pungent, crunch and mash.

This aint a polite dish. It's a kickass orgy of the tastebuds. 

 Puchkas By vandy


That's Vandy getting ready for his gulps and gasps!

By 4pm, the Phuchkawallahs are where they are everyday, whether it be in the neighbourhood, the traffic light crossing or be it in the maidan/park. He is difficult to miss. His wares come in this huge wicker basket which is full of golden balls held aloft on a wicker stand.

Do's & Dont's

Refuse steel bowls or plates. Ask for the sal leaf bowl. The smell of the leaf adds to the flavours that are to follow.

No conversation - once the serving begins, please do not even utter a single word. Respect. Gasps of adulation are allowed in-between mouthfuls.

Try to eat Phuchka in a group, instead of, alone. The Phuchka's are served super fast, one after another. Just gobbling down one Phuchka after another, defeats the purpose. It's sacriligious. The senses and tastebuds must be given time to tango.

If you are on your own, or there's just the 2 of you - ask the vendor to go slow. He understands the need to savour.

Eat with the leaf bowl well away from your body. You don't want tamarind juice dripping all over your chest. Bend a bit. Pay homage. Bring the Phuchka to your extended mouth - not up to your mouth, if yougetmydrift.

Either drink or throw away the tamarind water in the bowl before the next Puchka is served. This does not get the new Phuchka soggy. A soggy Phuchka will break. Oh go on, drink the water - you're in it already. Go the whole hog.

Ask the Phuchkawallah for small sized Phuckha's, if you are unable to put the whole thing into your mouth. That is the only way to do it - putting the entire Puchka into your mouth in one go. No nibbling. No tiny sized bites. This aint no cucumber sandwich.

At the end of it all - wait for the 'phao' [the on-the-house treat]. This has the same stuffing, without the tamarind water, but with a squeeze of lime and a tad more of all the masala sprinkle. The last mouthful is… dry.

Then smile! Gosh! that was good!

Besides Phuchka - there're at least 2 other yum yum's the vendor sells - which are oft not spoken about. Either or both are usually had after the round/s of Phuchka.

Churmur: this consists of the puris (them round fried hollow balls) crushed. In that crush is added the tamarind paste (not water), chilli powder, black salt and the cumin powder and tossed. Best way to have it is with your fingers. Heyy - it's finger lickin good!

Alu Kabli: this consists of sliced boiled potatoes - tossed with the same seasoning as above. Best way to have this is… you'll either be served this with toothpicks, and/or a piece of the sal leaf twig. Avoid them wooden ice-cream spoons. If the vendor don't have toothpicks, ask him to take a 'twig' out from the sal leaf. Most I know, use fingers - how else can one lick the bowl?

The alu kabli below is not from a vendor - best i could do from browsing. apologies.

Phuchka is generally had on the go. Coming back from tutorials or a game of cricket. Returning home from work. Romancing couples. Whilst hanging out with friends. It's generally an unplanned, unscheduled un-anything one-stop-satiating-the-senses kinda activity. The only common agenda is… get them tastebuds a-hummin. Heck, we've had Phuchka's at 9pm - whatcanisay.

One could make a 3-course meal of it too. 14 Phuchka's. Then a plate of Alu Kabli. Onto Churmur. There, din din's done! Munch some jalebis from the sweetshop in the corner - and desert is through as well! Heck, if you're still feeling hungry - buy a couple of hot/warm shingaras (bengali samosa - and please, its NOTHING like a samosa) along with the couple of jalebis!

Puchka Ingredients

Boiled potatoes, sometimes boiled chickpeas and chopped cilantro - all mashed together. Seasoned with green chilly paste and/or pieces of green chilli, black salt, red chilli powder and some other roasted/ground cumin seeds - sometimes mixed with a wee wee bit of some sweet sauce, made from jaggery (I'm guessing).

Just a dollop of it is stuffed into this golden crispy hollow ball (puri) made from flour & semolina - the perfect mix. This puri is wafer thin and crispy. Thicker on one side. The thinner side is where the hole is punched with the thumb to put the stuffing in.

The puri is filled with the potato mash + tamarind water (which is sometimes mixed with either mint or coreander). And served. You have to put it in your mouth immediately, or else the Phuchka may crack. It's a crying shame to waste a Phuchka.

Read: Kati Rolls and Kolkata Street Food.

He's da man!

Most, if not all Phuchkawallah's leave their village and family behind, either in Bihar or UP, to eke out a living in the big city.They go home, perhaps, once or at the most twice a year. Another member of the family or village then takes over. Same place. Same time. But his Phuchkas are not quite the same. How could they be ? Me, being a regular, the 'master' Phuchkawallah knew exactly how much chilli and black salt to mix in the mash.

Of course it is all about customised service, which is why, one keeps returning to the same vendor. Regular Phuchka-devourers will seldom eat this snack from any and every vendor. We all have our favourite. The man who knows - what we like and how we like it

The picture is of the Phuchkawallah outside Basanti Devi College, Gariahat. He has served 3 generations in my family - with the same zest as he did when I had my first bite. He's a grandfather now, and continues to serve. It is amazing - no matter how many years pass, and I return to him after a prolonged absence - he enquires of me… "Ki didi, abhi bhi bahut jhaal ? " Still wanting it pungent?

That ladies and gentlemen, is called service - and I don't even tip him.

A Phuchka is very different to it's country cousins, the Golgappa and Pani Puri. The ingredients of the stuffing / seasoning / puri / water are different. I've had all three. Personally, am not remotely interested in either the Golgappa or the Pani Puri - apologies for not getting into them differences. A Phuchka is the Phuchka - it don't go by any other name.

The popular touristy Phuchkawallah's are at Victoria Memorial, Robindro Sorobor (the lakes in south Kolkata), Vivekananda Park, outside New Market (I'm sure), Deshopriyo Park - and one can fill in the places in North and Central Kolkata. Regulars have their own neighbourhood favourites.

Origins of the Puchka

They say the Puchka, the Golgappa of Delhi, Pani Puri of Mumbai, the Batashey of Punjab, yadayada - originated in the Magadha region, present day South Bihar, where it was known as Phoolki. 

The English meaning of golgappa is 'watery bread' or 'crisp sphere eaten'. The literal meaning suggests, that it may have originated from Varanasi.

This snack has found support by Hakims and Vaidhs (country doctors). According to them, if these are prepared properly then they can take care of stomach related disorders like acidity, indigestion etc.