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Muri Blues November 27, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
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There is a connection between young love and Calcutta’s jhalmuri

 

FROM THE DARKNESS OF KOLKATA’S LAKE GARDENS come the sounds of lovers holding hands.

Bet you’ve never heard the sound of lovers holding hands before, but I have. It’s not the usual slurps and slobs and chwoops and fevered whisperings, but more a steady chomp-chomp-chomp. Occasionally you might hear an intense burp.

It is the sound of two people deeply in love eating Calcutta’s jhalmuri together. No other city serves up this amazing snack based on puffed rice, or muri. The jhal refers to the fiery trail it blazes as it enters your system. Calcuttans buy their jhalmuri from numerous itinerant vendors who emerge towards twilight, with wicker baskets full of muri hanging from their waists. Arrayed around the basket like bullets in a carabinier’s magazine are old tins of ingredients such as rock salt, onions, green chillies and so on. If you took a closer look, you would find at hand a large Dalda tin as well, defaced and blackened, almost tired, in which he will combine the ingredients; and the small wooden baton with which he will give the mixture a twirl before serving it in paper cones rolled from old copies of Ananda Bazar Patrika.

Bengalis will swear that there is something almost magical about the old tin which imparts a fire-tinged magic to the jhalmuri and explains why home-made version can never match what lovers munch at Lake Gardens.

In the lane that runs by The Statesman building in Chowringhee, a gloomy hole-in-the-wall dispenses jhalmuri and nothing else. We used to despatch the office boy on late-work evenings to pick up jhalmuri. Putting aside crowquill and Rotring, we would shovel fistfuls of the stuff into our mouths, cursing at the fieriness of it and wiping the tears from our eyes. Work would be impossible later anyway, so we’d retire to some nearby beer bar and discuss the future of communism in Bengal.

Because it is based on puffed rice, you might mistakenly conclude that jhalmuri is probably a cousin of Bombay’s bhelpuri, but the truth couldn’t be further. If puffed rice is the gene pool, then jhalmuri is the warrior and bhelpuri the poet. The biggest mistake you could make would be to try and adapt jhalmuri to local taste, for that would not be murder, it would be assassination.

I spoke to several people, some of them Bengali, others with Bengal in their blood, to piece together the recipe for jhalmuri. Everyone remembered different ingredients, and I conclude that jhalmuri’s recipe itself must be variable. Accordingly, the recipe I give below lists the basic ingredients, and separately, a couple of add-ons.

[Do note, won’t you, that I could have insisted that you click on the Bloggers Choice Awards website link on top of this page and forced you to vote for this blog if you really wanted the recipe, but I didn’t, having too much character and integrity.] 

INGREDIENTS

Basic

250 gms puffed rice (muri)

1 or 2 onions, finely chopped

2 or 3 spicy green chillies, sliced into fine ringlets

Half a cup of peanuts

1/4 coconut, sliced into slivers

50 gms dried peas (chana)

Boiled potato sliced into flakes

1/2 cucumber finely chopped

Rock salt

1-2 tsps freshly pressed mustard oil

Half a lemon

 

Add-ons

Raw mango cut into little slivers

Red chilly powder

 

My only caution to anyone experimenting with other add-ons is to remember that a fine line divides jhalmuri from other puffed rice preparations. On no account should you try to sweeten it, using tamarind water and the like, for that would bring it too close to the Maharashtrian counterpart. Similarly, do not add any ground spices such as aamchoor (dried mango powder) or garam masala — you might get interesting tastes but none of them will be the real thing. 

Also, do note the casually used phrase ‘freshly pressed mustard oil’. Not only is this darker and more aromatic than the refined and packaged version, but it gives teeth to the jhalmuri plus it is what Calcutta’s muriwallas use. Whatever you do, do not, repeat, do not substitute mustard oil with any other oil except at your own peril.

You’re ready now. Bung the ingredients into an old magic tin and give it a good twirl with a wooden spoon. Squeeze some lime juice over it. Walk into a cosy dark spot with someone you love deeply, and start eating jhalmuri, occasionally holding hands or burping.

Comments»

1. Lakshmi - November 28, 2007

LOl on that burping and hand holding sound. Enjoyed the jhalmuri recipe.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Lakshmi —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

2. Priya - January 24, 2008

I love reading your blogs on food !!

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Priya —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

3. vimmi - January 27, 2008

loved the recipe but more so the story which went with the recipe.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Vimmi —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

4. Priti Kohli (nee Bhargava) - February 19, 2008

Hello CY:
I just came across your blog recently and have so enjoyed reading them, especially the ones with Calcutta (I still have a hard time calling it Calcutta!) references. Our paths crossed briefly in Kolkata many years (nay, decades!) ago when I was a student at Loreto College (1973-76)b and you judged many of the debates in which I participated there and elsewhere in the city. I also followed your column in The Statesman. I’m so glad I found your blog – please keep writing! I now live in the US and am a serious foodie/home cook among other things.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Priti—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

5. Sushma - May 18, 2008

Hi CY,

I was going through your blogs, I mus agree with the rest that your blog is the most wittiest and interesting blog I have read till now.
When I was going through your Jalmuri recipe it reminded me of a similar dish made in Mangalore called the churmuri.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Sushma —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

6. Anjana - November 23, 2008

Such eloquent and loving sentiments can only be appreciated by bongs worldwide, people who crave and reminisces about the corner muriwalla. The stand magically appears in the afternoon end to welcome the evening cool breeze only to be savored by those who dare put the fiery concoction in their mouths. To be lapped up by the parched tongue, and relished by every taste bud and sweat gland of the bong soul.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Anjana —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi


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