Train journeys, Kolkata and the continued magic of mustard

Twenty five years ago and counting, on a train to Calcutta, as it was then. I had just joined my first job and was off to a training program. 
There were four of us women in a cubicle in the 2nd a/c compartment and the rest of the bogie was empty as a party of MLAs was supposed to board the train halfway down the line somewhere. Well, they didn’t and so the four of us traveled in solitary splendor (each with a loo to herself!) in a compartment meant for some 50-odd people all the way from Madras to Calcutta! By the time we reached Vizag, we were firm friends – all of us different ages and at different stages in life. By the time we drew into Howrah station, we had exchanged life stories (being only about 22, i didn’t have much of a life story yet!!), recipes and i’d got tips on childbirth (i wasn’t even planning on a baby just yet!) and handling moms-in-law and whatnot! 
As we drew into Cal, a vendor got on to the train with a headload of murmura and other stuff. The senior-most lady turned to me to ask if I’d have jhaal muri.I must have looked blank because she immediately broke into warm and voluble Bengali saying i couldn’t come to Cal and not sample this world-famous-in-Calcutta street food! I tried feebly to protest saying i had a training program to go to and Calcutta belly was not really on my agenda but she swept all my misgivings away with magnificent indifference and a flood of Bengali and instructed the muri-wallah to make his very best jhaal muri because this poor girl had had a deprived childhood and look at her – she is so skinny (I was all of 95 pounds!) because the poor thing has been brought up in the South where they have only ‘dhosas’ and idlis and sambar, bichare! Poor things!
The muri-wallah, not to be left out of all this Bengali hospitality, whipped and mixed up things with a flourish which would have done a Yehudi Menuhin proud and presented a newspaper screw full of something that seemed quite unremarkable as though he was presenting it to the queen. Keeping my Southern flag flying high, i accepted with a matching twirl of the wrist and dipped my fingers in. Scrunch, munch, mustard oil hit, lemony tickle, peanut-ty crackle and jeera hint later, i was hooked – for life! Have made this many times more than i care to remember after that… one of those anytime snacks of which no one can eat just one!
Here goes:
Murmura – 2 packets – about 5 or 6 cups
2 boiled potatoes sliced into small pieces
Sev or chanachur – 1 cupful
2 large onions – finely chopped
2 green chilies – finely chopped
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Chili powder – 1/2 tsp
Amchoor powder – 1/2 tsp
Chaat masala – 1/4 tsp
Juice of 1 large lemon
Roasted peanuts (optional) – 3 tbsp
Finely chopped raw mango (optional) – 2 tbsp
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Mix everything together except the lemon juice and mustard oil in a large pan with a flourish – imagine you’re conducting the London Philharmonic. Once they’re well mixed, add the mustard oil and mix again . Squeeze lemon juice over the top and give it a final swirl. Serve in screws of paper to save on washing up! Ta-dang!

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