Reminiscences and recipes from the BongMom

A few yards away from my maternal grandmother's home in North Kolkata, right behind a small temple that was built upon faith and an old banyan tree, there was a narrow lane. This narrow lane was one of the many, many narrow lanes that crisscrossed that part of the city. Those days, cars and buses were few and they, for the most part, stuck to the main roads. Bicycles, rickshaws and mostly people on foot plied the narrow gallis. Even then, the by-lanes were a quiet, peaceful haven where you could chalk the time of the day by observing the thoroughfare.

Early morning, as the eastern sky turned pink, you could hear the trill of the bicycle bells of the doodhwallah, the thwack of the newspaper guy who brought news on his bicycle and the faint All India Radio signature tune of Vande Mataram from the houses along the lane as they stirred and awakened from deep slumber. A little later, the lane would resound with high pitched voices of kids in their school uniform, the tiny ones with sleep still in their eyes and their small fingers wrapped around their mother's, the older ones huddled with their friends, walking towards the bus stop. Almost around the same time as the school crowd would be the bazaar-goers – middle-aged men, sometimes women – purposefully striding towards the morning market to get the best catch for the day. This was when the lane got really busy, and you’d know that the small hand of clock was somewhere between 8 and 9 in the morning.

By the time the sun had risen further and the shadows stretched long and thin from one end of the lane to the other, office goers with their briefcase, three tiered tiffin carrier and a small box of paan, marched to the corner of the lane, where it met the main road, to wait for their crowded bus.

Soon after, with the sun high up in the sky, the lane would turn quiet and sleepy, interrupted only by sounds of a pressure cooker whistle or the hiss and sputter of mustard oil. Elderly men would sit out on the porch and maids with slim waists would bang doors as they rushed from one home to another.

Sometime around 5 in the evening, in this very ordinary lane, a small shop would pull up its shutters. The shop was nearer to the main road and closer to the temple – a very strategic location.

In this shop, there would be an old woman, sitting behind a huge black kadhai that rested on a unoon, a coal fire stove. Great amount of oil sizzled in this kadhai. The old woman swirled her bony wrists and poured dollops of chickpea and various other batters into the hot oil. The oil bubbled and sputtered angrily, magically turning the batter into golden balls, which she then took out with a slotted spoon, and served to her customers in paper cones made from day old newspaper. Her small store front would be so crowded with cries of "Chaar te Chingrir Chop", "Duto Beguni", "Dash ta Fuluri", that you had to stand sideways and push with your shoulder to get entry. By mid-evening, pools of yellow light gathered under the streetlamps and the lane was redolent with the heavenly smell of deep-fried food. This was "Buri'r telebhajar dokaan"(the old woman's fritter shop) from where, on rare evenings, my uncles got us beguni, aloor chop and fuluri.

My grandparents are no more and that house is now in shambles. It has been many years since my last trip to the “Bur’r telebhaja store” as a child. Since then, I have never had aloor’r chop that tasted so delicious. Sometimes food is not about the recipe, it is about the people and time you associate with it. In this case, with passage of time and in absence of those people, the taste lingers on in my memory and nothing can ever taste quite the same again.

The Bengali adda staple and special - Aloor Chop

Recipe for making Aloor Chop -

Ingredients -

Potatoes ~ 4 medium

Onion ~ 1 medium chopped fine(about 3/4th of the large ones found here in the US)

Garlic ~ 3 cloves minced

Ginger ~ 1 tbsp minced

Green Chili - 4-5 chopped fine(adjust to taste)

Chopped fresh Corriander leaves ~ 1-2 tbsp if desired

Roasted Cumin Powder or Bhaja Moshla ~ 2 tsp

Red Chili Powder ~ to taste

Chat Masala - 1/2 tsp

Pink Salt (Beet noon) -- to taste

Salt ~ to taste

Mustard Oil ~ a few drops(optional)

For Batter -

Besan/Chickpea Flour ~ 1 cup

Rice Flour ~ 1 tbsp

Baking Powder ~ 1/4 tsp

Salt ~ to taste

Water ~ 3/4 cup

For Frying -

Plenty of Vegetable Oil

How I made the Patties/Chops -

Boil the potatoes thoroughly in a pressure cooker or in a pot of boiling water .Once cooked, drain excess water, peel and let it cool for 30 mins.

Now mash them using your fingers or a masher.

Note: Drain the water well from the potatoes before mashing. The mashed potatoes should not have lumps so make share to mash well

Heat 2 tsp Oil in a Kadhai/Frying Pan. About 1-2 tsp should be fine.

Add the chopped garlic, minced Ginger, the green chillies and the onion.

Sauté till the onion wilts and is pinkish brown.

Add all of the masala to the mashed potatoes.

Add the Roasted Cumin powder or Bhaja Moshla, Red Chili Powder, Chat masala.

Add salt and mix the spices well with the potatoes. Add a few drops of Mustard Oil to the potatoes if you want. Taste and check for seasonings and adjust.

Make small balls of the mashed potatoes which is now spiced up with the masalas

Flatten them between your palm and place them on a lightly greased surface. They should be really flat and NOT thick like alu tikki.

Steps for batter - coating and frying -

Make a batter with the ingredients under Make Batter. Add the water gradually as you don’t want the batter to be runny. The batter should be tight as it has to form a coating on the potato patties.

Heat fresh oil in Kadhai/Frying Pan. The patties would be deep fried so add enough oil.

Dip the patties in the batter, so that the batter uniformly coats the patties. Gently release the dipped patties in the hot oil and hear the sizzle. Keep heat at medium-high. Fry till both sides are golden brown.

Remove with a spoon/chalni which has slots/holes so that the excess oil drains out

Drain excess oil by placing the fried patties on a kitchen towel.

Sprinkle some Chat Masala or kala namak/black Rock salt(beet noon) on the patties while serving.

The writer, Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta is Bong Mom, the nom de plume behind the very popular blog 'Bong Mom's Cookbook'. She has been entertaining her readers with food and stories for over ten years and is the go-to source for Bengali cooking on the web. An engineer by profession, she lives with her family in New Jersey, USA. Her latest novel, Those Delicious Letters, had been published by HarperCollins India, recently and is available wherever books are sold.

HarperCollins India publishes illustrious Indian authors such as Raghuram G. Rajan, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Khushwant Singh, Aravind Adiga, Anuja Chauhan, Ravi Subramanian, and Shubhangi Swarup, amongst many others. Apart from the Indian titles, HarperCollins India also distributes books by international bestselling authors such as Doris Lessing, Paulo Coelho, Agatha Christie, Jack Welch, Jack Higgins, Alistair Maclean, Isaac Asimov, Sidney Sheldon, Amitav Ghosh, Cecelia Ahern, A.J. Finn, and The Dalai Lama, besides the world-renowned Collins Cobuild and Collins Gem Dictionaries.