A region where people unabashedly declare themselves as food lovers, Bengal
has its own distinct list of snacks that may be paired with a cup – or two – of tea.
Tea time in the afternoon remains a special time in the state even today. Despite the stress and strain of
urbanization, most Bengalis would be loathe to give up on the afternoon-evening cuppa. It is the time to
just loosen up a bit and take it easy after braving all the storms that may have blown over through the
day while attending to your professional and personal work. Usually, tea is accompanied by a local
biscuit or cake at the very least, but purists would obviously turn up their noses at this kind of
debasement of tea.
For them, tea is almost a ritualistic affair, complete with food items befitting hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail
party. Perhaps, this is stretching things a bit much but, suffice it to say that Bengal has its very own
teatime snacks that have stood the test of time.
In fact, for most Bengalis one of the sweetest versions of nostalgia is cosying up on a rainy afternoon
with a loved one or book, ample tea, and an unending supply of hot snacks.
Here are some of our favorites –
- Piyaji (Bengali style Onion Pakodas) – Onion flakes sliced a little roughly and dipped in yellow
gram flour (besan) batter seasoned with salt, a hint of turmeric and sugar, chopped green
chilies, and maybe a little rice flour to make the fritters crispier. The batter does the trick – it
should neither be watery nor too thick. The flakes are covered generously and deep-fried in hot
mustard oil. The edges are never smooth, so no 2 piyajis will ever look the same, though they
may be the same volume-wise. Served hot with muri (puffed rice) and of course, piping hot tea.
- Vegetable Chop – Quintessentially Bengali, it has come to be one of the most popular street
foods in the state. Every town and city will have its own famous veg chop vendor and stall.
Essentially a vegetable cutlet, it has a center of cooked minced vegetables like beetroots and
carrots with boiled mashed potato. A seasoning of spices like panch phoron and salt along with
fried peanuts and chopped green chillies is added to the vegetables and the chop is rolled into
its characteristic plump cylinder-like shape. Then, comes the coating of breadcrumbs all over
before it is slipped into a wok of hot oil to be deep fried.
- Kathi Rolls – More of a Kolkata delicacy, it is a not-to-be-missed food item if you’re here as a
visitor or tourist. It is a delicious wrap of shallow-fried flour holding within it a mouthwatering
filling of minced mutton, chicken, or an egg omelet, Indian style – or a combination of any 2
of them. Vegetarians need not despair as there are paneer and vegetable options as fillings for
them too. The cooked filling is seasoned perfectly with chilies and sauces. It is believed that
the kathi roll first originated with a mutton filling.
- Beguni – A crispy crunchy vegetarian snack created from fresh brinjals (eggplant) cut
lengthwise, dipped in gram flour (besan) batter, and deep fried just right. You cannot overdo it
and turn it burnt and ugly; nor can you leave the vegetable section within it undercooked. The
batter is enriched with rice flour, salt, and turmeric, and maybe a dash of sugar depending on
which part of Bengal you belong to. The fritters are not only quick and easy to prepare, but
they are also mouthwatering when paired with muri and tea.
- Shinghara – A cousin of the North Indian samosa, the shinghara holds its own and how! Similar
in contour but with a distinctly different filling of vegetables and spices, these deep-fried
patties are a teatime favorite. It is common to find seasonal vegetables like beetroot, carrots,
cauliflower, and peas find their way along with potatoes into the core of a shinghara. Cooking
the vegetables for the filling is downright simple and the seasoning of spices makes them
flavoursome. Deep fried, they tend to give off a distinct appetizing aroma. Cha and Shinghara
make an unbeatable combo.