Puffed rice, boiled potatoes cut into tiny pieces, diced tomatoes and onions, a lot of fiery chillies, a concoction of masalas, lime juice, peanuts, a splash of mustard oil, salt, and then garnished with coconut, coriander and ever-green bhujia &ndash the ingredients that make up what Bengalis call jhal muri. Jhal in Bengali essentially translates to hot. Don&rsquot get me wrong, it has nothing to do with the weather. It refers to the heat from chilli or the concoction of masalas or both together that lends the popular snack its name.
In Calcutta, eating jhal muri is a way of life. In the evenings over a cup of tea, during an &lsquoadda&rsquo session, after a shopping or study session&hellipjhal muri is eaten anytime, anywhere. It&rsquos one of those versatile snacks thats enjoyed by all age groups. Some like it spicy, some forgo the spice altogether. Take my mother for instance. Not only would the person making it have to put freshly cut chillies, but also chilli powder and tamarind sauce in addition to the lime juice to give the snack a more jhal and tok (sour) balance. My sister on the other hand falls in the category that eliminates the jhal in the muri altogether.
I recall my favourite jhal muri seller back home. Every late afternoon, come rain or sunshine, he would set up shop opposite our place, at the corner of the road. By 5pm, a crowd would gather. Students, children with pocket money, daily wage labourers, teenagers and grandparents, office-goers way back home everyone would wait patiently for their evening snack. It&rsquos healthy (of sorts), filling and reasonably priced &ndash the three things one wants in between proper meals. Ashok da would always have a smile on his face as he made the magic concoction, catering to individual tastes, likes and dislikes. Over the years I saw him age but he never lost his magic ability to make the most delicious jhal muri one could ever want. Friends would come from other parts of the city just to taste the deliciousness
When I moved to Delhi some years ago, getting jhal muri was problematic. A snack so easily available back home, I&rsquod have to specially go to Chittaranjan Park to get a taste or I&rsquod have to make it at home. Making it at home is not an issue but the taste is not the same. The spicy masala mixture which greatly benefits the snack is unusually hard to master. Sometimes I just stick to a basic concoction of cumin, coriander, amchur and rock salt when the jhal muri craving takes over my system. It&rsquos never as good as Ashok da&rsquos but well, it&rsquos a reminder of home. Don&rsquot tell my mother but sometimes, instead of eating jhal muri as a snack, I think of it as a proper meal. After all, it&rsquos so delicious that it&rsquos my television show binge-watching companion. Popcorn who It&rsquos jhal muri all the way