Fuchka or Phuchka is the Leonardo Da Vinci painting of our Bengali Food Paradise.
We eat it, we admire it, we even know the ingredients perfectly but still cannot decipher the real mystery behind that perfect outcome.
Grandmothers, of course, have their own interpretation of the mystery behind the perfect taste. From the ‘dirty hands’ of the Phuchka seller to the supposedly ‘nordomar jol’ (water from the sewage) that is being used for the Phuchka – the ‘theories’ are far and many!
Though it is beyond their explanation as to why a Phuchka Seller would take all the trouble of acquiring water from the sewage when tap water is much easier to fetch! And they, of course, have no answer as to how they would dirty their hands every time they would serve the perfect Phucka!
‘Alu’ All the Way – Potato Potpourri
It is perhaps the most beloved snack item all over India and has myriad names ranging from Pani Puri, Golgappe, Pani-Batasha, Gup-Chup .
Though the basic idea is the same, the core ingredients vary from region to region. We ain’t no frugal eaters! We are bongs! In spite of the new-age gym and sports culture, we need to have that tummy slightly above the mark to endorse us as the perfect Bengali.
So, it is but obvious that our Phuchka needs to be hearty and robust!
And to make it that perfect ‘Bangali Khabar’ (Bengali Food), we need to call the hero of every Bengali food item – the Alu or Potato.
So, while most of the other cousins of Phuchka date with Chana, Chole, Matar, etc, our Phuchkas romance with the hearty scoop of mashed Alu.
History of the Mystery
Like with every Indian food, the Phuchka or Pani Puri too has an origin that is bathed in mystery.
There is of-course a food-history of the Panipuri that has links with Indian mythology.
It is said that the birth of Panipuri took place in Magadha which was a south Bihar kingdom existent around the 4th century BC. It is said to be the birthplace of many traditional food items among which one was the beloved Panipuri.
There is yet another mythology laden version which connects Draupadi to this legendary food item.
This was during the time when the five Pandava brothers were in exile along with Draupadi. Asked to make a food item from whatever was available, Draupadi used the wheat dough and potatoes to prepare the Panipuri. Now whether the potato part of the legend was the inclusion of a Bengali idea, we would never know, but it remains a fact that Panipuri or Phuchka is a legendary food item!
The Making of the Magic
The best part about Fuchka or Phuchka is that it is made with the simplest of ingredients. All it requires is wheat flour and semolina for the casing, mashed potatoes with the perfect blend of spices for the filling and tangy tamarind water for the dip.
A perfect blend of this holy trinity results in what can be termed as the God of all Foods.
Perfection is in the blend.
The potato filling, for instance, is made to the right taste with the addition of chopped coriander leaves, a bit of tamarind juice and/or drops of lemon.
But the real magic dust is the special blend of spices called ‘Bhaja Moshla’ (roasted and ground spices) that is added to the mixture of potato. It adds the required zing to the potato blend. Most of the Phuchka-sellers have their own secret recipe of the ‘Bhaja Moshla’ and none can be replicated. In authentic Bengali Phuchka, spicy tamarind water dip is tangy and spicy and not no sweet is added to it.
There are some Phuchka sellers who do tweak the filling by adding chopped onions and boiled chana to it. If one needs it to be a bit spicier then bits of green chillies are chopped and added to it.
But can you guess the core ingredient that makes Phuchka – THE PHUCHKA?
The Phuchkawala of course!
He should ideally be a dhoti clad, Hindi speaking man who would be well conversant in Bengali by now but needs to be spoken to only in broken Hindi, interspersed with liberal doses of Bangla.
A perfect Phuchkawala is not the one who makes and serves the perfect Phuchka but the one who is generous enough to offer a ‘Fau’ – free fuchka beyond the usual count. The one who offers a helping of extra tamarind water as well is ‘God’s Own Child’ as per the assessment of his customers.
The Lesser Cousins
Phuchka is no phuchka without the existence of it’s cousins – Churmur and Alu Kabli.
While Churmur is the ‘mother of waste management’, Alu kabli is Bengali’s call-of-the-heart. The Phuchka casings which do not swell up the way it should are not discarded. Instead, they are kept aside together to be used as ‘Churmur’.
The potato filling here is made to blend with the broken and mashed bit of the fried, ‘damaged’ casings and with the addition of hearty masalad turned into a perfect snack item that every Bengali daughter carries home from the Phuchkawala to be shared with those ‘unfortunate souls back home’ who were sadly left out from savouring the divine manna called ‘Phuchka’.
For those who are supposedly ‘health conscious’ and try to avoid the deep fried Phuchkas, there is this Bengali genius of an offering called –‘Alu Kabli’ – where slices of the boiled potato are blended with the tangy tamarind water and the Phuchka masala.
The final outcome is a delightful blend of the potato pieces tossed in a perfect blend of spices and tangy sauce.
Times have changed and just like the way everything under the earth is undergoing fusion, there is no escape for the Fuchka either.
So, these days there are restaurants serving a host of Fuchka Fusion – experimenting with the stuffing, the water dip and what not!
So, we have Fuchka Shots where instead of Tamarind Water for the dip, a choice of other liquors are served. We are also served Fuchkas with fillings of fish, chicken, you-name-it-you-have-it ingredients. And then there is also the runner-up –Dahi Phuchka where a dollop of yoghurt infused with spices is served instead of the regular tamarind water dip!
When Phuchka or Fuchka is so much ingrained in the Bengali Culture, can it be left behind in the fashion scenario?
So, welcome to the fashion world of Fuchka!
And what could be a better way to honour Fuchka than being made to be the key subject of statement T-Shirts!
Phuchka being a key component in our Bong life – whether in school, college or office, what better way to represent the key stages of our lives than to draw a parallel with the one and only Fuchka!
So, there are interesting T-Shirts for Her, as well as T-Shirts for Him, depicting life from a Fuchka perspective! Nothing could be a better way to celebrate the humble but divine love called Fuchka in a fashionable way!
So, pair up these T-Shirts with quirky Fuchka messages with jeans or long skirts and make a Funky Fuchka Fashion Statement!
But perhaps the biggest reason to show some Fuchka love is the fact that with the least cost it is perhaps one among the cheapest foods which every young person can afford!
With a hearty filling of potatoes and a filled to the brim tamarind water – nothing can perhaps satiate the taste buds as well as the stomach as a humble Fuchka! As long as the middle-class Bengali would continue to count coins at the end of a month, the Fuchka would continue to remain the closest-to-heart street food of every Bengali!