When I was a kid, I used to live in South Kolkata. The Rabindrasarovar lake was just a block away from our apartment building. A phuchkawala would come every afternoon around 4pm and set up his wicker stand across the street from the lake. He carried on his head, a huge wicker basket covered with a red cloth. He would set the basket on top of the stand. Under the red cloth of this basket were the secret ingredients that made the phuchkas and churmurs absolutely addictive.
Most Bengalis argue that they can never make the above dishes taste as mouth-watering as the phuchkawalas do. There is a common joke that this is entirely due to the vendor’s special “hands” and everything that comes with it.
The phuchkawala, used to, successfully, lure the school children, returning home and the people who used to come to stroll around the lake, in the evening. People would crowd around the stand in small groups. The dark skinned tall man only showed his white teeth in approval. Conversations were minimal. Showing the number of phuchkas was good enough for him. He would make bowls out of dry “shaal” leaves with a toothpick-like thin piece of stick to hold the shape. This would be distributed to all the customers. He would then start mixing stuff in his dented aluminium deep-dish. First the boiled potatoes and then the boiled chickpeas were hand mashed into a smoother dough like consistency. His hands would then run swiftly picking various masalas from the small containers hidden below the red cloth as if to stealthily add the final touch to floor his customers. Then the thin crisp balls, “phuchkas”, would be popped by the thumb of his left hand. A small portion of the mixture will be stuffed in it. Finally it would be dunked in the huge earthen pot of tamarind water and delivered to the expectant group in perfect order. I found the hardest part was to keep up with his rate of supplying. Even before I had finished relishing the one in my mouth , he was done with his round and had come back to me. I felt pressured not to miss my share and it became an exercise in gobbling…
I, personally, preferred the slight variation of phuchka , the less known churmur, which I could relish slowly all the way home without the fear of losing some of the phuchkas to faster gobbling friends. Of course I have to admit that it had lot less tamarind water than its cousin. But we make compromises in life and I opted for the long-lasting one! Basically it was the magical mixture plus the crisp round phuchkas crumbled into it and some tamarind water enough to make it moist and entirely irresistable.. You don’t believe me ? Just try it 😉