First, a mantra to protect this review from the Calcuttan eye, jaundiced with homesickness: yes, you are from India’s most wonderful city. No jokes; this Bombayite lived in a nondescript south Calcutta neighbourhood for four perfect months a decade ago and vividly remembers its dusty, storm-lanterned glamour. Here we learned that your phuchkas are better than any gol gappa or paani puri the rest of the country can offer, and that, astoundingly, they aren’t even the best street food in Calcutta.
It’s not easy to reprise such a romantic adventure, especially when the venue for our next date is Bandra’s Carter Road strip, where nothing, not even true love, has endured. For weeks, we stayed away from new restaurant Chaat Stories promising Kolkata street food, expecting that it would only renew a sense of loss.
However, dear probashi, a number of your own have lately been seen sneaking up to this establishment, a venture that brings together several of your hometown's street chefs under a tiny roof, to graze on the fruits of the much-missed mahanagar. “It’s exactly like back home,” one sensitive Bengali was heard to murmur(a).
We’ll Take It Tagore
To be honest, our mustachioed Baghajatin Bihari would never have stood for the soft-shell, wilted pooris in which Chaat Stories’ be-gloved and hair-netted phuchka-wallah serves up his fare. However, this is unmistakably modelled on the real thing: there’s a sting in the water and a kiss in the fluffy aloo filling that might just bring tears to your eyes. No hot, no sweet: inside this little broken globe, there’s only Bengal.
In a dusty storm-lanterned south Calcutta neighbourhood, we learned that your phuchkas are better than any gol gappa or paani puri the rest of the country can offer, and that, astoundingly, they aren’t even the best street food in Calcutta.
Chaat Stories is the brainchild of Anil Kumar Kanodia and Sapna Baid, entrepreneurs with roots in Kolkata who’ve come out west. “My dad couldn’t find the taste he was used to, so he decided to set up this shop with street food chefs from back home,” young Vivek Kanodia tells us. The briny air and scourged water of Union Park have probably put extra wrinkles on the brows of these stoic middle-aged wizards, toiling away in dignified silence in the humid interiors of this shop.
But the results are very interesting. Jhal muri - served, de rigeur, in a brown paper bag - is a mustardy slash on the tongue, virtually indistinguishable from something you might pop wandering down Chowringhee Road into Park Street. (“The muri has to be sourced from Calcutta,” Vivek says, because you don’t get this variety in Bombay.)
Ek Dacca Aur Do
Aloo mutter ghughni comes gingery, sluiced with tamarind and dashed with coriander. Calcutta folk used to eating it hot, curried with beef and mopped up with luchis, are allowed to turn up their noses at this safe vegetarian version; Bombayites are advised to be grateful for a puckerish alternative to the heated sweetness of ragda.
Even hopeless parochials, however, will falter at the obvious superiority of the best thing we eat at Chaat Stories: fresh, springy “Victoria” vadas, light, golden moong dal fritters served with cold garlic and mint chutney and so good they might well be little pieces of the full moon. Vivek tells us Victoria chaat is named for the Memorial across which vendors in Calcutta first served it.
However, a Bengali food historian we ask says these little golden bullets may have first been produced - turn away now, Bengalis - not outside Victoria Memorial but Victoria Terminus. “I have no idea how they get the dal that fluffy,” she says. “Centuries and centuries of Surati magic, I suppose.” Across the breadth of this subcontinent of marvels, the immigrant Marwari and the itinerant Gujarati put down their cudgels and shake hands, over a street cure for homesickness.
Getting there: Chaat Stories, 21-B, Carter Road, open 4 pm to midnight, a plate of phuchka costs Rs 80 (and comes with an extra ‘masala puri,’ Bombay-style).
Accessibility: Ground-level access to store entry, but counters are set close together, with no seating.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
Image credit: 20.dollar.chef / Instagram.
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