Kolkata is crowded with pavement stalls of street food–nameless , squalid, obscure, food stalls made conspicuous only by the clank of metal spatulas and the smell of warm spices. The stalls typically have tarpaulin covers protecting the wooden benches that delineate the stalls. If you are a Calcuttan, you know not to care about the appearances of these stalls, because it’s the fritters that really matter. There’s always a group of people congregating under the tarpaulin covers, spiritedly analyzing the social, political, and economic affairs of the state while indulging in chops and fritters served either on paper plates or in packets made from newspapers. The pavement stalls bring all kinds of people together, for which they have become a daily mode of Bengali interaction. All my favorite chop-er-dokan (stalls selling fried fritters and chops) are located on College Street, next to the second hand book stores. The musty smell of old books mixed with the smell of fried dough and steaming bhar er cha (chai served in earthen cups) is familiar to all Bengalis. During our (with my friends in crime) Calcutta University days, we spent two good years of our lives eating at least one meal every day from these street vendors. They packed the fries in to-go-newspaper-bags that we took to the classrooms and devoured with cups of steaming tea that were brought to us by the “canteen-boy”. And then we absently lolled on the class benches DURING CLASS! Ah! Those were the days! On the last day before pujo vacation (panchami), we went pandal-hoppin all over Central and North Calcutta and ate all the telebhajas we could eat.
My favoite has always been a Calcutta style fish roll, which is an elongated fish chop, except that the stuffing is first wrapped in a delicate fish fillet (as in the image below) and then breaded and fried. It is basically fish wrapped in more fish and then deep fried. If you are a fish lover, you know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this fish roll. Recipe follows. 🙂
Calcutta Fish Roll recipe
Level: difficult Prep time: 45 mins Cook time: 30 mins Total time: 1 hr 15 mins Serves: 4
1 tbsp vegetable/canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 green chilies, chopped
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 can tuna in water
2 tbsp raisins
1 small potato, peeled and boiled (boil the potato while you are chopping the veggies to save time)
2 fillets of tilapia (bhetki if you are in India)
2 eggs, beaten with 2 tbsp water and seasoned with salt
2 cups bread crumbs, seasoned with salt and black pepper
Cut each fillet of fish into 4 pieces, and then pound each piece with a meat pounder/cast iron skillet/rolling pin to flatten into a very thin slice. Repeat for each piece and set them aside in the refrigerator while you work on the stuffing.
Heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and saute until translucent.
Add garlic, ginger and chilies and saute for 3-4 minutes.
Drain all excess liquid from the tuna can and add the fish to the pan.
Add all the powdered spices and salt, and cook for 4-5 more minutes.
Stir in the raisins and remove from heat.
When the tuna has cooled, add the boiled potato and mash, using your hands or a spatula, until it is thoroughly mixed.
Divide the stuffing into 8 equal portions. Using the palm of your hands roll them into cylindrical shapes (as shown in the image above).
Carefully wrap each tuna roll in a flattened fish fillet.
Dip the a roll in egg wash, and then roll it in bread crumbs. Repeat this step to double coat the roll so it doesn’t fall apart while frying.
When all the rolls are breaded, heat enough oil in a pan for deep frying. Fry no more than 2-3 rolls at a time. Fry them for 2 minutes on each side over medium to high heat. Don’t let the oil get too hot at any time.
Remove onto a plate lined with tissue to drain the excess oil.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with ketchup or lime slices.