Tadka is the most iconic dhaba dish of Kolkata with a history as elusive as its recipe. Kolkata dhaba style tadka, or “Torka” is basically the Punjabi ma ki dal or kaali dal recipe that has been heavily modified to cater to the famously discerning Bengali palate. Before the torka was invented in 1970s (most likely) a meal of just dal and roti was inconceivable in Bengal because Bengali food has a traditionally developed multi-course tradition that is comparable in structure to the modern service à la russe style of French cuisine in which food is served course-wise rather than all at once. Even a very humble Bengali meal requires a serving of mashed potatoes and subzi, if not fish, along with dal and rice. So, to appease a Bengali clientele, dhabas transformed the simple homestyle dal into a rich, robust and extremely flavorful side dish, often made with crispy egg bits and minced mutton, and Bengalis have been fascinated ever since. The Kolkata dhaba style tadka, which is not available in any other state in India, was a nod to the culinary legacy of Calcutta while sticking to the traditional, hearty flavors and techniques of Punjabi cuisine.
In addition to being the most delicious vegetarian/vegal dal ever, the biggest attraction of torka is that it is inexpensive and sustainable Indian food. However, its appeal is not limited to highway truck joints. It is indeed the egalitarian nature of this dish that has earned “torka ruti” the respect of one of the most loved meals in the city.
How to make Kolkata dhaba style dal tadka?
I have skipped eggs or meat in this recipe because I like my torka plain, but you can totally add keema or eggs if you like. I like to serve torka with pickled onions and achaar or Indian pickle. It goes great with naan, kulcha, tandoori or plain roti.
Kolkata Dhaba Style Tadka or Torka
- 3 tbsp oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 2 green chilies chopped
- 1 large tomato chopped
- 1/2 cup whole moong dal
- 1/2 cup whole urad dal
- 1/2 cup split gram dal
- 1/2 cup musoor dal
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tbsp garam masala powder
- salt to taste
- 1 tbsp kasoori methi crumbled
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp desi ghee
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro leaves
- Mix all the pulses/dal and soak them overnight. Next, boil them until well done. You can use a pressure cooker, but the cooking time will vary depending on the cooker. Drain the excess water and set the dal aside.
- Heat oil in (preferably) a cast iron skillet.
- Add onions and continue to cook until translucent, stirring occasionally.
- Add ginger, garlic and chilies and cook until fragrant.
- Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook until soft.
- Add the boiled lentils (no water).
- Sprinkle chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala powder and salt and continue to cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until oil separates.
- Sprinkle kasoori methi.
- Add butter, ghee, and chopped coriander leaves and remove from heat.
Other Dhaba style recipes that you will love:
- Dhaba style handi mutton
- Chicken tandoori
- Restaurant-style butter chicken
- Best chicken bharta recipe
- Masala chai
- Palak Paneer
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Prarthana S Dharampal
Looking to make this over the weekend. Rookie question: How do I boil the pulses? Can I mix them all together and boil in a covered pot, or do I need to use a pressure cooker? How long, or how many whistles?
Great question actually. I should actually update the blog with boiling instructions. What I like to do is soak all the pulses together overnight and then pressure cook for 1-2 whistles (depends on the pressure cooker).
Anindya Sundar Basu
Curious about the fact that how come 1970 is the year you are assuming that the Banglacised tarka has been invented? Great post and you should post more
The story is that the Tadka was first invented in 1930s and then popularized in 1970s by Ballygunj dhaba. That seems to be the general consensus. At least thats what my research indicates.
Recipe is in detail. Nothing missed . well described.
Very professional. Has to give more but option available only five star ⭐.
‘Tor’ka has very special memories for me. We usually got it from road side stalls that typically catered to lorry drivers and deen-mojurs. It usually meant mom wasn’t feeling like cooking that night. More importantly, torka night meant mom was going to eat along WITH us, instead of after us. Just the photos waft memories. Thanks for posting this!
Surely such a travesty shouldn’t occur, but if I am to put a “north Indian Dal-Makhni” spin on this (for the husband), what am I to do different?
Oh, I totally agree. Torka has played a huge role in keeping the volatile Bengali household together. 😉
To answer your question, dal makhni uses whole urad, rajma and gram dal, and lots and lots of dairy. Like yogurt, milk, cream everything. Dal makhni would also use turmeric powder and a lot less of the powdered spices. It’s actually a very different recipe. :/
Made it today and had it with a dash of lemon , ruti and salad. For the first time, home made tadka dal really tasted like dhaba-bought tadka. This is the bestest bengali “torka dal” I’ve been able to make till date.
OMG that’s so good to hear! <3
I’m interested in making your version of tadka, but I want to ask you a few things first. I’ve tried other recipes, and it just isn’t coming out right. Does the urad dal give it the dark color or some spice does? Can I use cumin seeds or do you recommend using the powder form? How do you get yours to turn out so soupy like? Cook the lentils longer? I’ve never made this with masoor dal, so maybe that helps it become more fluid, especially if you whisk it after cooking? I know these are a lot of questions, but I just hate to have another big dish that doesn’t turn out well. Would appreciate any help/secrets you do to make this such a nice dish. Thanks!
WholeUrad definitely does help with the color. if you are unsure, I would recommend making a small batch first, like 1/2 a cup of dal soaked. And the trick really is to use more spices than you would intuitively think necessary. Lots of tomatoes, ghee, and kasoori methi are key.