The popularity of chai or tea across India is huge. But every state comes up with their specialty in making and serving tea. For example, the famous cutting chai in Mumbai is served in small glasses consist of cardamom, ginger, lemongrass, and fennel. All across North India, you will get to see the prominence of Masala Chai in paper cups and when you visit Ladakh, you will experience Butter Tea. So, basically, the love for tea is the same all over the country – just the presentation is different.
One such tea-loving state is West Bengal where a cup of tea never ends with just a cup of tea – it elaborates into many food/snack items. Chai across the streets of Bengal are served in cute, rustic, and nostalgic “bhaad” or kulhaad. Although a sweet loving state, Bengalis prefer strong tea with less sugar. The common phrase which any Bengali would say while meeting an old friend or relative suddenly is that – “cholo kothao giye ektu chaa-taa khoa jaak”. It means let’s go somewhere and have some tea. But you see there is a “taa” said along with chaa and that refers to countless snack types which are prepared at home for guests, served at street stalls, and also available in restaurants.
In most part of India, the tea time snacks are generally light but you can say that “Chaa-Taa” or tea time snacks in Bengal are almost a meal. Read below about the delicious, crunchy, and fulfilling Bengali snacks that accompanies tea.
Chop & Muri:
Being a Bengali, I cannot imagine my world without chops. Our CM once said that no business is small even if it is running a tea and chop joint at the roadside. It’s sad that she then became the theme for various memes but nothing affected the fame of chops. Available in a variety of stuffing ranging from soyabean to mango, chicken or mutton to banana flowers – the simple potato chop is still the ones that are mostly in demand. Mostly, it is an evening snack served with Muri or puffed rice. I still remember during my childhood going to a chop shop with my Dadu and spent only 1 rupee for Alur chop or potato chop. Well, the price has gone up to 5 or more but the satisfaction is still the same.
Bengalis greet their guests or feast among themselves with a bowl of muri & chop.
Moshla Muri or Jhal Muri:
Moshla means spices, Jhal means spicy feeling, and muri mean puffed rice.
As a child, I was fascinated by the Jahlmuri or Moshla Muri wala in local trains. Going out of office somewhere in trains meant a thonga or paper cup of jhalmuri and that cost only Rs. 2. Made from puffed rice, mango pickle oil, onion, ginger, chanachur, jhuri bhaja, boiled potatoes, soaked chana, green chilies, and secret masala powder. They serve it with a slice of coconut on top. In my home, my chhoti dadi still prepares the best Jhal muri. Tea becomes dearer with such crunchy delicacies.
This triangular shaped delicacy is known as Samosa in North India. Singara is different from Samosa because the spices are different. The Bengali Singara is devoid of coriander seeds and is smaller in size. The stuffing of potatoes are generally not mashed like in Samosas and also the flour cover of singaras are thinner. Bengali Singaras are also not so spicy. These facts make the Bengali singaras lighter than the Northern counterparts. With a cup of tea, any average person can have 2 singaras. It is also accompanied by muri sometimes.
Flattened or beaten rice is called poha in Hindi and Chirey in Bengali. Bhaja means fried. Raw peanuts, pepper powder, salt, and grated coconut are taken fried with a minimal amount of ghee or clarified butter. It becomes a crispy dish to be enjoyed with a cup of tea. It is consumed mostly during the monsoon evenings.
I don’t know the Mughal invented this dish or not but the reality is it is too yummy. The Bengalis prefer to have it from the restaurants. It is served with a spicy Bengali dum alu. The normal flour is used and a big paratha is rolled. Right at the center, the egg mix with onion, red chili powder, salt, and green chilies is poured. It is then folded from four sides and deep-fried in hot oil.
Another immensely famous tea time snack is pakora or fritters made from chicken. Chicken is marinated in salt, pepper, and other spices and then boiled for some time so that it becomes ultra-soft. Then a batter is prepared with gram flour, salt, water, red chili powder, and eggs. The chicken pieces are dipped in them and then deep-fried. It is served with cucumber and onion slices with mustard sauce and tomato ketchup.
The rest of India calls it mixture which is mostly spicy. But the chanachur of Bengal is available in various tastes of tok-jhaal-mishti meaning sour, spicy, and sweet. When guests appear suddenly without any information, biscuits, and chanachur save grace with hot tea. It is also mixed in moshla muri.
Just the way you make mathri – Nimki also follows the same process. But these are smaller rhombus in shape and have only Kalonji or Nigella seeds as flavor. It is a tasty and healthy snack to be enjoyed with tea in the morning or evening.
Oh, how can you think the Bengalis can leave fish from their tea time snacks?
It is available in square, rectangular or even spherical shape and is consumed with mustard sauce and some salad. It is one of the most famous evening time snacks. All the major coffee houses of Bengal have this delicacy. Fish fillets, potato, ginger, and garlic paste. Green chili, cumin powder, coriander powder, onion, salt, and pepper are mashed really well. For that, the fish fillets are boiled in salt and turmeric water for some time and then fried with spices. This mixture is then given shape with palms and then dipped in egg white and then coated with breadcrumbs and finally fried.
Another famous item is Fish Kobiraji which is generally enjoyed in coffee shops only as it requires quite a patience and skill to prepare at home. When it is served on the plate you may feel that the fish is caught up in the web of the egg. The process of preparing the fish is the same as the fish cutlets but here the fish stuffing is fried with egg in a complicated manner.
Kathi Rolls were invented in Kolkata and became a famous item during the British rule only. The skewer roasted kebabs were rolled in parathas and served. Skewers are known as Kathi in Bengali and that’s how the name originated. Over time, many places have tried many types of Kathi Roll recipes. But most of the places make it like a paratha roll with veggies or pieces of chicken or mutton without making kebabs of them. The beauty of having them with tea in the company of friends is a special feeling.
The Bengalis are often known as “khaddo-rosik” or hardcore foodies and these tea-time snacks really proves that.