“Vegan food in Kolkata? You mean a vegan food walk and that too within one hour ? “wow, being a street food enthusiast, I’ve led multiple food walks, but this was something new and definitely challenging. I was asked by the French Consulate Kolkata to take out his excellency Mr. Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador French Embassy in India on a food walk. This blog post will be on that experience.
About Vegan food
Veganism is a philosophy, where no animal products are to be used and especially in our daily food consumption. And let me tell you, it’s not as simple as being a vegetarian. Being a vegan means, you can’t touch the dairy products, as they’re obtained from animals. Now, this makes it a tough walk for vegan food in Kolata. Here in India, by vegan food, we mostly understand milk, sweets, paneer, and other dairy products. But if even that is not there, where do I take the honorary guests? I was slightly confused. But then, that was the challenge. Also, Madame Virginie Corteval- the Consulate General of France in Calcutta and the celebrated vegan chef Sébastian Kardinal were on the tour and that made it slightly more interesting.
Identifying the spot
Vardaan market is the hub for vegetarian food in Kolkata. And I like this place for some very specific reasons. Kolkata street food has had few rockstars- Kathi Roll/ Momo etc. But then there are multiple other items that play a significant part in Kolkata’s street food culture. for example, you can’t really ignore phuchka or Soda Shikanji or Vasa Pav while discussing Kolkata street food. And Vardaan Market has got all of them. And even if I knock off the Kulfi (as it’s non-vegan food), still we have a good line up for the ambassador to taste. So, Vardaan market it was and we started the food walk.
First stop- Victoria Vada
Food in India starts with an appetizer and so did this food walk. We started off with the Victoria vada and kanji Vada. Now, it might seem strange to you that something Indian is named as Victoria Vada. There is Chauhan stall serving his Moong Dal Vada beside the Vardaan market. Upon ordering, vadas are made fresh and served with two types of chutneys- green mint coriander chutney and red garlic variety. At times, the vadas are dipped in the tangy, mustard flavored watery dip and Kanji Vadas are made. This is a pretty famous street snack in Rajasthan and Gujrat. Traditionally vadas are dipped for a day so that they absorb the Kanji and become soft and plump. The Victoria Vada is supposedly named after the Victoria Memorial and is also loved by the British PM Mr. James Cameron.
Ghoogni is next and Jhaal moori
Can we call Ghoogni a descendant of mixed dal- well, maybe, maybe not. but let me tell you that mixed dal is nothing new in India history. It had been served at the wedding of King Chandragupta Maurya at 303 BC and been loved since then. However, in modern times, a serving of hot ghoogni with chopped onion, coriander and chilly and served with a squeeze of lemon can make even a gloomy afternoon happy. And the Ambassador and Consulate general loved it to the core.
Jhaal moori and Bhel poori, on the other hand, was slightly tricky. I tried my level best to make them understand how thee humble paper container (thonga) changes its shape from jhaal moori to Bhelpoori and with just a twist of ingredients, humble moori shifts from spicy– tangy to sweet and sour. Also, asking them to hold the thonga properly and o eat from that, was quite interesting for me.
After all this food, it had to be some cool drinks and Soda Shikanji was there on my list. Some spicy mixes put in Cola and making it tangy is the usual trick. And they serve it in earthen glasses, making the whole process eco-friendly. And let me tell you, everybody loved it.
Next stop- phuchka
If its Kolkata street food, we phuchka can’t be skipped. It simply is the blue-eyed boy of Kolkata street food scene. Now, here, the primally challenge was to make the French lady and men understand how should one eat a phuchka. We are trained on it since our childhood. But, definitely, it’s not easy for someone to master the saal leaf plate with that watery potato stuffed roundel inside. And the phuchka gets soggier by the second, making it difficult to have. But I must say, for a first-timer, they did a pretty good job.
Chilla- the final spot
I was given a one-hour time slot and time was running out. So, we could visit just one more spot. And chilla was my final choice for the day. Chilla is the Indian version of savory pancake made with gram flour/ Besan. It’s a completely vegan food in Kolkata and has got its own fan following. Sometimes, diced onion is put in to give it a sweetish aftertaste. But most of the time, it’s the plain spicy chilla that rules.
Kolkata is known to be a city of multiple food cultures and even being an insider, it throws up challenges to us. Also, we tend to understand that the more we learn, the more we understand that so much more is there to check out there. This food walk was one of them. It was fun to share Indian or rather Kolkattan food culture with French dignitaries and to see the feedback. Somehow these bureaucrats are mostly taken to big hotels or clubs, wherein true food can be found only on streets. and I’ve learned something on my journey. And it’s that everybody loves good food, irrespective of his/ her social status. I would love to conduct more such food walks in the future and if you have some idea, please share in the comment below …
Bon Appetit !!!
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