My top rated Jhaal Muri in the city can be found in the mini-Bengal of Delhi – Chittaranjan Park. Every evening, you can find my friend Dashrath in C.R. Park whipping up the crunchy, mildly spicy but incredibly flavored puffed rice based dish, which is a staple snack for both the states of West Bengal and Bihar.
While C.R. Park has many markets, and many ‘Muri-wallahs’, but my favorite sits in Market no. 2 and makes the best fuss-free snacks with the best grin. Dashrath came to Delhi 32 years ago, when he was 15 years old and has been making Jhalmuri for 13 years. He started his foray into food by making mithai (savory sweets) at a large sweets shop named ‘Annapurna Sweets’. Originally from Krishnanagar, West Bengal, he now works part time as cook in a home, in Aravali apartments in Alaknanda, and then runs his street food business on the side. He buys all his ingredients from Govindpuri, does all the prep work at his house in C.R. Park, makes all the masalas himself – something his customers love - and then starts setting up at the market at 4pm.
Seeing him set up shop is exciting, as a bulky luggage laden bicycle slowly transforms into a DIY-esque, but elaborate arrangement on a table that serves not one but three kind of snacks. Apart from making the mustard oil seasoned delicacy that is Jhaalmuri, he also simultaneously serves Ghugni (a typical Bengali dish consisting of dried white peas spiced up and cooked as a gravy) and some sprouts chaat (sprouts salad) . It all may seem like a random combination, but it works somehow. In Kolkata, almost every street corner boasts of ghugni and jhaalmuri spots, both having that special ‘Moodi’ masala.
The most beautiful part of his set up is the bright blue multi-chambered circular vessel in which he stores all the various ingredients that go into the Jhaalmuri. The thrill of eating street food is not just confined to being able to get your hands on flavourful, freshly prepared food, but also being witness to the performativity of creating that food.
My anticipation and hunger steadily building up, I watch the Muri-wallah reach out to the almost-secret compartment where he stores the muri, and retrieve fistfuls of plan white muri, which he then swiftly combines with all the various other elements like masalas, chana chur and peanuts in a steel tin.
Like a true pro, he speedily chops up onions, boiled potatoes, green chillies, and adds a dash of lime juice, tamarind water, and a generous dose of mustard oil. He mixes it all up in the tin with energetic circular motions, as if rehearsing a dance move. And when the raw mustard oil aroma is really begins to hit you in the face, he tops up the mixture with some shards of dry coconut (yum!) for good measure.
Ofcourse, there is etiquette that dictates how Jhaalmuri ought to be consumed. It must be only served in cones or small bags created out of newspapers, and should ideally never be eaten with a spoon. You pour some of the puffed rice into your palm, and toss all of it into your mouth – without somehow dropping half of it all over your clothes. The technique definitely comes with practice, but the sheer tastiness of it kind of makes you forget what you might be looking like while stuffing face with that goodness!
All images by Savyasachi Anju Prabir. You can follow him on Instagram at @savvysachi.