Most of us have had Kachauri some time or the other. In the North India, Rajkachauri is quite famous, Haldiram projects it as their signature dish so are Bikanerwala and scores of Aggarwal Sweet shops. Unfortunately, Wikipedia talks only of this North Indian variety completely ignoring the ones that’s being served in the Eastern India for centuries.
Kachori (pronounced [kətʃɔːɽiː) is a spicy snack, originating from the Indian subcontinent, and common in places with Indian diaspora and other South Asian diaspora. Alternative names for the snack include, kachodi katchuri and fried dumpling.
Kachoris were popular in old Indore, even before samosas gained popularity after the partition of India. Banarasidas, the author of biographical Ardhakathanaka, has mentioned buying Kachoris in Indore in 1613. For seven months, he bought a ser of Kachoris daily, and owed twenty rupees.
Kachori is supposed to have originated in Uttar Pradesh .In these states it is usually a round flattened ball made of fine flour filled with a stuffing of baked mixture of yellow moong dal or Urad Dal (crushed and washed horse beans), besan (crushed and washed gram flour), black pepper, red chili powder, salt and other spices.
Additionally in Rajasthani cuisine, the Pyaaj Kachori (onion kachori) is very famous. Another form of Kachori in Jodhpur is the Mawa Kachori invented by Late Rawat mal ji Deora. It is a sweet dish dipped in sugar syrup.
In Gujarat, it is usually a round ball made of flour and dough filled with a stuffing of yellow moong dal, black pepper, red chili powder, and ginger paste.
In Delhi it is often served as chaat. Delhi also has another kind of kachori, called ‘Khasta kachori’ or ‘Raj Kachori’.
A variant includes sweet upwas (fast) kachori, made with potato, coconut, and sugar. Kachoris are often served with a chutney made from tamarind, mint, or coriander. Another type is fried and stuffed with pulses (urad and moong especially) and is generally found in the Kutch region of Gujarat. A kachori stuffed with peas is a delicacy in Bengal.
Some of the variants in North India include a version similar to the Rajasthani one, accompanied by a curry made of potatoes and varied spices or even chana (chole) similar to one served in chhole bhature..
So, I decided to explore the Kachauri or rather Kochuri of Kolkata and in this venture a friend sent the following piece (in Bengali) making my effort quite simple. Since there was no mention of the author, I have taken the liberty of translating it to the best of my knowledge of both languages trying to keep the nuances of the original intact.
KOCHURI KAHON: the story of Kolkata Kochuri
In the sunny morning, we get down as the Tram car slowly takes the turn towards Bidhan Sarani from Shyam Bajar crossing. This is the point we start our exploration for authentic Korchorika (the original Bengali name of Kochuri). The best of the best Bengali Kochuri is found in the North Kolkata…
Horidash Modok (Haridas Modak) – There are two shops next to each other that proudly displays the same signboard but one should go to the slightly older looking shop for the authentic taste of Kochuri. Once you enter the shop, the outside noise from the ever busy Shyam Bajar 5-point crossing ceases completely leaving the atmosphere a serene calm. Nothing fancy inside, actually very Spartan furniture of wooden benches with aged wooden table; the paint on the wall has started revolting at places by exposing the cement layers. The walls adorn the pictures of the great men of the yore with garland of Rajanigandha flower. In an instant one can visualize the old Calcutta when Dhoti-clad young Bhodrolok would throng the place and not feel out-of-place, the sky of Kolkata was few shade more blue than it is today, the fresh breeze from Ganga would clean up the pollution of fewer than few motor vehicles and industries. It is as if the time stands still inside the shop. As you sit down, a dhoti-banyan clad guy comes to you with a basket full of Kochuri in one hand and container of Chholar Dal (Chana Dal/ Bengal Gram Lentil) or Aloor Dom (Dum Aloo/ Potato Curry). He will expertly place a Banana Leaf in front of you and put 2-pieces of Golden Kochuri and Chholar Dal or Aloor Dom. The Kochuri without the Chholar Dal or Aloor Dom is incomplete; it is like having toast without butter or jam/ marmalade. Anyways, this shop serves Kochuri only in the morning, thereafter it is only Luchi-Torkari but the next door Horidash Modak serves the Kochuri in the evening as well but then it is just another Kochuri not the original.
As per the dictionary, Kochuri is defined as Lentil filled fried dumpling and by that definition even the fillings of Bengalgram is also Kochuri!! But no Sir, the real Kochuri has to have the fillings of raw Urad Dal mixed with Asafetida and salt (as per taste) inside whole wheat Puris. However, the same filling inside the refined flour makes Radhabollobhi. But that’s another delicacy of pure Bengali origin.
Well, let’s take our journey further to Potla’r Ghat in Bagbazaar. As you enter the market in Bagbazaar, the shops on either side have display of basketful of Kochuris making you wonder, who eats all these Kochuris? You will rather be surprised that every one of the Kochuris finishes within the hour. Without wasting time we should head for the Potla Kochuri, where the aroma will make you drool. The small shop is 95 years young being run by Dibyendu Sen, the current owner. On enquiring, he said that the shop was started by his grandfather Shashibhushan Sen. The shop flourished under his younger son Potla’s (Kartik Sen) supervision and came to be known as Potla Kochuri. Dibyendu Sen was speaking as well as serving his customers at the same time. The menu is simple, 2 Kochuri and Aloor Dom (made with small potatos), 2 pieces of potato and the unwritten rule is never to ask for refill of Aloo, the regular customers knows this by heart, what is being served is sufficient. You can’t possibly find this Aloor Dom in the entire city. In the evening, the Kochuri is replaced with Radhabollobhi.
We move to Sukia Street, a few meters inside the lane is the shop called Geetika, a narrow shop. The process here is like shop floor with one guy filling the stuff followed by another flattening it to precise size for the Kochuri to become fluffy. You will get Kochuri all through the day and evening, more importantly, fresh from the oven. The specialty here is the Asafetida or Hinger Kochuri served with Aloor Torkari and Chutney. Ah, the taste is heavenly!! The shop was started by Gonesh Dolui serving Muri, Batasa, Telebhaja (pakora) and Kochuri. The current owner is his great grandson Shonkor Dolui, small built but sharp mind. I asked him, “Asafetida is very expensive, how you manage to be profitable?” Shonkor Dolui smiled innocently and said “If I don’t put asafetida, how will it be Hinger Kochuri?” I was stumped by his response and tentatively asked how old is the shop? He said, “Can’t say exactly, but it is more than a century old.” And the added, “Even, I have crossed fifty!” It was enough for the day; moreover, the Sun was practically overhead pouring its heat with high intensity…
Next day we headed for College Street, the target shop being Puntiram. I should mention here that the current owner of Puntiram, Indrojit Modok educated me on the difference between Kochuri and Radhabollobhi. Till 10 in the morning they serve Kochuri and after that it is Radhabollobhi with pale golden Chholar Dal full of aroma of ginger that makes you want more n more. Taking the leaf-plate of Kochuri and Chholar Dal, I enquired about the shop. “First you eat, Sir, and then we will talk” said Indrojit Modok smiling widely. The Kochuris were finished in jiffy and Indrojit Modok came out from behind the counter. He said, “Jitendranath Modok was follower of Shri Kuladananda Brahmachari who was a pupil of Bijoykrishna Goswami and Puntiram Modok was his uncle (Pishemoshai/ Phoopaji). Shri Kuladananda Brahmachari laid the plinth of the shop some 80-100 years ago and started the shop. And by his grace, the shop is doing very well even today. We are just workers here; the shop belongs to Brahmachari Ji”
The hunt for Kolkata Kochuri is like climbing Mt. Everest backwards!!! But since it is about Kolkata Kochuri and not just the Bong variety, let’s change the taste and explore Dharmatala as well.
At the crossing of Corporation building and Chandni, there are two non-Bengali shop selling Kochuri. You can enter either of them; the main attraction here is not the Kochuri but the Green Chilli Chutney that they serve with the Asafetida Kochuri-Potato curry. They also have Ginger-Mango Chutney which too is worth mentioning. The standard serving is 3 Kochuri with Aloor Torkari and Green Chilli Chutney. In the 90’s, the Bong intellectuals, who used throng this place had coined the term “Devil’s Kochuri” because of this addictive Green Chilli Chutney!! Unlike, the Bengali shops, here, they fill up your plate with the curry and chutney as soon as it empty’s, it’s a full meal, any time of the day.
There are many sweet shops across Kolkata that serve Kochuri of varied taste, they are locally famous too but we are exploring the shops that are primarily known for their Kochuri, they are the Star in their own right. One such shop is Srihori in Bhawanipur. It is a sweet shop with variety of sweets but most of the customers throng the shop for their Kochuri and Radhabollobhi. I have never seen the shop with less than a crowd jostling for that plate of Kochuri or Radhabollobhi. The shop was established in the year 1912 by Santosh Kumar Guin. That makes it 107 years running…
Well, there are still many Kochuri shops that remains unexplored like Dwarik of Shyambazaar, Moharani at Deshopriyo Park, many of the non-Bengali Kochuri shops at Khidirpur, besides shops in every nook and corner of the city selling aromatic Kochuri and doing brisk business every day. Then there are Muslim shops in Mallickbazaar, Rajabazaar or Kolabagan selling Kochuri (they call it Puri) with piping hot Sheekh Kebabs, that’s a different taste altogether. Since I mentioned non-veg variety, it is worthwhile to mention about Fish-Kochuri that was made famous by the children’s book author Hemendra Kumar Ray. Two of his Heros were regularly served with Fish-Kochuri by their butler. One can still find Fish-Kochuri at Decker’s Lane in Dharmatala, the shop called Aponjon. Nowadays, you can get cocktail Kochuri, practically at every corner of the city but that’s new and different, both taste wise and culturally.
Then what? There is no then or thereafter, go out there and explore the city for the quintessential Kolkata Kochuri. Bon Appétit….
Photo courtesy: Google Images