Every region has its own signature dish. Tamil Nadu has dosas, Hyderabad and Lucknow are famous for their biryanis and Kolkata, besides its famed rosogolla and fish, also reminds one of its lip-smacking spicy phuchkas.
Though Mumbai has its own version paanipuris and golgappas, Kolkata’s phuchkas complete with aloo stuffing and tamarind water in crispy thin shells have a distinct taste of their own.
Till now, West Bengal’s phuchka was never tinkered with. But no more. Joymalya Banerjee, who has made waves in Kolkata with experimental cuisine in his outlet, Bohemian on Bondel Road, has filled phuchkas with exotic stuffings.
“Among all the interesting foods around the world, there is not a single example where crunchy crispy shell filled with watery liquid is served. Phuchka has no parallel,” he says.
He began pondering over “what turns on the Bengalis”, and invariably the first things that crossed his mind was hilsa, prawn and crab.
“The moment I zeroed in on the ingredients for the stuffing, I started thinking how to make phuchkas palatable,” says Banerjee.
He mashed together crab meat and prawn with spices and condiments to create a stuffing that would go with spicy honey lemon water.
Similarly, hilsa phuchkas were paired with coconut water, and mutton keema phuchkas were presented with aam kasundi (mango-mustard sauce) water.
There is something for vegetarians too—wax gourd and smoked eggplant to creamed cauliflower-stuffing phuchkas.
Now, 46-year-old Banerjee plans to take his experiment to Canada. “My niece stays there, and we have plans to introduce phuchkas on a global platform this April. The stuffings will be wilder and suitable to the continental palate, such as pulled pork, beef and steaks,” says Banerjee.
But this is not the first time that Banerjee has made wild gastronomical experiments and emerged successfully. The chef, who made the Bengali restaurant Oh Calcutta! what it is today, never shies away from experimenting. “My job is like a painter. I will dish out only that bit which I can create,” he says.
Every dish in Bohemian has a signature style of its own, mixing and matching the traditionally-held spices and condiments. But the spice that intrigues him the most is paanch foron (a traditional Bengali mix of five spices—black cumin seeds, cumins seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek and mustard seeds). Chhena (cottage cheese) with paanch foron mousse has created ripples, so has the gondhoraaj soufflé and malpoa cheesecake with fennel along with paanch foron creme liqueur.
Apart from phuchkas, Banerjee’s array of cocktails include Kolkata biryani cocktail, Nolen gur cocktail, chilli chicken cocktail and paanch foron cocktail.
“I am going to completely overhaul my menu for the third time. I don’t like keeping the same dishes for more than a couple of years. We also have plans of opening another branch soon,” he says.