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Ujjala Chanachur And That Middle Aged Bhodrolok

Indrajit Lahiri

Let us visualize a middle aged Kolkattan Bhodrolok. Let us assume this gentleman has reached home after a (supposedly) hard day’s work, he transforms into his customary pyjama and ganjee. And, the next thing he shouts for (with that secret love in his tone) to his be(i)tter half is, “Ki go, cha-ta hobe ?” Now, irrespective of the gentleman is having his share of tea or a small peg of whiskey (often the bottle is carefully hidden in the almirah), chanachur comes as a standard trustworthy companion.

Growing up in South Calcutta (yes, it was not Kolkata then), I was often taken on my share of evening walk along the Hazra More and Rashbehari. And, from my childhood days, while crossing the Basusree Cinema Hall near Hazra More, I was often amused to see a long queue in front of one small hole-in-the-wall beside it. It took me years to understand how one shop selling one non-descript item like Chanachur made a mark in South Kolkata food history. Welcome to Ujjala Chanachur. The chanachur shop named after one of the famous movie halls (now gone, sadly) standing the test of time.

Once you’re crossing Basusree Cinema Hall and going towards Rashbehari Crossing, you’ll find this on the same footpath. And, the identifiable factor is the standard queue in front of it. Get in the queue. The owner, Mr. Ram Chandra Prasad sits there personally and makes sure the same is maintained. He works from 8am-8pm on all days. Try sneaking in and asking for some chanachur, all you’ll get is “Line e asun” and you’re back to square one. So, wait patiently in the queue and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet that gentleman who has been a loyal customer there for probably decades. Happily, he’ll start narrating those golden days of his youth and you won’t even realize when your turn has come…

Ujjala Chanachur sells mostly fried savory snack items, and you may ignore the offerings (like most do) and need not even utter what you need. Because they already know it. Just mention the quantity. The only customization option is you’ll take the masala or not. I’d suggest you go for it. After measuring the amount, this young chap will sprinkle in some magic spice inside the paper bag and hand it over. The price is mentioned for all possible measurements and thus, saves the time for mental calculation.

The chanachur here is of the non-spicy variant (more of the bombay mix type) and the owner makes sure you have nuts in your mouth in every gulp. And, this quality control has made all the difference and kept their forte high in this competitive processed food market. For some, this serves as accompaniment of muri (puffed rice) and tea, and for the more colorful ones, this complements their dosage of liquor. But, this shop remains there for its one single item.

And, if you’re still looking for something more filling to go with your booze of tea, in that matter, Apanjan, on Adananda Road, is just a stone’s throw away. So, halla bol and  you may raise a toast to that bhodrolok as he scratches his belly after the first sip and the first gulp and exclaims “Ahhhh ….. ”

Bon Appétit!!!

Indrajit Lahiri is a food blogger from Kolkata and for an edited version of his article please visit https://moha-mushkil.com