The Bengali cuisine is home to many complex dishes. Like Shorshe Ilish - which triggers an internal explosion...
Potoler Dolma - where we even convert a vegetable by stuffing fish into it...
Or for that matter even our complicated version of fried fish (as opposed to Maharashtra) where we coat the fillet with egg and breadcrumbs, before chomping it off the plate.
In a cuisine full of jotil (complex) dishes, out stands the simple blessing that is the good ol' egg roll.
As many Bengalis will swear by, the Bengali egg roll is nothing like Mumbai's frankie or Delhi's Kathi roll. The singular Bengali trait comes in the form of chopped kancha lonka (green chilli) inside the roll as it perfectly compliments the freshly-cut onion and beetroot, both dowsed in red ketchup and mustard.
I've heard some new-age joints have even begun adding a hint of mayonnaise to appeal to the modern Bengali. That's blasphemy, as most Bangali roll-lovers will tell you. There is a reason why the city is still stuck in the 1960s, we don't like upgrades too much.
Also because the simplicity of an egg roll is what separates it from the rest of the Bengali cuisine. It's an item that is literally available in ALL the market areas of all the paras of Calcutta and Howrah, where I grew up. And some of my earliest and most cherished memories are when I would accompany my grandmother to the market-place for a bite of heaven.
Visiting Calcutta during the summer breaks - phuchka and egg rolls were an event for me and my brother. We resented the cousins who would have this available to them around the year, and while taking a bite of our rolls criticise it for being mediocre.
"I'll bring the ones from the joint in Uttarpara, you haven't eaten a decent egg roll until you've eaten from that shop," they would say. And our interim-irritation at their high-handedness would turn into heart-eyed emojis. We were always game for more rolls. And what really fascinated me was seeing the kaarigar (the artisan) make the roll across the glass counter, while I salivated.
He would sprinkle oil on the hot tawa, and then throw in the maida paratha. Tossed on either side, he would flip it with the inside on top and crack an egg over it. After allowing it to become the paratha's second skin, he would flip it in the oil a few more times before landing the egg paratha on his chopping board.
Over there would be waiting for freshly-cut onion rings, beet-root (some would even add cucumber) which he would arrange in a single line, in the middle of the egg paratha. And then he would pull out the ketchup and the mustard, of which he would squirt a few zig-zags over the veggies. Then he would pull out a blank, white paper and place it on the lower half of the roll and wrap it all up.
Once handed to me, I would finish a third of it, with the first bite. Then I would close my eyes to taste all the elements. My only wish though is that had I heard of Masterchef Australia at that time, I could have been able to articulate how well the crisp egg paratha and the succulent veggies went together.
Rs. 15 is all it took to make my summer-break in Calcutta, a memorable one. No matter where I go in the world or how many cuisines I try - I will always be gobsmacked by the simplicity of an egg roll. Also, how can something with such basic ingredients be such a tasty affair? Happy Pujo you guys, make sure you go to the Para'r stall and witness the magic of egg rolls being made from scratch. It might even wind the clocks for some, and make you treasure it all the more.