Jhalmuri was ‘bad’ when I was a kid

My first brush with Jhalmuri was in an overly crowded local train. I was travelling from Bandel to Howrah along with my parents and he boarded at one of the stations. Like most of the hawkers in the train, he had his own unique style of calling out – Muri, muri chai muri? A large portable unit with a strong strap around his neck, came the jhalmuri wala. Later I found out, it was a gamchha for some and others had strong jute belts. The large unit had an aluminium rectangular drum at the centre which had the Muri. Smaller, circular tin cans with removable lids tied by a string fixed around the rectangular drum carried all the ingredients. Chopped onions, chilies, chat masala, muri masala, slices of boiled potatoes, a bottle with mustard oil and many more.

The sound, his synchronized way of making the jhalmuri and adding the coconut slice at the end popping out of the packet had a charm. The sound with a fixed beat made with the steel ladel while mixing the muri in a large steel container stood out amongst all the chaos in the compartment. I wanted to explore that Jhalmuri from the freshly made portable live counter. Baba and Ma both discouraged. It’s bad and the oil used is not good. They use rapeseed oil. By the time, I could throw a tantrum and change their minds, the hawker meandered his way through the crowded train compartment. He had to jump, run and get into the next compartment.

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Jhalmuri by Angus Denoon, why is it mention worthy?

Angus Denoon had come to India for a development project at DosGhora. The root of the story lies in 2004. The story of how Jhalmuri called out to Angus and changed his life. In his own words – I came to Kolkata by chance to shoot a film on streetfood. That film took a long time to complete and in the mean time, he started selling Jhalmuri in England. Yes, Angus started selling Jhalmoori in England and last year during World Cup Cricket he sold Jhalmuri outside Oval, while Indians were defeating the Aussies. This attracted enough eye balls to make him an internet sensation. So here is an erstwhile trained chef, who worked in restaurants, did pop ups in the suburbs, ran a shop of food, music and “good items” for 7 years and sailed to explore the unknown. He reached Australia and set out to shoot street food.

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Sourcing of ingredients for Jhalmuri by Angus Denoon – The Indo Bangladesh joint project 

The obvious question which comes to my mind is how he sources the ingredients. When I asked him, he clarified most of the supplies are from Indian shops from UK. Though most but the key ingredient Muri, is sourced from the Bangladeshi shop. Angus states that Bangladeshi Muri is better than the Kolkata ones and he swears by the texture. Bangladeshi Muri is like the Basmati rice muri with the perfect crunch.

I wanted to clarify and debunk a childhood myth. Why does he consider Jhalmuri as healthy – his answer was ready – freshly made, combination of daal and rice albeit dried and puffed. Add on herbs and mustard oil. I never stuck to what my parents said about Jhalmuri on the first day. I tasted it several times at various places possible. This was just a reassurance once again at this age, to get rid of the guilt baggage of the past. 

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When did Jhalmuri come to Kolkata? How it turned out to be a Kolkata street food?

Food historian Tanushree Bhowmik confirms that the first mention of Muri was in Atharva Veda. “Bihar, Odisha and Bengal are predominantly rice growing states and muri has been a popular staple in these places, in both sweet and savoury forms. Muri has been eaten in savoury form in Bengal, Odisha , Bihar as well as in southern states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu The second World War attracted a lot of youth to come to Kolkata for work.Jhal muri or muri makha, that was previously a household snack soon became a street food to cater to these people”.

In case you are wondering that Jhalmuri is the Betaaj Badshah of Street Food in Kolkata for the ancestry and lineage, you are wrong. Bhelpuri, Phuchka and Roll in reverse order of popularity, fights it out in popularity contests.

Places to find best Phuchka in Kolkata 

Three ingredients for a perfect Jhalmuri as Angus Denoon shares

We  were almost halfway through the conversation and I couldn’t stop asking him – what are the three essential tips to make a great Jhalmuri? A jhlamuri like Jhalmuri by Angus Denoon ?The first one was the obvious one – The Muri definitely. Crispy Muri to be precise and not the soggy, spongy ones, he confirms. His next favourite is mustard oil and he cannot stop thanking his suppliers in UK who provide him with good quality Mustard Oil. He stresses on Mumbai Onion or pink onion and not too hard onions, make a perfect match.

The final touch or his ace of spade is the masala mix . Angus makes his own masala mix which consists of cumin, coriander, fennel, black pepper, bay leaf, roasted and ground. Add aamchur, black salt and a little bit of chili powder. Hat tip? Try the black salt from the rock rather than in packets.

How life comes full circle

Life comes full circle indeed. One of the pet peeve of most food writers in Kolkata is a melting pot of culture, where over the years of invasions, trade routes and settlements have changed the foodscape of the city. One of the biggest influence in the culture and food space has been from the British Raj era. Nearing 80 years of the end of British rule, here is one Brit who adopts a local street food and devotes his life behind it.

The Kolkata connection

Angus doesn’t want to take his globe trotting jhalmuri cart to any other part of the country. He feels that there can be an element of gimmick in doing that. Angus was in India at Prithhwish Chandra Biswas Kanya Mahavidyalaya for women’s empowerment workshop.  He taught the kids how to make Jhalmuri. Angus came to Kolkata on invitation from Surojit Rout, owner of Ekdalia Rd and for two days, he had set up his stall.

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Thats my Jhalmuri ready

Recipe of Misti Muri from Angus Denoon

Misti Muri – This is sold mostly in summers. Fresh peaches, dates or chopped khejur, sunflower seeds instead of Peanuts and slightly sweeter masala mixture.  The Masala mix has fennel, black pepper and cinnamon and also a bit of aamchur. Angus uses mint instead of dhaniya, mango puree instead of lime. The spiciness comes from dry roasted coconut and ginger (crystallised too). His masterstroke lies in use of  pomegranate syrup, which is a replacement of tamarind. There are times when he uses rhubarb and sour apples too.

Join Angus Denoon here for Jhalmuri adventures across the globe.

Must mention here about the background of these pics. We met Shreya while she was painting these walls of Ekdalia Rd and every time I clicked Angus, the background enhanced the picture. She is a very talented wall designer and painter and you can follow her work here

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