What does Peyaji remind you of? You cross the border in West Bengal and they call it Peyaju in Bangladesh. Peyaj is Onion in Bengali hence the name Peyaji. Moderately thick onion slices, mixed with batter and deep-fried is one of the best evening snacks possible.
The tradition of Telebhaja – Chandannagore and Peyaji
I have often mentioned to my friends who have little or no connection to Chandannagaore that, it’s a city of tele bhaja. Okay, in case you don’t know about Telebhaja, they are deep-fried fritters that make the sunset and welcome evening in Bengali’s life. Alur Chop, Dimer chop, bhejeetable chop, dimer debhil, beguni, fuluri – it’s a wide array of fried stuff that can be found easily in every para or neighborhood. Chandannagore, my hometown was no exception and the best peyaji could be had from a small shop at station road. With a single tungsten bulb hanging from the top, the man ran the shop with his kids.
With a deft hand, he mixed the Bengal gram batter with thick slices of onion and chopped chili. The large clay oven cemented at one corner had a large Kadhai which was never cleaned. When the oil started boiling lightly, he dropped a small dip of the onion batter mix to check the temp. Once he was satisfied, the stage was set. Human hands can match up to the precision of cookie cutters and his hand was no exception. Then each look-alike peyaji batter gets dropped into the oil, one after the other. The large draining spoon lifts up the Peyaji and turns it around. At times, both hands are functional in sync.
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Is it easy to make Peyaji?
If ever you stand in front of a tele bhaja shop and observe the main karigar making the peyaji, it will appear as no big deal. The main work of making a peyaji tasty lies in making the batter and then the mixing of the onions with the batter. That’s the reason I call Peyaji a cozy feeling. It will never be counted in the elite class of cutlets or chops. It won’t be respected as a kobiraji or romanced like a fishfry. However, it will always be a known lovingly feeling, packed into a newspaper Thonga (paper packet), loads of Muri ( puffed rice) and endless cup of tea for a perfect set up for an adda. Peyaji, also forms an inevitable part of a meal with Khichuri or even with dal bhat.
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Netaji and Peyaji
This is a very common term used in Kolkata and often with fun but there is a history to it too. Lakshmianaryan Shaw and sons – this telebhaja shop was established in 1918 formally in Hatibagan. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was studying in Scottish Church College then and was fond of Telebhaja. He often used to visit this shop for his Muri and Telebhaja. Soon a cordial relationship grew between the two.
When Subhash Chandra Bose came back from England, he joined India’s freedom struggle. However, his love for Telebhaja remained the same. Then, the shop became a meeting spot for the freedom fighters and even the then owner Khedu Shaw, used to pass information while delivering Telebhaja and tea to different locations. Netaji fled the country in 1941 and from 23rd January 1942, every year the place has been distributing free telebhaja on his birthday. Consequently, the locals call it Netaji r peyaji.
Kanda Bhaji or Peyaji
The other face of Peyaji that I have come across is Kanda Bhaji during our stay in Pune. Often we would drive down to Lonavala and it was at one of the points where we tasted Kanda Bhaji. Kanda is onion in Marathi and Kanda Bhaji is almost the same as our peyaji. The only difference is perhaps the fact that in Maharastra they serve fried green chili and we have raw green chili here. Peyaji is often associated with monsoon but for me Kanda Bhaji is not very different and reminds me of Lonavala and Pune days.
You need to serve peyaji the minute you fry it, straight out of the frying pan. You can serve it with tea as an evening snack. Having said that, Bengalis have peyaji with muri or murmura (puffed rice), some peanuts and green chilies. You can also serve peyaji with khichuri on a rainy afternoon lunch or with dal and rice.
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Peyaji | Onion Fritters | Pyaz ke pakode
- 4 large onions
- 4-5 tbsp Bengal gram flour besan
- 2 tbsp rice flour
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 2-3 nos green chilies chopped
- salt to taste
- Oil for deep frying
- Cut the onions into long slices which should not be too thin and neither too thick. A medium thickness is desirable.
- In a mixing bowl, take the onion slices and add all the ingredients.
- Now mix it all up using your fingers. Using hands is the best since it releases some moisture from the onions.
- Now as you keep mixing it up, add a few drops of water to make it into a thick batter.
- Even though I have given measurements, one has to understand the amount of water and gram flour required, depending on the size of the onions.
- The batter should be thick but just enough that when fried, the texture from the onions is visible.
- Heat oil in a frying pan or a kadai for deep frying.
- When the oil is hot, add a tsp of hot oil into the batter and mix again.
- Finally, take dollops of the onion slices with the batter and drop into the hot oil. Change the temperature to medium if they burn up fast. Adjust the temperature as per the need. Like any pakoda, peyaji also needs high heat to become crispy.
- Flip the peyajis when one side is crisp. Then take them out of the oil and place on a paper towel.
- Serve hot with a cup of tea and some green chilies