BY MARCUS SAMUELSSON
Jhal mudi, jhal moori, jhaal moodi, jhaal muri – there are as many ways to spell this East Indian snack as there are ways to make it. The only thing that remains constant is the “mudi” or puffed rice, and a splash of raw mustard oil which contributes to the “jhaal” or spice in this healthy and tasty snack sold in every corner of Calcutta.
The carts are some of the most elaborately stocked street food carts I have seen.Â Clearly, the seller spends a lot of time prepping before he sets up. There is a roasted and ground spice mix that contains cumin, coriander, red chiles, rock salt and dried unripe mango. But not all the flavor comes from the spices. There are also little tubs filled with roasted or boiled peanuts, boiled black baby garbanzo, chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumber and boiled potato, bits of firm coconut flesh, and tamarind chutney. The vendor tosses the spice mix and all the other fixings, except the puffed rice in his tall bowl.
Like all street food prepared a la minute, the person who is eating it decides how much he wants of each ingredient, or if he doesn’t want any of one at all. I found that I liked my peanuts roasted for extra crunch. I also preferred mine without the boiled potatoes, which diluted the flavor. Once the customer is happy with the base mix, the puffed rice and a spoonful of heady, spicy raw mustard oil is rapidly and vigorously tossed into the bowl. This is put into a paper container, and then topped with freshly chopped cilantro leaves.
The rice goes last so as to prevent it from losing its crunchiness from the wet ingredients.Â A soggy jhaal moodi is not half as delicious as a freshly tossed one, so you have to eat it up quick.
Calcutta’s residents each have their own opinion about which vendor has the best and freshest ingredients, the perfect knife cut of vegetables, the most flavorsome spice mix, or the best “hand” for proportion. You can go to Victoria Maidan, or Russell Street, for a taste of real Calcutta, they say.Â Have lots of jhaal moodi when you are in Calcutta, only then will you find the proportions that suit you best.