A British chef makes Kolkata’s popular street food a hit in London.
Down grey London roads,a white van decked with garlands of plastic flowers makes its way,leaving behind a slightly unfamiliar smell of tamarind and spice in the air. It’s a vehicle that goes by the name of The Everybody LoveLove Jhal Muri Express. Wherever the British crowds gather to have fun a marketplace,a riverside,a soccer stadium,a music concert,a park,a gig or a gala The Everybody LoveLove Jhal Muri Express finds its way there,setting up the hard-to-miss orange-yellow board that says,Kolkata Famous Jhal Muri Welcome.
Angus Dunoon,a trained haute cuisine chef,is now better known as London’s Jhal Muri Man,carrying in his van the flavours of Kolkata’s streets. On the list are Kolkata Chat,Authentic and Original and VIP Ghugni Chat with the occasional Phuchka,but the one Dunoon offers with the greatest relish is the jhalmuri. I am lucky to have discovered it. Most people like food cooked by their mother or defined by their land. But that didn’t happen with jhalmuri. People across nationalities and ethnicities simply love love jhalmuri , says Dunoon,over the phone from London before a big party which needs a lot of tomato and tamarind.
Dunoon was introduced to Kolkata’s ubiquitous street food,the jhalmuri,in 2004 when the annual Durga Puja was drawing to a close. Then a tourist making his first short film on the street food of Kolkata,Dunoon stood on the busy Sudder Street in central Kolkata watching a street vendor. His movements were like a ballet artist. He sat with one leg crossed and,as if to some invisible music,picked up a handful of muri (puffed rice),dropped it into a steel jar,added the sev,bits of tomato,onion,potato,chilli and coriander. The peanuts followed,then the coconut juliennes. He added a drizzle of mustard oil and rounded it off by stirring the mix and serving it in a paper cone, recalls Dunoon.
The Jhal Muri Express was born in Devon when Dunoon was shooting a pilot for his film,and decided to set up a jhalmuri trolley in a market for filming. My first concoction was simple,as I didn’t know how to make jhalmuri. But,when I started to give away the thonga (paper cone) of jhalmuri,there were hippie groups as well as well-heeled customers crowding around me, he says. The trolley,Dunoon and his jhalmuri began to travel on tubes and buses all over London. The Ford Transit van arrived three years ago. Earlier this year,he was shortlisted for the Street Food Awards of the The Guardian newspaper.
A thonga is priced at £2 ,though Kolkatans in London argue that it should be £1 . At parties,the rate sometimes rises to £4 ,though Dunoon is accustomed to Indians complaining it isn’t quite like home. It isn’t, agrees Dunoon,In Kolkata,the proportions are different. Dunoon’s jhalmuri not as small as a snack,not as big as a meal is a hit at parties nonetheless.
Dunoon relies on Indian stores for his supplies,but prepares the chutneys himself. Before serving he also throws in a mini performance. I go mix,mix,mix,a little bit of this and a little bit of that,reach for the peanuts,stir in the onion,shake,shake,shake and offer it in a thonga. I love the look on people’s faces. The jhalmuri is a hit, he says.