A viral video that emerged after the India vs Australia match at the World Cup had an Englishman at the centre of it. Wearing a coat and hat, he was surrounded by Indian fans at a stall as he mixed cone after cone of what people debated could be either bhel puri or jhalmuri. Angus Denoon Duncan admitted he was making jhalmuri, something he’s been making in London for over a decade now.
आेव्हल मैदानावर भेळेची गाडी 😬🤗👌 pic.twitter.com/HoZlDXMInS
— Sunandan Lele (@sunandanlele) June 10, 2019
Duncan, has been running the ‘The Everybody Love Love Jhalmuri Express’ stall, after he fell in love with the street food in the City of Joy. The 59-year-old said the snack seemed to be able to cross cultures effortlessly and explained what worked in its favour.
“The fact that it needed no cooking, no kitchen and was portable, cheap, even vegan and wheat free,” Duncan told indianexpress.com in an email interview.
“Also, the fact that you are outside and you make it in front of people, and their food being made on the level playing field of a street corner or a field – a safe zone where nothing else matters for a few moments — people can just be themselves and that’s a beautiful thing to see,” he said.
Duncan said that at the time he started making jhalmuri he didn’t have a home.
“I was also living on the road at the time without a front door key and this seemed like a business that could be run without a kitchen — from the boot of a car or on public transport,” he said.
Duncan first ended up in Kolkata due to a short stopover during Durga Puja, and then returned the next year hoping to make a film on street foods.
He returned home with tapes and some filmmaker friends wanted to film him cooking for a TV show pilot. He decided to make jhalmuri at a stall in a local market and chose jhalmuri for its simplicity. The TV show didn’t take off, but he decided to go ahead with selling the dish anyway.
“I stripped my life back to a very simple way so all the money I earned would go to the project and I returned every year to film, eat and learn more,” said Duncan.
Duncan said he kept coming to Kolkata for 10 years in a row. When at home would set up his jhalmuri stall on the streets of London, beaches of Devon, festivals and “basically anywhere I thought I could flog a few.”
The London resident admits some of the best food he ate was on Kolkata’s streets and few matched “the mind-altering delights — from sattu pani in the morning, or fresh dal puri and subji, or fresh squeezed sugar cane juice or aam pora or pudina sharbat when the heat melts your brain.”
Now a regular at many festivals and events, his colourful cart is decked with boards similar to paintings on trucks and offers more than jhalmuri. Ghugni, dhokla, puchka, shrikhand and a hot ginger liquorice black pepper cinnamon potion are some of the offerings. He also offers a Gujarati dal served on puffed rice.
Duncan’s not complaining about the fame that comes with featuring in a viral video, but hopes to be remembered for his cooking.
“I know because of where I am from, I am a novelty but ultimately I would like to be known as someone who makes it nice with respect for where it comes from, and of how much it means to many people,” he said.