There’s a nip in the air—it’s not yet cool enough to send the brown moths fluttering indoors but enough to stir an emptiness in the pit of the stomach as the shadows lengthen and lunch seems to have been a long time ago. If you happen to be in the right place, a delicate aroma tickles your nostrils—an aroma which says ‘frying’. Not just frying, but singaras frying.
Afternoon is frying time all over Kolkata if you can catch it right. Karhais (deep cooking pots) start heating up after the afternoon nap and wicker baskets heaped with singaras appear on the right-hand counter of most mishtir dokans (sweet shops). The problem is timing it right. I followed my nose for a while and it led me to a hole-in-the-wall shop off Mahanirban Road (near Hindustan Park). These have a reputation in their neighbourhoods and I was hungry enough to try this one. It looked dark and as empty as the wicker basket on the counter. A head suddenly popped up and at my request for singara said, “Sorry didi, you’ll have to wait. We’re frying a fresh batch.” My watch said it was almost 6—how many singaras had they gone through and when had they started frying? This shop, Sri Hari Mishtanna Bhandar, wasn’t even a well-known one.
However, that is how my singara story seems to go. Despite the absence of telltale aromas, I dived into the revered Jadav Chandra Das (at Rashbehari Avenue) at 5:30pm and discovered, to my indignation that they didn’t even go into the singara game. Saila Sweets nearby had a nice blend of potato and spice, not too plump and generous with the peanuts, but they had a deadline, which I couldn’t quite figure out. On a rainy day when I thought no one would venture out, Saila’s singaras were over by 5pm.
Singaras come in many variations across the city. There are the non-Bengali ones—samosas—which most people sniff at. The type that tastes more of spice than potato and is to be found in shops like Tewari’s (found across Kolkata) accompanied by sticky tamarind chutney. A Tewari is never out of singaras. I discovered that once during lunch when I stood in a post-Diwali queue, the only woman surrounded by jostling men demanding kilos of barfis and ladoos. My request for two samosas sounded sad even to my own ears. And they absolutely did not satisfy my craving. They were too spicy, too non-potato, too something...
A Marwari version of Ganguram on Chowringhee introduced me to the Chinese samosa. I thought it was going to be potatoes and sweet and sour sauce but no, it was noodles inside the samosa crust. That has its own kind of satisfaction, even though it is one possibly reserved for chowmein lovers.
Winter brings cauliflower season and Mrityunjoy Ghosh’s phulkopir singaras (on Sarat Bose Road), though those are rare. Especially since the shop has remained small for all
Singaras come in many variations. There are the non-Bengali ones, samosas as they are called, which most people sniff at its decades of existence with its menu on blue boards around the façade. Singaras may be snatched between 4 and 6 in the afternoon, but that is rather doubtful unless you happen to belong to the area like the Maddox Square walkers, who have the time to trundle down between those hours.
Cold weather and picnics also rouse the whisper of mangshor or mutton singaras, which are fabled to be found in shops like Dwarik Ghosh (in Shymbazar) but no one quite has the enthusiasm to track them down. I stuck to my winding alleyways and found another mishtir dokan on Dover Lane proper which had a full wicker basket at 6pm. I put it down to a new fried batch and popped one into my mouth to discover that it was oily, understuffed and under spiced.
Only one shop always has ever replenished wicker baskets and crowds all evening and that is Tasty Corner, right at the junction of Mandeville and Swinhoe Street, known as ‘Testy’ to the para (neighbourhood) and for good reason. It serves all kinds of munchies and their rather large singaras make a piping hot bite. However, the long wait to be served might just raise your ‘testy’ quotient and daunt your taste buds.
I remember the rounds of dough being rolled out at home, sliced in half and adeptly rolled to make a cone for the potato stuffing, sealed with a slick of water and then tossed lightly into the karhai. Sadly, those went the way of extra household staff and elaborate jol khabar or afternoon eats with no thought of diets. One day I may take a local train up in search of Mecheda’r singara or I may just stumble upon the perfect triangle in an unknown little shop in a dead end galli off Dover Terrace. Who knows?