Friday, September 1, 2017

An Ode to the Roll

“Yesterday, I had a roll at New Town. It was horrible! Ekdom baje. I knew only Kusum’s roll would be able to offset the trauma, so I came here.”

You know you are in Kolkata when you hear passionate discussions about food around you, especially street food. The shop in question has been standing in an obscure corner off Park Street for almost 40 years, and though inconspicuous by its presence, the serpentine queues outside, and the intense aroma around it, ensure you cannot miss the humble stall situated behind a large iron gate.
“No one is certain when the roll came to Calcutta, but everyone who knows Kolkata knows about Kusum Rolls. You see, every corner has a roll walah here, but nothing beats Kusum’s rolls,” says Rajat Mitra, a regular, who, as evident, swears by the shop.

A bright yellow board tells you that the rolls come in 30 varieties — egg, chicken, mutton, veg, paneer, cheese, liver, prawn and their variations — and the prices range from a paltry thirty rupees to a whopping two hundred and twenty. A total of three men man the shop. Their hands move in perfect coordination as they dish out rolls by the dozen, customising each one as they go: extra chilli in one, no chilli in the other, fried onion in one, raw in another; sauces, spices, eggs, onions — everything can be added, removed, reduced, or increased to suit your palate.

If you are a regular, you won’t even have to tell them — they remember it. I am neither a local, nor a regular, but the shop remains my first stop in the city. I know the menu by heart and also the chronology of actions. The parathas are fried on the griddle till they are about half done, eggs are simultaneously beaten and poured onto the centre of the griddle, the two are then combined and fried again, until each paratha becomes thick, flaky, and golden. Next, these are transferred to the counter where they are assembled in batches: meat goes in first, then the onions, chillies, spices, and sauces. Each roll is then wrapped in butter paper and handed over to you.

“Do you know these rolls were invented when the busy workers had no time to sit and eat their meal? Someone put his meat into his roti, and voila, the roll was born. Isn’t that amazing?” A woman tells another, even as the man on the counter assembles half a dozen chicken rolls at once. It surely is amazing to see how far these rolls have come.

The post first appeared in The Hindu

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