I am blessed – and I really mean it – BLESSED, to be surrounded by a coterie of food lovers who take that descriptor rather seriously. We’re constantly exchanging notes, from our corners of the world. In fact, as I write, I’m parallely in conversation with a fellow of the foodie tribe who has evoked the memory of Egg Torka for me.
I spent the first 8 years of my life in Jamshedpur and in that period – late 80s/ early 90s – eating out was a luxury. Most people I knew, mostly ate out at one of the many recreational clubs, if they were not eating at home. The only other 2 eateries, us Jamshedpur folks frequented, were Frank’s (the place responsible for my love affair with pork, but more about that in another blog post) and Kwality’s (the dhaba food place that acquainted me to chicken bharta and egg torka).
Egg Torka is simply a Moong Dal/ Green Gram dish finished off with egg that gets beaten into the dal. Chicken bharta is a creamy chicken preparation, where the creaminess comes from egg yolks as opposed to real cream. Both go really well with rotis/ parathas and naans.
Coming back to my story, I didn’t fancy Kwality’s as much as I did Frank’s, because eating Indian wasn’t exciting enough. Those flavours, I took for granted. Then we moved to Kolkata and the familiar dhaba cuisine followed me. There was now a choice of dhabas. The kinds we would escape to on a regular week night, and the kinds we especially drove down to on some weekends. An hour and a half away from home and the long drive serving as an added treat. Alongside dhaba food, Calcutta also exposed me to fancier world of food, that I hadn’t eaten before. Chicken Tettrazini at Blue Fox (the place is history now), A-la-kieves at Trincas (its almost only just a run-down, derelict bar now) and Chello Kebabs at Peter Cat (the only eaterie of the ones mentioned that still boasts of a queue even on a working day lunch). All these restaurants lie just ten steps away from each other, down Calcutta’s only happening neighbourhood (actually just a single street) called Park Street. Incidentally, Park Street also had a branch of the Jamshedpur Kwality’s I was familiar with, but amongst the other more ‘exciting’ choices, Kwality’s somehow got lost to me. The humble Chicken Bharta and Egg Torka gradually faded from my memory and over the years, a layer of thick dust settled over my earliest food memories.
6 years back I found myself in Kolkata again. Independent and working in a sales & marketing profile in rural Bengal. One afternoon, after a very tiring morning of stock-taking in our godown, located in the outskirts if the city, we decided to step into a nearby dhaba for lunch. As the only lady in the group, all eyes were on me to place the first order. If you’re like me, that is the moment, when you want to crawl under the table and hide till people get busy in conversation and you can crawl back out completely unnoticed. I decided to be braver and asked for food recommendations. In a smack-back manner, there was a unanimous vote for egg torka and chicken bharta. We placed orders, though nothing rang a bell for me.
However, as the food was brought to the table, a deja vu moment happened. In the first morsel that I put into my mouth, I wiped the many decades and layers of dust that had settled over my dhaba food memories. I was in the wrong setting to display any reaction, but my heart wanted to squeal in delight and call all those people associated with my forgotten memories, and tell them about this moment of rediscovery. Over the next few months, as I continued to travel extensively around rural Bengal, the torka and bharta became my staple on-the-go meal. I found comfort in its simplicity. It was and still is to me a souvenir of modest times, with modest choices. Cuisine options ended at Chinese and Indian. Menus didn’t run into pages. A menu was a one sided leaf, 8-10 dishes long. Dessert was only a choice between vanilla and chocolate ice-cream and we felt every abundance in that life.
To date, whenever I travel to the City of Joy, a dhaba meal is always on the top of my to-dos. Its not often enough, but I hang on to those moments dearly. I’ve often thought about rekindling these memories in my kitchen. But egg torkas and chicken bhartas aren’t just about creating flavours. The eating is an experience – one that is best savoured in the unpretentious dhabas that dot the roads and highways of Bengal and Bihar.