Of course, this world and its people will impart a lot of education to you. But have you ever, on an evening stroll, wondered what to do about that sondhyebela’r khide? Have you ever felt that pressure of impressing your Bangali premika with a thesaurus like knowledge of chop, cutlet, and peyanjis? Has the Herculean responsibility of arranging the finger food for a murimakha and adda session ever been bestowed upon you and you have no clue what to do? But no more worries! You, dear seeker, have come to the right place. Read on to find out how you can be a chop expert too and be ready for the next renaissance, the industrial revolution that is chop shilpo!
Note: Much has been spoken about the singara, the Bengali cousin of the samosa, and though we love it immensely, we are giving it a break from this article.
What is a Telebhaja?
Broadly, there are two types of telebhaja: one that is breaded and fried like croquettes and the other that is dipped in chickpea flour batter before frying.
What is a chop? Simply put, the English equivalent of a Bangali crumb fried chop is a croquette. During the Raj, the breaded and fried croquette was given a Bengali makeover to please Englishmen dining in the homes of the Bengali elite. The primary difference lies in the layer of mashed potato and the use of spices and the fact that a chop is a gazillion times more tongue-tickling than any croquette!
Okay. So, what’s a cutlet? The basic difference between a Bangali chop and a cutlet (pronounced: kaat-let) is the shape. Chops are more rounded and ball-like while cutlets are flatter. Then there are the fish fingers…aahahha! Not cutlets but similar in style.
In the list of batter fried telebhaja, we have beguni, kumroni, and the much loved peyanji. Then there is the fuluri that sounds exactly like it looks: a round, fluffy deep-fried delight. A fuluri differs from other telebhajas in that it contains no vegetables; it is just fried, well seasoned batter. Then there’s the kobiraji with its lacy covering of fried egg. The North Indian pakora is our bora that we eat with dal-bhaat. From paatpata’r bora (fritters made with jute leaves) to the ubiquitous dal’er bora (lentil fritters), no Bangali meal is complete without them.
What kind of telebhaja do you want?
Perhaps the most important part of any journey is being able to set a goal from the very beginning. Ask your inner child aaj ki chai (“what do you want, inner me?”) and listen hard. Alu’r chop, vegetable chop, beguni are the staples that go well either with a jhal jhal murimakha or a political debate. A fowl cutlet, a prawn kobiraji or a fish fry would be perfect for a post-college get-together or a romantic date on a budget. Ask for pakoras only if you are desperate enough for anything deep-fried and don’t care about pedigree. And always remember that all fried and savoury goodies taste best with a glass of Irish Whisky if you are visionary enough!
How to find the right telebhaja’r dokan?
Once you know what you want to buy, you will need to know where to buy from. If you are on the go when you experience a chop craving (happens more often than you’d give credit for), there are generally two rules of thumb:
First, figure out where you are located. If you are in north Calcutta, you will be spoilt for choice. Every other street will probably have one place where the kashmiri chop is to die for. Our recommendations are Niranjan Agar, Kalika, and Lokkhi Narayan Shau. If you are in South Calcutta, fret not. The options might be less but the ones that stand tall have also stood the test of time.
This brings us to Rule Two: Asking the locals. Ask about their favourite shops and how to reach them. Ask about their speciality. A little research goes a long way!
A test before the taste— What to Order?
Now that we have reached a telebhaja’r dokan, and we already know what kind of deliciousness we want, it is time to dive into the decision-making flowchart. If your savoury is never without a hint of sweetness, a tangy kashmiri chop (the best usage of aamchur humanity has ever known) or a vegetable chop (this is what God made beets for) is the go-to staples. If your machismo makes you want to try something jhaal, try the lonka’r chop. Are you a strict carnivore? Take your pick from fowl cutlet, chingri’r chop, mangsher chop, or fish fingers. Are you a nihilist and are absolutely certain that life has no inner meaning? Try a fuluri; this also doesn’t have a core. But all of this maybe daunting if you are at a shop for the first time and trying to figure out what to order by looking at the menu board. Some places might not even have one. Three simple tricks: First, see what is hot. Those taste best. Second, look at them. Which one catches your fancy? It’s not rocket science and there are no wrong answers. Trust your tonguetuitions and pick one (or many). Third, if you really are in a finicky mood, ask the regulars and the chopmakers about local favourites and the day’s special.
How to Navigate the Telebhaja Menu?
Let’s try and get to know each other a little better. Incidentally, this is also the part in the article where you understand what we have been talking about.
Alu’r Chop: Not like a potato croquette for it does not have a bread-crumb coating. The balance between the spiced alu makha stuffing and the besan (chickpea flour) batter coating is key to a good alu’r chop.
Beguni: Sliced aubergines/brinjals coated in besan batter and deep fried. If made with pumpkin, kumro, its called a kumroni.
Peyanji: Finely chopped onions and green chillies coated in besan and fried till dark brown. The key is to not over-caramelize the onions while maintaining the crunch.
Fuluri: Deep-fried chickpea flour batter sans filling.
The Seasonals: Crumb fried seasonal produce like mango, capsicum, and cauliflower.
The All-Timers: Crumb fried vegetables like banana flower (mocha), peppers, soya chunks, tomato, coconut, etc. These look the same from the outside, but every single one tastes radically different. The ubiquitous lonka’r chop is, however, not breaded; it belongs to the family of besan battered darlings.
The innovative: Cilantro/Chowmien Sacrilegious or radically revolutionary, you choose.
Dhonka: Not only a telebhaja but also a curry mainstay.
Dim’er Chop: Similar to a breaded croquette with a filling of spicy mashed potato and sliced eggs, preferably duck eggs.
Dim’er Devil: Replace the potato coating in a dim’er chop with keema or minced meat and you get the dim’er devil. Its cousins are the Scotch Egg and the Nargisi Kofta.
Brain Chop: Made with goat brains, this is one of a kind. The stuffing contains potato alongside brains and beneath the crunchy shell, it is smooth and creamy. Best tried at Mitra Cafe.
Mangsher Chop: Minced meat– mutton or chicken– kneaded with aromatic spices, made into balls that are breaded and fried.
Chingri’r Chop: Shredded shrimps are what this flavour bomb is made of.
Cutlet: What’s better than an aromatic mince mix? A tender slice of chicken breast with a bone at the end.
Afghani: Also known as gravy cutlet, it was invented in Allen’s Kitchen. Think of it as a cutlet soaked in decadent gravy.
Kobiraji: The one with the lacy egg coverage. Usually made with chicken and fish, sometimes with prawn.
Fry: Usually a breaded and fried fish fillet; mostly bhetki not basa not vola.
Fish Orly: Marinated fillets of fish fried in a batter of eggs and flour aka the French à l’orly.
Pantheras: Another classic Anglo-Indian recipe that has almost become obsolete, pantheras are similar to spring rolls but are breaded and fried instead. You can try them at Nahoum’s inside Hogg Market and at Barua and Sons in Shyambazar.
Placing your order— The Final Flourish
At this point, you are ready. The only thing you need now is a little bit of elan. Placing your order is the home-run of this experience and let us talk about how to get it right.
- Spot the guy who is serving chops to the customer. Grab his attention by loudly chanting what you want to have (drown out the others; at this point they are mere mortals)
- When he listens to you and looks at you, make an eye contact and do not let go.
- Ask him, as he packs your order in a kagoj’er thonga, for the customary salad.
- Ask for kasundi. Always. Accept that ketchup is a failed concept.
- As he hands everything over to you, pay him in exact change. He needs a hero too.
There you have it: Our guide to how to be an industrialist when chop shilpo hits the town. (You can also use it to impress your Bangali crush!) See you next time over a bowl of murimakha. You bring the chops.
Niranjan Agar in Girish Park for the Dim’er Devil.
Mitra Cafe in Shobhabazar for its famous Brain Chop.
Allen’s Kitchen for the Prawn Cutlet.
Kalika Mukhorochak in the College St. area for the Fish Fry.
At Lokkhi Narayan Shau, we love the Capsicum’er Chop. Also recommended is the Kashmiri Chop.
Campari in Gariahat makes a unique and lip-smacking Fish Roll.
Aponjon in the Kalighat area for the Fowl Cutlet.
Are you a fan of telebhaja? What’s your favourite kind?