Thunga Raja

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Thunga Raja

by azkia arif

Jhal Mudhi (Savoury Puffed rice) is one of those snacks that was discovered accidentally and not through some painstaking experimentation and iterations. How could a rational mind conjure that throwing some chopped veggies, peanuts, spices, and sprouts on a pile of puffed rice and stirring vigorously would produce one of the tastiest snacks of eastern India? Why puffed rice, you’d ask. It doesn’t even have an aroma, you’d say. How can it taste good without cooking, you’d wonder. It’s not possible that you haven’t experienced Jhal Mudhi if you’re from Odisha or West Bengal. Kids who routinely stop at their favourite roadside stall, office-goers who step out for a quick afternoon snack and housewives who want a quick bite on their way back home from the local ‘kirana’ store etc. would all swear by it. Or you could just taste a fistful and experience it for yourself—the light, spicy, tangy, crispy potpourri of flavours bursting in your mouth. It is a feeling of epiphany! The term Jhal Mudhi is synonymous with its flavor – ‘Jhal’ which means spicy and ‘Mudhi’ which stands for ‘puffed rice’. Traditionally served in a paper cone, called ‘Thunga’ the ease of its preparation, light, healthy nature and great taste are all responsible for Jhal Mudhi’s epic popularity. Of course, versions of Indian street food have frequently appeared in menus across the world. In 2012,Huffington Post published a list of ‘10 Foods Around the World to Try Before You Die’, where the Indian masala dosa found its place, nestled between the Greek Moussaka and the Italian Zucchini flowers. The Maharashtrian Pav Bhaji was rebranded in New York as the Indian Sloppy Joe. Jhal Mudhi too has made it to the international menu of savouries after the British chef Angus Denoon began selling it on the streets of London. The special spice mix is made by grinding roasted cumin seeds, salt, black or rock salt , amchoor(dried mango powder), dried red chilli powder and a bit of garam masala together. Some might even want to add roasted bay leaf to the mix, and grind the entire mixture together to a fine powder. This spice mix is the only thing that’s made beforehand and stored.

It takes a cornucopia of ingredients—puffed rice, tomatoes, cucumber, roasted peanuts, bits of coconuts, kancha lanka (chopped green chillies), mustard oil, lemon, a special spice mix, freshly chopped coriander leaves, and a sprinkle of sev—all blended together in random joyfulness to create the Jhal Mudhi effect.

The special spice mix is made by grinding roasted cumin seeds, salt, black or rock salt , amchoor(dried mango powder), dried red chilli powder and a bit of garam masala together. Some might even want to add roasted bay leaf to the mix, and grind the entire mixture together to a fine powder. This spice mix is the only thing that’s made beforehand and stored. In fact the preparation of this great concoction makes for some fascinating viewing. I have often wondered how these vendors use a thin, sharp, long blade to dice the potatoes, cucumber & tomatoes with such speed, without injuring themselves. It comes from practice of course, but the sight never gets boring. The Jhal Mudhi, which is essentially an adapted version of the bhel or the dry bhel for that matter, is made quite differently. It can be said that none of the ingredients are premixed and can accommodate any amount of customization—less chilli, more spice, less coriander, more salt or lime and so on. Lingaraj Sahu has been selling Jhal Mudhi for the past 30 years and has his thela parked infront of the S.Complex in Bhubaneswar. His thela is always accompanied by the magical aroma of jhal Mudhi that touches most of our souls. A happy-go-lucky guy and a second Gen Jhal Mudhi seller, Lingaraj gives an account of how he was destined to carry his legacy forward. While he started working as a security guard his paltry salary could not fend for his family which prompted him to try out his current profession. Jhal Mudhi came to his rescue once he set up his thela in front of the movie complex and there has been no looking back since then. “Philim bhala padiley bhala bepaar huey” he says with a cheerful smile. But with that, comes a sad realization of how the city youth are turning towards big multiplexes as the old time theatres are running out of favour. With a daily earning of Rs.500-700, he has managed to provide quality education for his daughter and proudly boasts about her being a teacher at a local school. It is interesting to observe how every Jhal Mudhi lover swears by his favourite Jhal Mudhi-wala (hawker) in town, which is replete with scores of them competing with each other to deliver that unforgettable taste in your mouth. Thanks to such simple pleasures of life !

To get maximum juice out of lemons: Soak lemons in hot water for an hour,and then juice them.
Asha Mohapatro

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