Friday, November 26, 2010

Jhal Muri

It is a cloudy Thanksgiving afternoon in upstate New York, the season's first light snowflakes mixing in with a slight drizzle. Making fudge brownies from scratch for the kids this evening, Miles, Chandrabindu on the speakers; this curious life of the transplant, levitated between two worlds. It is a day to celebrate this disjunction, the turkey and the goat meat; the fudge brownies and the ginger cake that I made this afternoon, and the jhal muri that I will make this evening.

Jhal Muri is a snack of puffed rice (moori) that we would buy from a street vendor outside our school.  For less than a rupee, he mixed up a flurry of spicy, tarty, tamarind laced, green and red garnished pouty, puffed rice and offered it up in paper bags made of newspapers.  Perched like a jazz drummer, his big bin of muri in front of him, ringed by a constellation of aluminum canisters holding his garnishes, he would scoop up a mug of muri, and then, in rapid jarring succession, scoop up chillies, spices, chopped onions, tamarind, cucumbers; the sounds coming off in rattles, and scrapes, and crunches, his aluminum ladle richochetting off the canisters. We would head to the bus stop, concoction in hand, spicy hot with chillies, tongues crying for a sip water, eyes watering but happy, walking with Debanjan, as he rolls out his latest love letter that he plans to, but never releases, to our classmate and the girl of his dreams, as we go over one more iteration and revision of his draft.

Toney Indian restaurants in New York will offer you jhal muri, with ingredients, clinical in their content, but without its sexiness.  I have sought this sizzle, and over the years have come to the following recipe that I will invariably make as a snack, whenever there is an occasion or guests. 

You will need a bag of puffed rice, which I get from Bhavik groceries in Elmsford. I am partial to the Bangladeshi products, the ones marked “fit for human consumption”, but puffed rice from Swad is fine too.  Some panipuris, tamarind, some hot mixes of the kind Haldiram sells (more on that later)—all available at a standard Indian grocery store.

Take a couple of spoons of the packed moist tamarind, and microwave it with some water till it is steaming hot.  Squish the tamarind around to dissolve it, then pass through a strainer to separate the liquid.  Put about a spoon and a half of chat masala into this and take a taste—it should remind you of a long lost childhood with a shiver down your spine.  If  the shiver fails to trigger, add some more tamarind.  If it feels untempered, add more chat masala.  Make about 100 ml of this solution for about a quart and a half of jhal muri—the dish should not be wet—just barely moist, but here again there are differing opinions.  The muri makers of Kolkata like to make theirs wetter, the purists from Bardhaman, a place where three o’clock in the afternoon is announced by the rattling of metal bowls mixing muri, the muri is spartan and dry, no tamarind is added. 

Once you have your tamarind base ready, set it aside in a little, good looking bowl, like the TV chefs like to display, if you think this is a classy thing to do. Then one needs to add some crunchies.  Today I used “Punjabi mix” from Masala Mirch, “Plain Bhujia” and “deep fried spicy peanuts” from Haldirams.  The amount and variety of added crunchies is a matter of debate, and depends on the level of ostentation one wishes.  In general don’t add much of this, perhaps a cup to a cup and a half of all three of them put together will do--one wants the tongue to encounter an itinerant peanut that passes by occasionally, and not several in one mouthful. I like to stick to a plain base of crunchies that are sort of like a non-spicy DC component, of either the bhujia or plain moong dal (also from Haldiram’s).  I do like to add some peanuts and these could be either the spicy variety or plain ones. Crunch up some pani puris in your palms and add to the muri.  Restraint is key here, five to six panipuris will do.  Then, add a half cup of chopped onions, a few chopped green chillies, some chopped fresh coriander and--if you have it-- a drizzle of mustard oil that gives the muri its slight pungency, and pour in the tamarind.  If you want more of a street food flavor, you could add some soaked Bengal gram, some finely diced cucumber, and  and quarter inch sized chopped boiled potatoes. For a more homely version, cut the tamarind by 75% or forgo it altogether, use plain peanuts, onions and chillies, a bit more of the mustard oil, and skip the rest.  As a last step, mix all of this into a homogenous mixture and dish out.  The mix should be freshly made just before you are ready to eat.


  1. I've only had the toney restaurant version but have had other Bengali friends rhapsodize on this topic quite a bit.

  2. Reminds me of the days I spent in Kolkata (Calcutta) about a decade ago. Living alone and away from family, a jhalmoori bag done to perfection by a streetside vendor in Ballygunge, was my usual fare while trudging back home in the evening after the day's work.