Calcutta Phuchkas ... and the world of Bengali nicknames

Bengalis, or those with Bengali friends, would know of the nicknames that most Bengalis have. Short. Sweet. Often phonetic. At times nonsensical. Behind distinguished Abanindranaths, Samindranaths, Narendranaths, Bonishikhas, Padmalekhas and Charulatas lie the more innocent Kochis, Potkas, Tultuls, Bhombols, Papais, Pupais, Buris, Buros, Jhontus or Montus.

I have never heard of anyone nicknamed Phuchka though. I wonder why. It is such a cherubic sounding word. Joyous and innocent. As cuddly and bouncy as one could get.

Phuchka is also the name of one of Calcutta's most famous street foods. Little canape like, semolina balls. A muslin thin shallow crust. Pierced with grimy fingers. Stuffed with mashed potatoes spiced with red chilly powder, garam masala, finely chopped green chillies, coriander leaves and boiled chickpeas. Doused with a cooling, sour, tonge tickling, tantalising tamarand water mix. Popped into the mouth. A clumsy eat climaxing in mind blowing fireworks of taste and triumph. Legend has it that the experience is incomplete without sweat and grime of the phuchka seller.

Sudeshna of Cook Like a Bong reminded me that there is a nickname called Puchki. Puchki, and the male Puchke, means tiny. We used to tease a short classmate and call him Puchke when we were barbaric schoolboys. Sudeshna writes about how to make phuchkas at home on her site.

This reminded me of how I made phuchkas in the maginificent Park Hyatt at Goa when K and I went there last July. I was never happier in a five star buffet.

You can never forget the taste of phuchka. My first memory of phuchka was from when I was seven years old (!) in the early eighties. I was returning with our maid from the art school at CLT down Dhakuria Bridge in Calcutta when we had it. Those were the days you got twelve phuchkas for one Rupee. Today you get one phuchka for one Rupee in Calcutta. Or is it one for two Rupees?

I didn't have phuchkas in my teens. My Momma said that they were unhygienic. Filled with water borne diseases. Uncooked. Untouchable.

Eating phuchkas require practice. I once joined a few girls in college at their favourite phuchka guy outside Presidency College. I made a mess of it as the water dribbled all over my mouth thanks to years of abstinence.

Another Bong Mom argues that phuchkas are a girlie treat. Was that why phuchkas weren't part of my growing up days. Maybe it wasn't my mother after all. Freud where art thou?

My love for phuchka came into its own when I moved out of Calcutta. Trips home led to phuchka binges. Favourites were discovered at Lindsay Street outside New Empire Cinema. I got married and Kainaz, the Bombay Bawi, fell in love with phuchkas too. The New Empire guy remained a must visit. The couple selling phuchkas at Dakshinapan became another favourite. Eventually my mom joined us. For a 'taste'. I still won't forget her ducking in between phuchkas at Dakshinapan afraid that her colleagues from college would see her.

You get pani puris in Mumbai. The name, a generic descriptor (Pani = water, puri = canape, phuchka shell) versus the evocative, poetic abd lovable 'phuchka', a portent of things to come. Here you have a spicy mint infused tamarind water. AND a thick, syrupy sweet tamarind water. The puri is thicker and tougher than the larger and more ethereal phuchka shell of Calcutta. Sprouts, onions, chopped tomatoes and boondi (the salty version of what laddoos are made off) make pani puris a very very distant cousin of the potato filled phuchkas. The Montagues and Capulets of the streets of India.

So what do you do if you are in Mumbai and miss phuchkas? Go to a pani puri guy. Ask him to mash the potaotes. Add chat masala. And not put anything else. Green chillies if possible. And only the khatta or sour water.

It won't be the same. The puri is tougher. The potato would be lumpy and not mashed properly. The khatta pani is more hot and spicy than sour. But it will help you survive till you can go to your favourite phuchka guy in Kolkata. Everyone has one. Which is yours?

(This is the guy from Lindsay street whose picture features in all my posts. Love his infectious smile. I must confess that I haven't gone there in years though)

Note: My nickname is Raja. Thanks apparently to a colleague of my Dad in England who thought that I looked like a king and asked what the Indian word for king was. My dad had told me this story more than twenty six years back. I liked the story.

Do you have a nickname?

PPS: Spell cehck wasn't working so please write in if you spot any typos.

I had asked folks for popular nicknames in Bengal on Facebook. Here's an extract of that conversation. You might find yours.

calling all Bongs and friends of bongs... What are all the quaint Bong nicknames that you know...need it for a blog post...

5 hours ago via Mobile Web Only friends; Except: work, Sleepers · Comment ·LikeUnlike · View feedback (19)Hide feedback (19)

Shantanu Ghosh
5 hours ago ·

Sudeshna Banerjee
Mana, shona, ma, babai, shonamuni, khukumuni
5 hours ago ·

Kalyan Banerjee
papai, bulti, chhoton, bablu, buba, papon, budi, khaipa, babu
5 hours ago ·

Kalyan Banerjee
bappa, tublu, tukai, buni, pakhi, nila, nilu, laltu
5 hours ago ·

Madhumita Bhattacharya
Tuplu, paplu, munmun, mom, tukai, munai, babai, kutty, chhoton, mishtu, mishti, jhum, jhuma, tuktuki, bubun, bulbul, tultul, munni, tuni, buro, bhombol, khokon, baby, khuku, nikhu, shotu, peeku,
4 hours ago ·

Kalyan Karmakar
wow keep it going... Wonder why there was never a 'phuchka' though
4 hours ago ·

Sudeshna Banerjee
Phuchka, not therebut Puchki is there
4 hours ago ·

Madhumita Bhattacharya
Shontu, Mintu, Jhontu, Rinku, Rinki, Ronnie, Rumpa, Pinku, Pinki, Piu
4 hours ago ·

Madhumita Bhattacharya
Jhinuk, Mini, Runu, Jhunu, Manik,
4 hours ago ·

Kalyan Karmakar
puchki yes :) madhumita what about ur planned play, holo?
4 hours ago ·

Shantanu Ghosh
What a collection!!!!Never figured how people could call a kid our younger days, every second child in Kolkata used to be called Buro!!!
4 hours ago ·

Madhumita Bhattacharya
Ya see status update...
4 hours ago ·

Shantanu Ghosh
And there was this 70 year old lady being called baby
4 hours ago ·

Shantanu Ghosh
4 hours ago ·

Kalyan Karmakar
shantanu i know buros... And dont forget our marxist brothers and baby kutty.
4 hours ago ·

Madhumita Bhattacharya
Aha aha :-)
4 hours ago ·

Siddhartha Karmakar
Shomu raja
3 hours ago ·

Kalyan Karmakar
@Siddhartha, Shomu was a short form of Samrat, the nickname I gave you. Samrat and Siddharth were names of my friends. And you were born on Saturday so S. As you can see, my word held sway :) Didu shortened it.As for Raja, you'll get the story on my post on phuchka which I will publish tomorrow
about a minute

Poli Gupta
Gablu, Shobuj, Tiklu, Tublu, babai, bubka, chumki, chimki tutul, Jhontu, Bappa, Ronju, Bubai, tiklu, Nimu .. No one has yet mentioned Maamon, I know 2 people called Jishu, then there are the khuku di-s, Hashi di-s, Phool-di-s :)
8 hours ago ·

Nilakshi Sengupta
some missing ones being bacchu (da) buri, buchi, bubu and my unique pet name "tubu" inspired by the route 2B which took my aunt to the hospital to see me for the first time:)
4 hours ago ·

Anamika Kumar
quaint of goes,,, some names which were part of my childhood - tutul, khokhon,mamuni, toton...
2 hours ago ·

Shaswati Saradar
takdum, tablet, atom, mouri, chuki, tempo, ghanta, nero, potla - and I actually know people with these names! :)
52 minutes ago ·

Shaswati Saradar
Not to forget tumpa, butu, tnepa, pocha, ponchu, bnatul, khyapa - the list is endless...
48 minutes ago ·

Kalyan Karmakar the aunt the one who was your chaperone? Shaswati Tablet?! Remember Teni. Ana, that's a nice thought. I grew up with Ananda, Rupu, Raja, Tito, Riju, Sugato, Munnada, Bapida, Gaurav, Joi, Tublu... quite respectable huh?


Anonymous said…
Some more of such nicknames:

Babai, Bubai, Tukai, Babu, Pintu, Bumba, Raju, Pinky, Rinki (this one is mine :P), Jhuma, Jhumpa, Chumki, Mamoni (a very common one for the 'adurey bangali meye')

One of my dad's friend's son used to call me 'Phuchi' when we were kids. I guess he derived this name from the word 'Phuchka'. Lol. Anyway, I simply loved this post of yours. :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Arundhati...thanks...Phuchi? Congrats on being the first person to be named after the greatest treat known to man :)
Ushnish Ghosh said…
Dear Kalayan
When my elder daughter comes to del from Mumbai, we eat Golgappa every after noon...and only one joint where we get fuchka, devoid of those north Indian Imli ka chutney and curd, generally put in gol gappa...
where do u get fuchka, pani puri, golgappa in Mumbai,closest to cal or del taste ?
Excellent writing indeed, you made my day taking me to cal of 60-70-80.
We used to score century of fuchka at Majherhat station waiting for the next train..." Fuchka di-te thako next train asa porjjonto, which was generally 1 hr later after missiing the train of 17:13hrs...
Bhalo theko

mentalie said…
i had puchkas in calcutta once...aaaahhh! heaven! i'd kill to have another...but the compromise you suggest isn't going to cut it @%$#!
Shishir said…
good one! i remember frequenting the lad outside stanc in gariahat, and also an itinerant chap near menoka cinema in southern ave [i used to live next to MC].
am also wellknown in the side streets of lagos [nigeria] for wolfing down 100 panipuris at a sitting and living to tell the tale. but i could be a minnow compared to a pure-bred 'puchker'!
Sudeshna said…
This is such a good post, very very close to the heart. Brought back many memories some sour, some hot, some sweet - a mixed taste just like the phuchka. Regarding the best one I had in Kolkata its a Bengali guy (unlike most other phuchkawalas in Kolkata who hail from our neighboring state) who sells near the Jadavpur 8B bus stand.
PS: My nickname is Chitra (the official one, others include Mana, Sonai, Bugai, Budun - as my aunts and uncles call me). Chitra is shortened form of Chitrangada which my grandpa called me.
Gia Fernandes said…
I feel so left out :-(
Kalyan Karmakar said…

I love the papri chat of Delhi. I don't like gol gappes.

Don't you get phuchkas at C R Park? Actually you don't get phuchkas in Mumbai. Unless you have my ersatz version. I have heard of phuchka and roshogolla eating competitions. I think my generation and those that followed couln't live up to yuur standards.



Mentalie...I absolutely agree :)

Shishir you are the man...and the cause of the African famines apparently

Sdueshna, thanks, Chitra? Lucky. I had a friend called Anirban. His nickname was Ashok. Apparently because his parents liked both.

There was a junior in college called Bugai. A guy!

C, you are G the Goddess of Bakes...that's as good a nickname as any :)
nice..I Can get a taste of pani puri here sitting in US..on my pc..from ur blog.. so much flavour....I enjoyed eating all puchkas!!
Scarlett said…
My favorite is a guy at Vivekananda Park (clost to where I live). He makes nice phuchkas but he's won a couple of awards so he charges Rs 2 per phuchka. Though I haven't had phuchkas for about 7-8 months now, ever since a colleague got typhoid after eating phuchkas!! That was during the monsoons...think it's time to go back & have a few :)
Ron said…
Do NOT get me started on phuchka outside Kolkata. Remember the carrots and sprouts I mentioned in my last comment? My favourite phuchka wala would have to be the one next to the 23 Polli mondir in Hajra, simply because my mamar bari is right next door and Ive been eating those phuchkas since I was so high and the man knows me and welcomes me back with such joy whenever I visit.

Speaking of nicknames, my friend was called Kuchi and her brother was called Kucho. Then there was Tupshi and her sister Kuttushi, and their cousins Nikon and Bimbo :)
china cat sunflower said…
my aunt's pup's name is phuchka and he sure looks like one with his tan colour and sweet and sour disposition. :-)
i call myself the queen of street food and i've never had phuchkas outside new empire. shameful! must try that one the next time i'm in the city.
i love the dhakuria couple's puris too and remember with much fondness the one guy who used to make aludom-phuchkas outside jadavpur university from my college days.

i love the bombay panipuri too just as much as i love the vada pao. both are equally hated by true-blood bengalis and hence i've been the butt of many an insult in a bengali gathering.

- China cat
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Harman...I am a big fan of paapri chaat from the north

Scarlett...award? sounds like another common friend of ours. Rolls are safer as they are fried. Phuchkas are risky one must admit

Ron... I have shocked fellow bongs recently with your carrot stories. Must feel great to be welcomed by your phuchka guy...homecoming

Chinacat...I am fond of vada paos and anything with alu.
Unknown said…
I am glad I read this post even though a little belatedly. I used tp dream about marrying a phuchkawala when I was a teenager.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Pree: at one point I was a bit undecided between becoming an Astronaut and an ice cream seller
Anonymous said…
Eeeee!!!!!! Now I have a indomitable urge to run downstairs and eat puchhka!!! I love them totally.... It is definitely keeps the kid in me alive!
Unknown said… this word, esp when i hear it in Mumbai. I'm from Ranchi, there to we used to call our 'pani puris' - puchka :).
Sadly hvn't been able to find a close enugh puckawala here
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Yeah, it's not the same
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