How Sunday chicken curry memories gave birth to mamleter jhol (Bengali omelette curry)

Omelette curry

It's a bit of a myth that all Bengali men love fish.

I hated fish while growing up. Specially since I had to eat it every day. Usually it was the same fish and the same preparation. 

The Sunday chicken curry, on the other hand, was something that I would look forward to all week.

It was only after coming to Mumbai that I began to miss fish when I didn't get it as easily here. 

I am talking of the fresh water fish that Bengalis eat of course. There were enough local Malvani joints like Saayba in Bandra and Mangalorean places such as Apoorva and Mahesh in Fort where one would get seawater fish.

That's when I would crave for the fresh water fish preparations that I had grown up on in Kolkata. I would go to the mess on top of the terrace of Hotel New Bengal (now shut), near VT station, for a fish thali even if it had the small and bony rui that I despised while growing up.

Then I married a Parsi who loves fish. I would enjoy shopping for fish and cooking it for her. With time I began to eat it too. Specially with doctors advising me to do so as I grew older.

Must say that my heart is in meat though and I would any day prefer meat over fish.

Still, I broke into a smile when I had rui kalia for dinner a couple of nights back and the remaining curry for lunch yesterday. You can find my recipe for rui curry in this link.

Mumbai made me love fish in a way Kolkata never could. 

Rui kalia with rice

I was reminded of the Bengali man's ennui when it comes to fish thanks to my mesho (uncle) and cousin who are staying with us right now.

When I asked them what they would like to eat, my cousin said "anything as long as it is mutton or chicken".

My uncle said "I can eat eggs for all meals. And potatoes""

Then they both said in unison, "no fish for us please".

Which is why I thought of the omelette curry while wondering what to organise for dinner for them the other night when K and I planned to eat fish.

The curry was based on something my mother used to do while we were growing up.

She would buy a whole chicken from the market on Friday evenings. This became my duty when I went to high school. 

We moved onto chicken from mutton in the mid 80s itself when my mom read that it was better for one's health.

We went to the Bansdroni market in Kolkata to buy chicken. The chicken seller would weigh a live chicken which he would take out of the cage. The chicken would flap its wings and jump on the scales when trussed up and weighed. Once we found a chicken we agreed on, the chicken seller would slit the chicken's throat (right in front of one), wait for it to stop convulsing, pluck its feathers and cut into pieces for you. Sounds pretty grim but was actually pretty assembly line like when one went through this every week. 

I had written about the Bansdroni market and put up pics which you can see at the link here.

Anyway, my mom would cook the chicken on Friday night and it was meant to serve the three of us for three meals...Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday lunch.

Now obviously that was not enough chicken for three meals. So, to bulk it up, she unwittingly did with the khansamas of Wajid Ali Shah did to make the biryani last when he was exiled to Kolkata from Lucknow.

She added potatoes to the chicken curry. 

That was still not enough so on Saturday she would sometimes make omelettes and half them and then add them to the curry.

Sometimes, for 'variety' she would make Jolly's curry. She told me that this was named after a friend's wife from their time in the UK. The lady, Jolly, would apparently often crack an egg into a curry which was being cooked. The egg would form a ball in the curry. This apparently became pretty popular among their friend's circle and the preparation was known as 'Jolly's curry'.

Sundays were special as that's the day we get to eat the chicken. My mom, brother and I would share the drumsticks on alternate Sundays. A far cry from our life in Mumbai now when we buy pre-cut chicken drumsticks when we want to eat chicken.

This was not the end of the life of the chicken curry. I would use the liver from the curry to make sandwiches to take to school and then college on Monday.

If you want my chicken curry recipe you will find it here. 

Now, coming back to the omelette (called mamlet in Bengali) curry which we made for our visitors, this time it was a standalone curry and not an addition to chicken curry. The base was the same though.

Here's how you can make it.

Mamleter jhol or Omelette Curry Recipe

Ingredients (for 2)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (we were a rare non mustard oil using Bengali family), whole garam masala - 1 piece of cinnamon, 1 clove & 1 cardamom, 2 bay leaves, 1 dry red chilli, 1 ground onion or finely chopped, 1 teaspoon ginger paste, paste of half a tomato (or finely chopped), spices ( 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/2 teaspoon each of red chilli, garam masala, coriander and cumin powders), 1 teaspoon salt, 2 potatoes - parboiled and cubed, 2 masala omelettes (with green chilli, onions) cut into 4 pieces, 1 coffee mug water

  • Heat vegetable oil
  • Add whole garam masala, bay leaves & dry red chilli. Stir for 30 sec
  • Add paste of 1 red onion. Stir for 1.5 minutes
  • Add 1 teaspoon crushed ginger. Stir for 30 sec
  • Add a paste of half a tomato. Stir for a minute
  • Add spices - 1:2 turmeric and coriander, cumin, red chilli powders and salt and blend in
  • Add parboiled potatoes and stir for 1 minute
  • Add water, bring to boil
  • Add omelettes. let the water boil for a minute. Reduce the flame of the the gas. Let the curry simmer for 3,4 minutes and then shut the gas.
My uncle prefers to have this with the rotis our cook, Banu makes, while my cousin has all jhols (curries) with rice.

There was a lot of response evoked by my omlette curry post on Facebook and I will share some of that chatter here:

Lalee Chatterjee Thank you for this post Kalyan..brought back such nostalgic and fond memories. Yes Basdroni Bazar was also a place my mother used to buy the days last supply (apparently cheaper) to feed our large family. Then of course the Mumlette added to Murgir Jhol and liafs of potatoes to make it wholesome and last few meals. Our favourite was left overs mashed with sauces and made into pakoras on sunday..Egg curry mostly meant duck eggs and half a slice that my mother used to neatly slice with a thread. Such were good times of sharing and camaredie and even though the house used to be full of guests and supplies rather meagre we never felt as though anything was missing. Today we have as many drumsticks as we like or as many Rui slices ( that i procure one in a lifetime almost from the indian market) but where is that pleasure, that delight in the pressure cooker siti going off on sundays and pining for that extra one piece that was never available..Lovely post

Kaustav Ghoshal Kalyan- you should come up with a book on Bengali cuisine. Some of the recipes that you've given e.g. Dimer jhol, omelette 'er jhol are so common, yet your presentation makes them so special. Looking forward to more such recipes !
Ritaban Basu I do a healthy option of the same by making the omelets with egg whites...another dimer jhol is when you break the egg into the jhol itself and so it's like a poached but hard boiled kind of egg in the jhol...have you tried it?
Tuli Kar I loved #mamleterjhol! One of my all time favourites and especially with potatoes cut in cubes!
Mallika Biswas My mom makes this and she adds cholar dal to this...tastes try it sometime..


SC said…
There's something in your writing that makes one almost pine for the days gone-by.... this is so much more than a recipe.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thank you so much, I really enjoyed writing it so I am glad it struck a chord. thanks for the encouragement