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Jamshedpur, an unlikely gourmet capital

A hot griddle sizzles over the fire as a young man swiftly pours the batter and spreads it out in one smooth swirl. Next, he sprinkles a mix of sliced onions, beetroot and a potato mix and pours a copious amount of oil. A few flips later, the batter emerges on a dented steel plate as a glorious golden dosa.

On another cart, a man dunks small discs of dough into smoking oil. The puffed-up discs emerge as crisp puris. They later rest in a large platter from where they are served on a plate with a spicy potato curry and a large syrupy jalebi.

Meanwhile, tea boils on a stove at a nearby shack, idlis steam in a large steamer and rasgullas rest in a container. Men, women and children hover between the carts, plates in hand and a smile on their face. Welcome to a typical morning in Jamshedpur, a town that lives to eat.

Jamshedpur, an unlikely gourmet capital

Set up a century ago by the legendary industrialist Jamsetji Tata to support the steel factory, Jamshedpur is today a colourful town with an electric mix of communities. It is also home to some of the best food in the country. Bengali, Bihari, Tamil, Punjabi, Gujarati and Parsi influences, married with fresh produce and local culinary practices, make the cuisine here unusual and interesting.

“Jamshedpur is a unique blend of cuisines and cultures,” says Gayatri Iyer, proprietor of one of the oldest restaurants in the city. “Today, you see so much food outside, but when my grandfather set up The Madrasi Hotel in 1935, it was the only place to eat out. The dosa was, perhaps, the first thing that the townsmen ate outside of their homes.”

Jamshedpur, an unlikely gourmet capital

Brought along by immigrants from southern India, dosa has since become synonymous with Jamshedpur. Served with a thin, flavourful sambhar, chunky dal chutney and sometimes filled with upma rather than potatoes, it has its own identity here. It also remains a popular item on any menu, including Iyer’s, who feels Jamshedpur could possibly be the largest consumer of dosas.

Jamshedpur, an unlikely gourmet capital

If crispy dosas showcase the influences of the South, the litti tells you about the city’s Bihari connect. These small balls of dough, stuffed with sattu, baked and dipped in ghee, are served with a mishmash of potatoes, tomatoes and brinjals. Spiked with green chilli and mustard oil, the chokha is spicy and flavourful, while the doughy and crumbly litti is filling. Cheap and easily available, the combination not only packs a punch for the palate but is also a storehouse of energy and nutrition — something the army of workers needs in large quantities. If a city thrives on its food, Jamshedpur is indeed a happy one. From the basic meal that caters to a daily wager, snacks that keep students going, to modern adaptations of old recipes, Jamshedpur is a treasure trove of flavours, textures and culinary history.

“I moved to Bengaluru after school,” informs Gayatri, who decided to give up her life in the IT city to run the 84-year-old institution in this city. “With no one else to take care of the place, I had to step in and am glad I made the decision.”

Varun Gazder, the owner of the first Parsi café in town, left his job at the legendary Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai to open a new place with a vintage feel. “I missed having a Parsi place in Jamshedpur,” he says and adds, “Hence, I thought of doing something that not only represents our family history but also that of the city.” Café Regal, his franchise, has since taken upon itself to revive age-old Parsi recipes and an abandoned theatre that now houses the café. Iron beams, bearing the imprint of the steel factory from the 1920s, support its ceiling, trophies, commemorating golden jubilees of films played here, line its shelves. Furniture from old homes also graces the chequered floor. As locals put it, ‘Sitting in Café Regal is like peeking into the past of Jamshedpur’.

No conversation about Jamshedpur’s food is complete without talking about its Bengali food. With a sizeable population of Bengalis here, the city has always had a strong Bengali influence. Almost every sweet shop is an expert in Bengali confections. Snacks like chops and shingharas (Bengali samosa) are eternal favourites. “While returning from work, our father would often carry a parcel of hot shingharas or crunchy chops for us,” recalls Subhasis Kar, a resident, who feels nothing can beat the city’s vegetable chops, often called just ‘vegetable’. “Now, my children expect me to get them the same things,” he smiles. Crispy, dense and served with a dash of salad, the chops here are a class apart. Shingharas, meanwhile, are small, flaky and almost always contain peanuts — a Bengali trademark. Puchka, beguni, rosogulla and rolls are some of the other imports from the land of Tagore, that have invaded the land of Tata.

At one time, the city had a considerable population of Germans, Englishmen and Americans — all of whom had came here during the World Wars. To cater to their needs, not only did the city open a new hotel and a bar — which often witnessed drunken brawls and broken chairs — but many bakeries too. “My most cherished memory of Jamshedpur is that of the quaint British-era bakeries,” says Maxwell Chhetri, a screenwriter and actor based in Mumbai, who grew up here. “Howrah Bakery and Calcutta Bakery have been making the same things — cream rolls, biscuits, cakes and softest breads that come apart at the slightest attempt to butter them. They still continue to enchant me.” Enchanting — indeed seems to be the right word to describe the food of Jamshedpur.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 10:57:03 AM |

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