Shingara and I were never very compatible in my growing up years. One reason could be that whenever I had them, they helped add generously to my already voluminous figure. But then, so did peyanji, beguni and egg rolls and I never held any grudges against them. The other reason could be that I considered them to be not so elite a snack (again, peyanji and beguni’s status was overlooked). So my nose would wrinkle a little and I would go ‘ishsh..!’ whenever somebody would suggest shingara. My earliest memory of shingara was getting them from a local sweets shop near the bus stand on the main road. This is the early 80s I am talking about. I grew up in a bit snooty upper middle class locality in south Kolkata. The neighbourhood discussed Rabindranath and Marx while sipping tea and homemade delicacies. Getting food from small shops was a bit looked down upon. So, it was only when emergency situations occurred (read guests visited unannounced), the househelp or sis or I was sent to Nidur Dokan to get Shingara and Roshogolla. Of course the outlook changed rapidly as snacks shops started mushrooming in Kolkata and Bangali ditched class for pleasure.
This Nidur Dokan was a two room shop, the front was where the counters were and the room at the back was used as kitchen. The counters were larger than me and I would raise my toes, clutching the edge of the counter, to give my order to Nidu. I still distinctly remember the man. He was 50ish, always remained without a shirt, had two teeth which showed themselves when he smiled and asked ‘ki lagbe khuki?’ I of course considered myself an adult with a ten rupee note clutching in my hand, and would answer in a glum voice ‘aat-ta shingara ar aat-ta roshogolla. Shingara gorom chai’– parroting mom’s instructions. Someone from the room at the back will appear with a big jhuri of freshly fried shingara and transfer those to the jhuri kept inside the glassbox that served as the counter. I will keep an eagle eye as Nidu would put 8 shingaras in a kagojer thonga (paper packet) and 8 roshogolla in a bhanr (clay pot). The shop always remained half-full with daily wagers or people from nearby slum.
While Nidu sold pure Bangali shingara complete with mild alur torkari (potato cubes curry) and crunchy bhaja badam (fried peanuts) inside, I got introduced to it’s North-Indian cousin samosa in the later years. The only thing I could associate with this variety of thick-crust, ghee-fried, spicy and rather large shingara was ‘Gas’– no offence to the Sharmas and the Tewaris.
Appreciation for shingara came when I joined my first job. It was a young dot com company and work was fun. My best buddy in office was Riya who matched me in size (at least horizontally). It was no surprise that both of us felt hungry at around 3 pm in spite of lunch at 1 pm and would go hunting for food outside. On busy days, one of us would go and bring food for both. On one such day Riya brought shingara. The skin was so thin that you could see the golden aloor torkari (potato filling) inside. Medium sized – when broken it let out a small cloud of hot smoke. The potato cubes had skins on them. The brown bhaja badams were glistening and tiny florets of cauliflower were inviting me to take a bite. I did, and man, I lost my heart to this fine piece of art.
I wanted to see where this fine creation was being produced and prodded Riya many times to take me there. She remained reluctant for a few days and then gave in. So I accompanied her to the shop which I found was 7-8 minutes walk from our office building. Nestled between two trees, it was a 4ft by 4 ft structure made of steel sheets. A single person was inside. I looked at the guy and then I looked at Riya. Now I knew why all this while she had a mischievous smile on her face. The man had seen at least a hundred years in this world. The last bath he had taken was when he was born and daai-ma had cleaned him. No ariel or surf with triple xxx could ever make his ganjee near to white again. And most important part was his finger nails. Those were long……and black – filled to the brim with I didn’t wanna know what. That sight of course made my relationship with shingara at his shop complicated.
But my sorrow was soon forgotten when I discovered Putiramer shingara and tolerance improved when I discovered Mrityunjoy. While I was basking in my new found love, my mom decided to hit a sixer by making manghsor shingara at home. I was like … what? Mom? You knew how to make shingara? Later I championed the art of shaping these triangular wonders, filling them with minced mutton dry curry and sealing them perfectly. I have even clocked myelf – 2 shingaras/minute.
My cultivated love for Shingara will now see me noshing my way into a bowlful of muri and singara along with Bhanrer Cha in a winter evening or preparing these fundamentally Bangali munchies for addas with friends. From ‘Ishsh….’ I went ‘Yumm!!!’ and made loads of good memories along the journey!
What is your best shingara experience? Do share in the comment section.