When Kolkata met Sardinia


 First things first, let me decipher the meaning of this snack called the 'Jhal Muri'.

Jhal = Spicy; Muri = Puffed Rice

Jhal Muri (fondly referred to as just Muri) is what I would call the 'brother from another mother' of the Mumbai street food 'Bhel Puri'.

I have written about the wine pairing with the Bhel Puri in one of my earlier blogs here.

So it is about time to introduce a similar, very popular, sought after, mouth watering street foods of the great city of east India - Kolkata (aka Calcutta)

The Mumbai-ites may not appreciate comparing ANY Indian street food with their beloved Bhel - but, when I first had the Muri, I could not help notice the jarring similarities between the Bhel and Muri.

To be honest, I have never known or even heard about the Jhal Muri until a few years ago. I first heard about this from a family member who hails from the city of Kolkata.

After hearing about it and most importantly devouring it, I could not believe how this dish has not taken over the streets of my city of Chennai (and other south Indian cities), like the Bhel? 

Well, better late than never - and was I glad I crossed paths with this dish?!

Before I describe the ingredients, I have to mention one other key discovery for me about the Jhal Muri - the mustard oil! I have heard about the importance of mustard oil in east Indian cooking, but it is so specific to this region (like coconut oil is to the Southern state of Kerala) and its cuisine that I have never smelled or tasted anything like it in the South Indian dishes. What can I say? There is never a dull moment with Indian spices, dishes and cuisines.

To give an idea, the mustard oil kind of hits you like the Wasabi - so the taste can be polarizing, you may either like it or not. 

So, without further adieu about the ingredients: The Jhal Muri primarily involves mixing the main ingrediet - puffed rice with chopped onions, green chillies, cilantro, fried chick peas (sev), roasted bengal gram (aka chana dal) toasted peanuts, papdis and last but not the least -a dash of mustard oil (THE most important ingredient of Jhal Muri) and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon.


Trivia alert: This Kolkata street food is so simple, ingredients easily accessible and yet mouth-watering. So, it totally makes sense how Angus Demoon from Great Britain fell in love with this spicy muri during his visit to Kolkata. And he did not just stop with that, he actually started a career making this incredible Jhal Muri.


The WINE pairing with JHAL MURI

The wine pairing thought process was especially interesting for this dish. While most ingredients are non-controversial and easy to enjoy with vino, the mustard oil definitely threw a wrench for me.

The challenge was, the wine must have sufficient body and acidity to balance the spiciness of the chillies and flavor profiles of cumin, chaat masala and black salt. But, the wine cannot clash with the strong aroma of the mustard oil. After some more thoughts and walking the wine isles of Beltramos, I first came to the conclusion that the wine has to either be a medium bodied white or a light bodied red wine. But one wine caught my attention more than any other - a Vermentino di Gallura from (one of the southern Italian islands of) Sardinia.


 I have sipped on some Vermentinos in the past and had a hunch that I had just found the perfect match for the Muri.


Tasting notes

 And boy was I right! This Vermentino especially, had outright apricot and peach flavor profiles. The next thing I detected were some hints of basil and other herbal aromas/flavors. All this combined with its racy acidity and 'just enough' robustness was P-E-R-F-E-C-T. 


The verdict

I gobbled up my first bowl of Jhal muri in no time. In my defense, the crunchiness of the puffed rice, roasted peanuts, papris, biting in to spicy green chillies here and there, the occasional cumin flavor and of course the touch of mustard oil were to die for! When I got up to make my second bowl, I slowed down to sip on the Vermentino. I thought that the wine was perfect in many ways but mostly with respect to how balanced it was with the spices, crunchiness of the onions and also the lemon/cilantro garnish.

While munching and sipping away, I also thought....If I had to describe all these complex flavors and their effects on my nose, palette and mind, this is what I would call the perfect first date meant to be if and when Kolkata met Sardinia!

Cin-Cin to good times, beautiful cultures and mouth-watering food & wine!