Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Chopshop at Professorpada (and that lovely Ambassador car) - II

[Continued from Part I]

After the chicken pakoda interlude, I asked Satya to drive. I was feeling fatigued, and also slightly feverish (not so surprising; within two days my temperature hit 103.8 Farenheit). Satya exhibited a much more practised touch, had no compunctions gunning the car down crowded roads. Eventually we hit Professorpada, turned left at the canal, proceeded down the road for a few hundred metres, and then Satya stopped the car, asked us to get down, and pointed to a narrow lane on the left. Going further down this lane we discovered two adjoining shops, both selling chops. Satya directed us to the one closer to us, which was apparently the more favoured (and better known) purveyor.

The outfit had been carved out of a tiny alcove within a large, old house (the exposed beams on the ceiling gave you a feeling of just how old it was). This, however, served only as a store-room. It was kept meticulously clean, and had been fitted out with several shelves and benches. On these rested an array of sauces, condiments, spices, and trays full of uncooked chops. The action took place outside. All the cooking was done on a gas burner mounted on a stand, on which stood an ancient cast-iron Kadhai filled with oil. Customers stood around this arrangement, donas (leaf-bowls) in hand, the way people surround gol-gappa vendors. Chops were brought out from inside one tray at a time, and dunked into the sputtering oil. Once ready, they would be served straight out of the kadhai onto customers' donas. Amazingly, this whole process was a one-man affair. From frying the chops to serving them, to keeping count of which customer had how many of which variety, to handling the cash till, the proprietor did it all, singlehanded, faltering only rarely.

The chops were a surprise in several ways. Their size, to begin with. Chops generally tend to be oblong in shape, at least three inches long and about an inch and a bit across. These ones were tiny, at best three quarters of an inch across, and nearly spherical in size. Then the variety: the place has at least six or seven types on offer. They are cheap too. The mutton, chicken, liver, and prawn versions sell for three Rupees each. Also on offer is a vegetarian version, pointless from a religious viewpont since they are fried in the same oil as the meatier ones are. Egg chops are larger and pricier at ten bucks. Apart from chops, the shop also sells chaap, or breaded, deep fried cutlets. Mutton chaaps come for fifteen Rupees, and the chicken version for ten (I suspect the chicken chaaps are actually lollypops rather than chaaps in the true sense). Another interesting feature is the way they are served. About five to ten of them go into a dona, accompanied not by the stale raw onion you get at most chop vendors', but by a delightful green salad made up mostly of coarse-chopped unpeeled cucumber, just a little bit of shredded onion, and a few stray segments of lime. A masala is sprinkled, and then lime juice squeezed, over chop and salad alike. We were also offered tomato and chilli sauce, which we firmly and unanimously rejected.

Proceedings started with mutton chop, ten pieces to a person. Frankly, not up to much: too much potato, barely any meat. They tasted good, true. The breading was done just right - crispy, neither too oily nor too heavy. So was the lightly spiced potato filling tasty in its own right. But the dearth of meat filling was galling. All said, there's only so much potato you can chomp through in your quest for elusive bits of meat. In this regard the liver chops in the next round fared much better. Each piece had a substantial chunk of liver embedded. I suspect they pre-cook the liver, because for sure a few minutes' deep frying won't soften it enough. The bits in the chops were firm but impressively soft to chew, and they blended with the potato beautfully. A very, very satisfying experience.

In between the rounds, we got to talk to the proprietor a little. He said his name was Muna Panda, but people generally knew him as Kalia. His father had started the venture and he himself drifted into it in due course, largely because he was never serious about studies. He sometimes feels should have followed his brother, who qualified as an engineer and is now very well settled in Qatar. Kalia is determined to give his son a good education, and not let junior follow him into the chop business. I wonder what happens when he hangs up his Kadhai for good. Will he sell off the business? Will he share with the buyer, presumably an outsider to the family, the secret recipes and techniques he has amassed, the secrets that make his chops so singular? Or will he refuse to part with them, and have the Professorpada chop die with him?

And there were plenty of secrets too. We got a taste of them in the very next round, comprising of prawn chops. At three Rupees apiece, you cannot expect the highest grades of prawn. And indeed, the prawns used were pretty small, and a little on the stinky side too. However, they were cooked just right, and spiced just right. The spicing was gentle, and yet just assertive enough to soften the stink to comfortably tolerable levels. Once again, the prawn blended beautifully with the potato and the crisp breaded exterior. So which one did I like the more, liver or prawn? On hindsight, perhaps I'd go with the prawn, but for sure the liver version would come a very, very close second. Choosing between them is not easy.

The prawn chops were where we stopped. We had demolished several plates of chicken pakoda earlier, and then followed it up with about thirty chops per head. And thirty chops, even ones as small as these, make for a lot of meat, potato, and deep-fried breadcrumb. Raja continued to give Kalia brisk business for some more time. He had a round of chicken chops, then some mutton chaap, perhaps a few egg chops too. By this time I was feeling distinctly out of sorts.

At Dolamundai the others visited a well-known mixture shop. I took the opportunity to treat myself to some cough syrup. Then we went to a legendary tea stall near Barabati stadium. The delightful old gentleman running it greeted us with a perplexing remark, he said we ought to have come earlier, now he can serve us only dalda, not desi ghee. We had to talk to him for some time before we were able to understand what he meant, namely that his stock of good quality tea had got over for the day, and so he could offer us only second-great stuff which came nowhere near the quality he was famous for. Second-grade or not, the tea he served was excellent, and all the more so as far as I was concerned because by this time the virus had me firmly in its grip.

Bishwa took over the wheel for the last leg. I was too sick to drive. But not too sick to pose for pictures at the wheel of the car. We spent a good fifteen minutes taking photos, mainly because I wanted souvenirs to commemorate the first time I drove an Amby. It was a very silly idea, agreed, but the others cheerfully got into the spirit of things. Several shots later, I finally staggered up the stairs and flopped down on the bed without preamble. I was tired, sick, shivery, feverish, but it had been worth it in the end, every single bit of it.


Unknown said...

I have to say this is dedication... with that much fever, I would never even have remembered the experience!
Great write-up, though.... love your style!

Abhik Majumdar said...

Thanks Ani (if it's you, that is - if not, thank you whoever you are)

No no, I wasn't so feverish that day. The virus was just catching on. Anyway, would I let a little fever stand between self and food? You're joking, right?

Anonymous said...

Dear Abhik Da,

It was indeed a nice experience to share with you and looking for eateries in and around Cuttack. However, this was an unique experience which we were looking since a quiet a long period; as we had heard of it many times. Hope, there is many more to come... Bishwa

Abhik Majumdar said...

Bishwa, thanks for the comment. You come back from Arunachal Pradesh or wherever you're stuck in (never mind why you're stuck there), we'll have plenty, plenty more food adventures. Lots of unique ones too. Jungle View is about as unique as it can get.

Snigdha Samal said...

Finally got some time to walk with you and your friends in the chop trail. I am not a big fan of chops...but you with your delightful narrative have made it sound delicious. I think I will have to try these tiny sized chops... :)
And the poor old Amby has got its due credit too.

I will be traveling in a couple of weeks. Will see if I can make my way to those corners. Any good foodie dhaba or road side eatery in BBSR? Early last year I had tried a couple...but they were disaster.

Abhik Majumdar said...

Aha, so you're headed down BBSR way? Do let me know when and for how long you're here. We shall certainly try and arrange some interesting foodie jaunts.

I haven't hung around in BBSR much, but there are sure to be plenty of good roadside joints over that side. Will dig around and let you know.