Every evening, after the sun sets in the steel city, the sky lights up. The orange glow can be attributed partially to the burning metal at the steel plant, and partially, to the illuminated carts of the food street in the heart of the town.
Tatanagar was founded a little over 100 years ago when Jamshedji Tata decided to set up a steel plant here. His decision resulted in two things. One: an obscure village metamorphosed into a cosmopolitan hub of people from all parts of the country, and two: it brought the time-tested from their kitchens and streets into this little hamlet. In no time Tatanagar turned into a melting pot of flavours and textures.
The best place to sample this mélange of tastes, textures, and flavours is the food street. Positioned along the well laid out J road, where pushcarts appear magically after dusk and bring with them the most lip-smacking, mouth-watering food one can imagine.
Take Raja’s dosa for example. His dosas are golden, crunchy and stuffed with julienned onion, beetroot, and cabbage apart from the standard potato mix. Served with the local version of Chutney – made with channa dal, not coconut – and watery yet flavourful Sambar, they beat the South Indian ghee roast hands down. Or Ashok’s littis for that matter. The thick balls of flour stuffed with sattu, roasted on charcoal, and dipped in pure ghee; they are served with cokha, a spicy preparation of roasted potato and brinjal mashed with a generous helping of mustard oil. One bite of this is all it takes for your taste buds to come alive.
“Sometimes, it’s hard for non-Jamshedpurians to understand what the fuss is about, why people from Tatanagar rave so much about the food here. But if someone hasn’t lived here, he will never understand what we are talking about.” Says Krishna, a homemaker and a regular at the food street even as she waits for her portion of litti. Her favourite happens to be chilly chicken and noodles from the van, and puchkas from the nameless man in the corner. Her children however are ardent fans of the papdi chaat made with dry puchkas, mashed spiced potatoes and topped with tamarind chutney.
While spice rules the roost here, there is also provision for sweet. The freshly fried Jalebis and Imartis and the dabbewali kulfi with falooda add much needed sweetness to the palate, balancing out the spice.
It is this balance that makes the street treats of Tatanagar so special.