America's Food Truck Craze Parks On The Streets Of Kolkata
True confession: I joined Twitter to follow a curry truck while I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area had plenty of Indian buffets, but Indian street food was hard to find.
Back here in Kolkata, India, there's street food everywhere. Puffed rice tossed with pungent mustard oil, onions and chilies. Indian wraps with a layer of egg, crispy phuchka shells dunked in tangy, tamarind water.
What I didn't expect to find: a food truck.
But now, Kolkata has its first one: Agdum Bagdum. It was inspired by American food trucks — which, of course, were originally inspired by street food in places like Kolkata.
It's a blue truck with Kolkata scenes painted on its sides. I find it parked under a billboard for an astrologer. It's a crazy intersection, with honking rickshaws and screeching ambulances.
The house — or truck — specialty is kabiraji. It's usually a minced chicken or mutton cutlet deep-fried in a nest of egg, a sinfully beloved Kolkata favorite. Agdum Bagdum marries it with an American-style hamburger. Its creator, Dola Santra, and her husband, Babumani Sardar, are foodies who quit pharmaceutical jobs to become food truckers.
"We are looking for the fusion," Sardar says. "We wanted to introduce something new in the market — like risotto rice, mei wei Chinese, burrito wrap, chimichanga — but [with an] Indian taste, not authentic."
Sardar says they were inspired by America's food truck revolution. His brother-in-law lives in the States and sent him pictures.
A satisfied Agdum Bagdum customer, Mayank Agarwal, says it's about time. "I think it's brilliant, and I think it will do fantastically well," Agarwal says. "One, because there is a huge gap between the [street food] hawker, on one side, and established places in a restaurant. There is nothing in the middle."
Kolkata has no shortage of street food. But it's like playing Russian roulette with your stomach.
"If you're going into the streets, there are very delicious foods, but not that much of hygiene," Sardar says.
His wife, Santra, vows Agdum Bagdum is different. "Our every food [is] healthy and hygienic also," she says.
Hygienic? Yes. They wear hair nets. There are trash bins and "no smoking" signs.
But healthy? Hmmm. The kobiraji burger is deep, deep-fried. The Juicy Lucy burger is stuffed with cheese inside the patty. "When you eat it, you will get great feeling, and you will have the cheese coming out of the patty," Sardar says.
With the success of Agdum Bagdum, Santra and Sardar now have American-style dreams of a chain of food trucks, parked all over Kolkata. He says more than figuring out licensing issues, the tougher problem has been finding a good place where he can park the truck and customers can park their cars.
As he finishes his steamed momo dumplings, customer Agarwal feels inspired: He says he wants to start a food truck in his native Guwahati, in northeastern India.
"I think the momos are great, and I wish him all the best for success," Agarwal says.
As I prepare to leave, Santra tells me, "Please do enjoy your meal. Good night."
How could it not be, with a big, fat, freshly fried kabiraji burger in me?
Based in Kolkata, Sandip Roy is the author of the novel Don't Let Him Know.
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