Dr. Anjan K Das
The Bengali Singara (as opposed to the North Indian Samosa) is my favourite snack. For those not in the know, a singara is made of a vegetarian filling over a flour based covering, deep fried. The filling can be simply mashed potatoes, or may contain any vegetable including, famously, fresh cauliflower. During the Bengal winter the smell of cauliflower singaras being fried is one of my enduring memories of my homeland. .
I have lived in Calcutta City, then in its Southern suburbs, and spent many school holidays in the heart of Nadia where my grandparents lived near Krishnanagar. I have also spent almost four years in North Bengal. To my mind the art of making a good singara is a very Calcuttan one. I have yet to taste a singara better than those that are routinely fried in the lanes of Central Calcutta. I spent about 15 years in the College Street area, first as a student, then as a PG student and finally as a teacher. During this time I must have had thousands of singaras and those are the ones that have stuck to my memory. I still remember the shop just across the college street where Eden hospital road starts. (Dey Sweets, I think the name was). They had the best singaras in the area (in my opinion at least) . After a long day’s surgery at the David Hare Block it was the snack that I looked forward to the most and I must thank Anitadi, who was then the Sister in Charge of the OT for introducing me to that particular shop. However there were many others which made singaras just as good.
Another place where I have had wonderful singaras is the Ranaghat Station. We used to travel to Krishnanagar to my grandparent’s place by the Lalgola Express. If I remember correctly it used to leave Sealdah at 6.55 and reach Ranaghat in about an hour’s time, just in time for breakfast. My eldest mama (who always wore the moniker Choto mama, I know not why) introduced me to the pleasure of the singaras in Ranaghat station and for this I will remain eternally grateful to him.
The art is simply not available in Siliguri, the city of my adoption. The singaras here are usually more like samosas. There is a difference between the two. Though if you described them in cold print they would appear the same. However on the plate there is a world of difference. A singara is smaller. More suited to the smaller Bengali than the taller North Indian I presume. The samosa is more oily, often you get oil in your hands as you pick it up. The singara does not have this oil on it. In my book there is no need for any chutney with singara, it stands alone. The samosa comes with a chutney and in some occasions in Delhi I have seen it served mashed (I ask you!) with chola.
Singaras can be made at home. I am told of grandmothers who used to make a perfect singara. I have never met any. My grandmother made everything perfectly but never a singara; at least I don’t remember having any. My wife is a wonderful cook too, but her singaras look like a flattened parody of the real thing. No, true singaras are to be found in Bengali sweet shops. And in my opinion in the shops of Calcutta as close to College Street as possible.
Just to end on an apolitical note. There used to be a slogan in Bihar.
“Jab Tak singara me
Tab tak Bihar me
Raj karega laloo’
Laloo does not rule over Bihar any more. But singaras still endure, with aloo or otherwise. Thank God for small mercies.