Listen

America's Food Truck Craze Parks On The Streets Of Kolkata

Nov 11, 2015
Originally published on November 11, 2015 8:22 pm

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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Commentator Sandip Roy spent years living in America before moving back to India. Still, Roy found leaving this country didn't mean he left behind all things American, like food trucks.

SANDIP ROY, BYLINE: True confession - I joined Twitter in order to follow a curry truck in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were plenty of Indian buffets out there, but Indian street food was hard to find. Back here in Kolkata, there's street food everywhere, and now the occasional American-style food truck. The first in Kolkata was Agdum Bagdum, named after a children's nursery rhyme in Bengali. I find it at a crazy intersection with honking rickshaws and screeching ambulances.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: OK.

ROY: The house truck specialty is kabiraji. It's usually a cutlet deep-fried in 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.

BABUMANI SARDAR: We are looking for the fusion. We wanted to introduce some new thing in the market, like Chinese, burrito wrap, Chimichanga, but infusion in Indian taste - not authentic.

ROY: They were inspired by America's food truck revolution. Babumani's brother-in-law sent him pictures from the states. A satisfied Agdum Bagdum customer, Mayank Agarwal, says it's about time.

MAYANK AGARWAL: Yeah, I think it's brilliant. And I think they'll do fantastically well, one because there is a huge gab between the hawker, on one side, and established places in a restaurant. There is nothing in the middle. You get hygienic food at almost - I will not say quite - but almost street food prices.

ROY: Hygienic matters because Kolkata's traditional street food, though delicious, is like playing Russian Roulette with your stomach. Not at the Agdum Bagdum food truck, says owner Dola Santra.

DOLA SANTRA: Our every food healthy and hygienic also.

ROY: Hygienic? Yes, they wear hairnets. There are trash bins, no smoking signs. But healthy? Hmmm. The kabiraji burger is deep, deep-fried. The Juicy Lucy burger is stuffed with cheese inside the patty.

SARDAR: When you eat this, you will have a great feeling. And you will taste the cheese coming out of the patty itself. So it is delicious and mouth-melting.

ROY: With the success of Agdum Bagdum, Dola and Babumani now have American-style dreams of a chain of food trucks all over Kolkata.

SARDAR: The plan is to bring one or two or more food trucks to cover whole Kolkata.

SANTRA: Thank you, sir. Enjoy your meal. Good night.

ROY: How could I not? With a big, fat, freshly fried kabiraji burger in me.

MONTAGNE: A bite of burger and slice of life in India, from commentator Sandip Roy. His novel, also set there, is called "Don't Let Him Know." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.