Come autumn and the country starts to celebrate all things Bengal — arts, crafts, music, dance, and, most of all, food. Travellers throng Kolkata in search of the most authentic pujo experiences, gourmands book tickets for the year’s biggest feast, and plans are made to devour phuchkas, rolls, biryanis and rosogullas by the kilo.
Kolkata’s food, however, is much more than just its street fare and sweets.
The city offers a vast array of cuisines and culinary experiences, only most outsiders do not know where to find them. This pujo, we bring to you some such cuisines that locals swear by — and also tell you where to find them.
Thanks to its long colonial history — dominated by the British and punctuated by the Dutch, French, and Portuguese — Kolkata was one of the first Indian cities to offer Western cuisine. Chic clubhouses and fancy restaurants reproduced British recipes for the sahibs; home kitchens replicated them, and an entire generation grew up on Kolkata’s continental fare. Crepes with curried minced meat, stews with bread, pancakes, steaks, grills, and pies are some preparations that still live in the kitchens of Kolkata.
We recommend you try the chicken stew with buttered toast at the shops along James Hickey Sarani, beef and coconut patties at the hole-in-the-wall stalls at Bow Street, and grills and steaks at Mocambo.
If you are in the mood for luxury, hop over to the Eden Pavilion, where recipes from yore are celebrated everyday.
If the Europeans ruled the country from Kolkata, the Chinese made it their home. The community gave birth to the ubiquitous Calcutta Chinese that goes much beyond chow mein and manchurian. Eating a breakfast of soup noodles, steamed baozi buns, and dumplings at Tiretti Bazaar in Old China Town is a rite of passage into Kolkata’s culinary scene. The bazaar is lined with hawkers with home-cooked Cantonese and Hakka specialities. Tangra, the neighbourhood that brought the first Chinese restaurant to India, is your go-to place. Eating chilli chicken and chilli pork at their birthplace, surrounded by Bengali-speaking Chinese, is an experience in itself. Try the local cuptai soup, smoky stir-fried lamb, and thin handmade noodles at Kim Fa. You can also find Calcutta-chow mein and chilli chicken outside every pandal in the city.
The Grand Trunk Road, that carried goods from as far as Peshawar, also brought along its food to the city. Kolkata Punjabi is a cuisine of its own, and locals love it as much as they love their maach and mangsho. Neighbourhoods are filled with dhaba-style restaurants that serve authentic North West Frontier cuisine — juicy mutton, grilled chicken, soft breads, and Kolkata’s special egg torka. Long queues greet you at Azad Hind Dhaba, a favourite for its elaborate curries, chicken bharta and mutton burra. Russel Punjabi Dhaba at Chowringhee is open all night long during pujo for midnight cravings and remains as good for dal-roti-chicken as it is for chai-samosa-kachori.
From Northeastern India
With possibly the largest Northeastern population outside the Seven Sisters, Kolkata is home to some of the most authentic Northeastern food. Small independent eateries like Shillong Point, Jaluk, and Pisces offer a mix of state cuisine. Getting authentic Northeastern fare at a pandal may not be very easy, but hopping over to Grand Market Pavilion, which does special Northeastern meals every day, is a great idea. Try Sikkimese hand-rolled kauri with a homemade broth, shyafaley (minced country chicken in a crisp shell) and sugnur rah palak: chicken with spinach and black rice, for an authentic taste of the Northeast.
The lines between Mughlai and Awadhi cuisines are slightly blurred in Kolkata. While Nawabs brought along biryanis and kormas to Kolkata, the Mughals got their rezalas and chaap. Today, both are broadly classified into the same genre. Give biryani a miss and try rezala and chaap with handkerchief-thin roomali rotis, or qalia and qormas with tandoori breads. The Royal Indian Restaurant at Park Circus makes for a good stopover between pandal hopping. Stalls along the streets of North Kolkata’s pandals are good places to sample Calcutta Mughlai. Keep some space for phirni, though, for what is pujo without some mishti?
Source: The Hindu