Sunday, July 13, 2014

A wistful Calcutta eater reminisces

This list is dated. And it’s skewed.
It’s dated because I’ve been away from Calcutta these last 10 years (I haven’t yet warmed up to the name Kolkata – may be in a couple more decades). And many of these establishments have gone out of business or lost their former glory (though i definitely hope not). And the list is skewed towards what I call the more “affordable” places – when I was in Calcutta, I could afford very little and I ate what I could afford (and it was so darn good that I never craved the “up-scale”). Also, I didn't spend a lifetime in Calcutta. So my food list isn't all consuming. And finally, this is not a restaurant list (that’s content for another list) nor is this a list reflecting the stupendous Bengali cuisinescape.

So, here’s my list of favorite Calcutta foods – those that I miss the most from a city I love so well – in no particular order.
(c) Timescrest

1. Phuchka (is there anything more glorious on planet earth?) – With complete disregard for all manner of debate over multiple Calcutta schools of Phuchka, here are my personal favorites: New Market (the old man with the famous mustache), Victoria, Russell Street (right in front of Ananda). Just for the record, I have had Gol Gappa/ Pani Puri (whatever other name you may call it by) across India (and the rest of the world), and no one, I repeat, no one can compete against the pristine phuchka that Calcutta owns and loves.
2. Salt and Pepper Crab legs at Tung Fong. Apparently they don’t make them regularly any more (I wasn't so lucky the last time I visited) – a pity!!
3. Hot Kathi rolls on Park Street (the original Nizam and Badshah rolls are good too – though they used to be better). I once met the guy who had helped launched the famous Chicken Roll at Badshah. He told me that when ordering a roll one should always ask for a very dry paratha and fried chicken kebabs (paratha dry; kebab fry). Well, I’m asking now – is anyone listening? Well then, if you are in Calcutta and are in the mood for some joie de vivre head over to Hot Katthi Rolls.
4. Black Forest cake at Upper Crust on Russell Street. This establishment has ceased to exist – the last time i visited, a new pool parlor (or something akin to that) had cropped up in its stead). Long evenings with a special someone, spent drooling over a majestic piece of black forest cake are never to return again. I shall shed a silent tear here.
5. The succulent Chicken Reshmi Kebabs at Amber and the melt in your mouth Chicken Bharta. Ignore the fading curtains and the ripped chair seats. This is vintage Mughlai food and the only place to have it is Amber.
The Chelo Kebab from Peter Cat
(c) Yummraj

6. The Chelo Kebab at Peter Cat. This dish is a venerable Calcutta institution – there can be no debate around this. It’s like the Taj Mahal – it’s just there. Seekh kebabs, chicken reshmi kebab, a fried egg, and buttered rice.
7. Biryani at Shiraz. This is the real thing. All the new (and old) “me too” places are passé. North Calcuttans can drool over Royal, I still prefer my Shiraz
8. The fish fry at Shehnaz. Not many know about this. It’s a spicy batter hiding flaky layers of fish that can make a rainy evening very memorable.
9. Seekh kebabs at Astor. The juicy dry kind – however oxymoron-ish that might sound.
10. Those awesome Pepper Devilled Crabs at Mocambo – crab meat served in its own shell.  Not sure if I’ve recalled the name right, but the taste still haunts!!
11. Sweet corn soup at the Waldorf of yore. Actually there were very many things about the Waldorf of yore that I adored.
12. Roshogolla at Sen Mahashoy. There are many that make a mean Roshogolla in this city - this is the meanest of them all.
13. Steaming hot idlis and dosas at Jyoti Vihar on Harrington Street. I doubt if any place in Calcutta could compete with them then – Ma says it’s lost its glory now. Wonder why it was so hard to sustain…
14. The Peda Prasad at Dakshineshwar Mandir – have often wondered why it tastes so divine? OK, I will confess. As a young girl I would often wish for my parents to visit Dakshineshwar – just so I could eat the Pedas. Forgive me God, for I haven’t changed much over the years :(

Golap Sandesh from Nakur
(c) Banglalive
15. Golap Sandesh from Nakur - flavors of milk and rose melting in your mouth. I don’t have a sweet tooth at all – and I could consider killing for this!!
16. The lobsters at Red Hot Chilli Pepper. Don’t exactly remember the name of the dish. But they were the biggest lobsters that I’d ever seen in India (the US, of course, changes your perspectives on size). We took a couple of hours to finish them off.
17. The Chhena cake at Nahoum’s in New Market. I believe they also have a fancy name for the cake – but the folks there love it if you call it the Chhena cake – that’s their way of telling old money from the nouveau riche
18. Tandoori Chicken at Azad Hind Dhaaba . No one on planet earth makes this better. And do not forget to get some masala coke in large kulhars to wash it down with
19. Bhelpuri at Belur Matth. It’s spicy and sweet. And it’s just what you need after a long walk along the river.
20. And finally, the Zaranji Raan at Zaranj – there simply isn’t a food more richly exquisite than this. Goat crumbles in the

Many wonderful restaurants remain unnamed (simply because this is a food list). And there are some foods that do not have an owner to their name – Alu Kabli, Chur mur, Alur Chop, Shingara, Jhaal Muri, Baadam Makha, Mochar Chop, Egg Roll….

I could go on. Someday, maybe, I will return to own it all again.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately I haven't been to Calcutta for many years so thank you for this tongue-tingling, mouthwatering taxonomy of the finest fare in the grandest metropolis of the East. A couple of points I would appreciate clarification on - 1) is the "kathi roll" the same as what we in Calcutta in the mid-seventies used to call "mutton roll"? The contrasting textures and tastes of the unctous meat, the flaky parathas and the crunchy slivers of tamarind and chat masala dipped onions is a divine sensation I have never experienced since! 2) I recently went to an Iranian restaurant in London and sampled their "chello kebab" - I guess the Calcutta variant is a derivative hommage to its Persian antecedents and possibly even tastier (our Persian brethren, for all their cultivation, are a little coy with the spicing!). And what about the buffallo milk rabri - is that still available? Delirious with desire from London xx