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A GLIMPSE INTO BENGALI CUISINE, LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE

 

During our Kolkata food tour, our quest to understand the Bengali way of life a little more closely through its food, cultural anecdotes and references led us to the warm, genial and amusing company of a wonderful Bengali couple who were clearly ardent foodies. Restaurateurs Piyali and Sunando Banerjee, have translated their passion into profession through their culinary venture named Hanglaatherium. So brace yourselves for some amazing insights, great company, endearing interaction and of course some delicious food. The agenda for the day was to visit to a local market to learn about the Bengali cuisine essentials and to try a usual Bengali meal. Hence we started with a visit to the Gariahat fish and vegetable market. It is one of the city’s oldest and biggest market. Fish is the star element of the rich and vibrant Bengali cuisine. It is an indispensable part of the daily meal and such is the craze that more than one preparation graces the average Bengali lunch platter. Their cogent love for fish gets reflected in the busy and the chaotic scene at a fish market where their enthusiasm peaks as they select the best catch for the day. As we stepped inside the walled precincts of the Gariahat Fish market with our host Piyali, a regular visitor to this place, we were thrilled by the sight and smell of the mind boggling variety of live fishes. Piyali walked us through the common spices that preferred for daily cooking. There were Rui, Katla, Pomfret, Bhetki, Tryangra, Illish, Magur and many more. Piyali’s deep knowledge about the nitty gritties of the cuisine and her enthusiasm to acquaint us with the same made us fall in love with the experience. As we made our way through the sea of fishes, we got enlightened about their uses and benefits. Apart from getting familiar with the identities of the fishes, we also came to know about some socio cultural contexts involving these fishes. For example we learnt how the rui or katla fish is a mean of cementing the ties between the bride and the grooms family. In due course of the conversation we also came to know about the two categories of Bengalis, i.e the Ghotis and the Bangals, their prolonged underlying rivalry that has spilled even onto the football fields and their different culinary preferences in spite of having the common ingredients landscape being the same. From fish section we went to the vegetable section to learn about the favourite picks of the people of Bengal. We came to know that the Bengalis are equally fond of vegetables and the cuisine has iconic range of vegetarian delicacies too. Piyali showed us some of the usual fares like Pumpkin, it’s flower, plantain stem and blossom and some of the unusual yet coveted fares like maan kochu, different kinds of leafy greens vegetables etc. After that insightful market visit it was time to head to her home to taste a basic breakfast fare of luchi, sada aloor tarkari, begun bhaja and rosogolla. But before that Piyali’s spouse Sunando took us to a nearby crowded eatery selling an interesting thing called Patai Porota. As the name suggested, it was a flatbread that had borne the brunt of ruthless palm beating. The resultant fluffy and flaky mass is eaten with yellow pea curry or some sweet stuff. It was tasty but not outstanding. On reaching their home we were joined by one of their close friends Avijit dada. All the walking had made us quite hungry. Piyali quickly whipped up the sada aloor tarkari using just three to four ingredients. Sunando fried the luchi and soon the table was set for the meal and a hearty conversation. The subtle and soulful meal was accompanied by an amusing conversation about some of the quintessential traits and idiosyncrasies of the Bengali people. So there were the references to Borolin antiseptic cream, Dim paruti, Sunlight detergent bar, Horlicks health drinks. We are so grateful for this endearing encounter full of food and cultural connotations.

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CHINESE FOOD TOUR IN KOLKATA

Kolkata is a melting pot of cultural diversity. It has embraced migrants from different parts of the world and made them its own. One such community is the Chinese community that first set foot in the city during the British rule. Since it was the capital of the country, many Chinese families got attracted to settle here. And that is how the Chinese settlement came to existence in the central part of Kolkata. In this blog we will take you on a journey to explore some of the popular street foods across the Chinese settlements including Tiretti Bazar and Tangra. To guide us about the locality, cultural scenes and the food, we were joined by our gracious and dynamic host Pamela Das.

We started the tour early in the morning from Teritti Bazar. The place is known for the daily morning street market where one can find numerous traditional Chinese breakfast items. These are mostly prepared and sold by the Chinese families living across the locality. On Sundays the crowd swells up with food enthusiasts thronging the place for pork baos, sui pao, sauces and condiments etc.

Our picks included pork bao, rice pudding, fried rice balls, sweet crispy rajma stuffed bun, pork pastry, meatball soup and prawn papad. Of these the best thing was the sweet rajma stuffed bun and the least pleasant one was the meatball soup as it was too bland.

After the heavy breakfast we moved to Tangra which is known as the new Chinatown. Apart from the numerous factories and units, this place had earned the reputation of being a hub for great traditional Chinese food. Most of the iconic eateries over here are family run. Though their ambience is unpretentious, their food is much coveted. Here we tried wonton noodles or the singhara chow as the Bengali’s call it at two different places. At the first place Ahyusen, we saw how the noodles were being using a tedious, ancient noodle making technique which was so fascinating. At the second place, Ah Yung, the wonton noodles were bit more flavourful and robust.

After that hearty wonton trail we arrived at our final destination Eau Chew which is deemed as the oldest family run eatery in the city. Here we tried two of their hot selling dishes named Chimney Soup and Josephine Noodles. The sensational names got us excited.

Chimney soup was a lightly seasoned broth containing eggs, chicken, prawn and vegetables. The unique thing about this dish is the brass vessel in which it was served. It has burning charcoal inside it. There was a chimney-like outlet through which the heat dissipated. Josephine noodles on the other hand was pan fried noodles that had miscellaneous ingredients. Both the dishes were super yummy. With that hearty meal and warm conversations with the owners at Eau Chew, we came to the end of this delightful tour. 

 

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PLACES TO EAT AT IN CENTRAL KOLKATA

The central part of Kolkata is a wide stretch that includes office areas, shopping destinations and educational hub. The office zone includes the stretch of BBD Bag. Lined with numerous government and private office buildings and shops, the area is also home to one of the most popular street food zones in the city. Hence it is thronged by a crowd that mostly composed of office goers and loyal food enthusiasts. So if you are on a food trail in the city of joy, then you shouldn’t miss out the delightful treats available here. Along with our gracious host Pamela Das, we strolled down these vibrant lanes exploring the wide range of street food and the heritage. After exploring the street food scenario across the commercial and administrative hub in Central Kolkata, we went across to the shopping hub in this zone to explore some of the popular eateries across JLNehru Road, Dharamtala and Camac street. These places attract a motley crowd from the city and beyond. Below is the list of eateries that we visited in this tour.

 

ARUN TEA STALL: Since there were a lot of iconic places to be explored in the area, we started our food tour quite early in the morning with a refreshing cup of tea along with some club kachori and sabzi. The saffron flavoured tea, a specialty of this place, was by far the best tea that we had in Kolkata. People who love spicy flavours would love the combination of club kachori and potato sabzi. It was great speaking to the genial Arun bhai about the origin and evolution of the place.

CHITTO BABUR DOKAN: From there we took a taxi ride to Dacres Lane, an iconic spot that is locally known as Office Para. Dated back to the time of the British Rule, it is one of the oldest surviving street food centers in the city. On reaching there we were greeted by a lane full of eateries some of which were quite old. We made our way through the staggering variety of food all over to reach the iconic Chitto Babur Dokan, a shop whose name is synonymous with the locality itself. The eatery focuses on light and hearty veg and non veg dishes that caters to the hunger of the office goers coming to this area. We tried their two bestselling offerings. First was light and hearty chicken stew and toasted bread and second was a humble khichuri platter. The mild flavours of the European stew and the Bengali khichuri have rendered them a hit with the customers who look for some light stuff for lunch.

 

KONA DUKAN: From there we walked towards BBD, Dalhousie and reached the busy area near the Calcutta Stock Exchange. This area is best known for great tea, sandwiches, toasts etc. No wonder during lunch break or any possible break, people come together to discuss the day with each other. There isn’t a more rewarding sight than watching people bond over food in a zone where it’s all about business and commerce. Here we tried a luscious malai toast from the ever busy Kona Dukan. Those who have tried the combination will know it’s enchanting taste. And the best part of the experience was we discovered that a little sprinkle of salt and pepper just elevated it to the next level.

 

 

BHOLA SANDWICH: Next we tried a comforting cheese corn toast from Bhola Sandwich. Fresh white bread slices joined by a creamy stuffing and then grilled to perfection made for a quick and happy snack.

KULFIWALA: The Kulfi Wala in front of the stock exchange sells a luscious range of natural fruit kulfis. Our pick was the orange kulfi that was quite refreshing. It comprised of a whole scooped out orange stuffed with real orange pulp and reduced milk mixture.

ANADI CABIN: Next destination was Anadi Cabin, a 02 year old eatery on JL Nehru road whose Mughlai Porota is a hot selling snack. The busy interior and the fascinating account of the owner was a clear testimony of its towering reputation when it comes to this particular snack. Mughlai Porota is a thick, crisp,flaky and truly hearty mince and veggie stuffed shallow fried parantha.

NIZAM’S: From there we crossed a sea of shops selling a wide range of things starting from electronics to clothes to reach New Market. Established in 1874 this place houses one of the oldest market buildings. Another very interesting thing here is the multitude of street vendors dotting this stretch. Our destination here was the iconic Nizam’s restaurant whose Kathi Rolls are nearly 118 years strong. You have to taste them once to realise it’s deliciousness that is the result of the combination of a well cooked paratha, yummy kebab, onions and lime juice.

TAJ MAHAL PAAN SHOP: After polishing off that legendary thing we grabbed a sweet paan from Tajmahal Paan shop to cleanse our palate and prepare our tummy for more treats.

NAHOUMS: Then we checked into Hoggs Market. Among the numerous shops selling clothes, toys etc stands tall one very famous cake shop named Nahoum’s. This 118 year old Jewish bakery is an emotion for many. Their cakes, tarts, brownies, cookies attract patrons from the city and beyond. We decided to try their Christmas time favourite plum cake. A bite of the fresh, warm, dense and dry fruit rich slice of this plum cake was so blissful.

VICTORIA VADA: From there we headed to Camac street to have crisp and light Moong Dal fritters from Victoria Vada. The owner told us about his 35 year old journey of selling these mouthwatering vadas. Since he started his business from Victoria Memorial, he retained this name after shifting to Camac Street so that people will identify him as their favourite one.

MASALA BREAD WALA: Next was the turn of an innovative masala bread that was a party of flavours and texture. White bread slices topped with sweet, savoury and tangy mixture of boiled potatoes and other fun stuff was phenomenal. And more so was the love with which the person arranged it for us was so heartening.

CHANA JOR GARAM SELLERS: The last thing we tried on this food tour was a traditional snack called Channa Jor Garam. It’s a dry mix of dried flattened channa, onions, spices etc. It is a light munchie thing that keeps you happy on the go. It was fun to interact with the two guys who were dressed up traditionally and were gleefully selling their fare in a traditional basket. We truly respect their enduring spirit for standing for such a long time with such a heavy basket isn’t an easy task.

 

 

 

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SOUTH KOLKATA FOOD TOUR

During our third day in Kolkata, we were all ready to explore the popular street foods available across the lanes of South Kolkata that is an aggregation of a residential section, a famous shopping destination and a melting pot of cultures from across the country. Hence this food exploration is an eclectic combination of South Indian, Punjabi and Bengali bestsellers that the foodies-both locals and visitors, love to gorge on. To guide us with this trail we have with us our genial host for the day, Sachika Ghosh herself is a loyal visitor at many of these eateries. Having grown up eating in this area she is best aware of most of the go to dishes that are affordable and hugely popular with the crowd dotting this area.

Our food journey started from the busy Lake Market area of South Kolkata that has a substantial population from the Southern States of India. And so by default our first stop was Rao’s Udipi Home, one of the most famous South Indian restaurant in the locality that has been visited by our late President APJ Abdul Kalam. Something that started as a lodging place is now a hub for authentic Udipi cuisine that is delicious, homely and affordable. We were excited to try their most selling fare which included soft idlis, crisp deep fried vadas and an equally great Masala Dosa. Everything that we tried had a homely vibe.

After a brief stroll surveying the marketplace dominated by shops selling South Indian essentials, we took a taxi ride to reach Balwant Singh Eating House in Bhowanipore. A favourite joint for morning walkers, office goers, shoppers and general visitors, their chai is highly famed. We were here to try two of their iconic beverages-Doodh Cola and steamed tea. The first one is a refreshing concoction of milk and cola. It’s had a very unique zingy and refreshing taste. The second one was a smooth, invigorating cup of milky tea that had been prepared in a novel manner. It is one of the favourite tea destinations in the city that caters to an eclectic crowd comprising of morning walkers to students.

 

Soon it was lunch time and hunger was making us restless. Sachika suggested that we should try some favourite Punjabi fare for lunch whose taste have endeared the Bengalis too. So we headed to Jai Hind Dhaba and ordered two interesting dishes that were quite different from the Punjabi classics dominating the menu. First one was the Egg Tadka, a Punjabi variation of the Bengali Egg Torka. We loved it’s comforting notes that emanated from the whole moong dal, scrambled eggs and aromatic warming spices. The second dish was Chicken Bharta. It was creamy and flavourful. The fun part about these two dishes were the clear Bengali touch bought in by the use of some quintessential Bengali ingredients.

We then walked towards Gariahat and Deshapriya Park. The area being a famous shopping destination in the city, it attracts a lot of crowds. And where there are people there is food that is delicious, affordable and that provides a quick relief from the hunger pangs. Undoubtedly the place has a plethora of snacking options. And as usual we are in search of some of the most popular eateries over here that have been delighting the foodies for a long time. We are glad to have Sachika with us who would be walking us through the lanes and thoroughfares introducing us to eclectic street food fares in the locality.

Our first stop over here was Balaram Mullick which is one of the city’s most reputed sweet shops. The huge variety of sweets over here was a testimony to the Bengali’s never ending love for sweets. The mind blowing variety just blew our mind and taking the owners recommendations into account we settled for baked rasogolla, baked mihidana, patishapta, gurer kanchgolla, gurer rasogolla and monohara. The sweets available in Bengal during the winter months are deemed special and are much coveted. It’s because most of them are made with the winter special date palm jaggery that is prized for its uniquely pleasant taste and aroma. All the sweets mentioned above were made with this nolen gur and their taste was just phenomenal. After that sweet overdose it was time for some savoury snacks. For this we arrived at one of the two immensely popular snack shops named Maharaj and Maharani. Situated close to each other they had started out as one shop, but are now operating separately. Their menus were almost the same but according to the public each specialised in different dishes. Maharaj excelled in Hinger Kochuri and Aloor Tarkari while Maharani’s best selling dish was Shinghara.

 

 

Fish being a staple of the Bengali cuisine, it is also savoured in the form of this irresistible snack called the fish finger. Our destination for the same was Shankar’s fry. Their yummy Bhetki fritter with its crisp, grainy exterior and the soft fleshy interior was such a piece of sheer joy. The smell, the taste and the contended crowd testified why it is considered as the King of Fish Fry.

Finally it was time to end the food tour with another ubiquitous snack best loving treat called puchka. Sachika took us to her favourite vendor in this part of the city. It’s Bengali version of Pani Puri. The stuffing and the water is quite distinct from the North Indian counterpart. The puchkas were simply addictive while the churmur was such a fun treat. With this we wrapped up another gratifying eating spree in the city of joy. See you soon with many other surprises. Till then keep walking and keep exploring.

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NORTH KOLKATA CLASSICS

North Kolkata Food trail that started from Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar followed by College Street has now extended to the historic lanes of Hedua, Bidhan Sarani and Shyambazar. Apart from the exciting colonial history that these places bear in their bosom, they are also home to some of the iconic eateries whose glory continues to enthrall foodies from all walks of life.  Most of the dishes available here are quintessential to this region. And a majority of them have been tickling our taste buds since aeons. Hence as we set to embark on the gastronomic journey, were super excited to partake not just its acclaimed taste but also the stories that they entail. And to guide us in this quest of ours we are being assisted by our gracious host Pamela Das a young food enthusiast who know these areas extensively.

While passing through the footpath of the busy thoroughfare of College Street, first we halted near a vendor selling another the favourite, quintessential Bengali snacks known as Jhal Muri. A potpourri of puffed rice, potatoes, spices etc.  mustard oil this ubiquitous snacks from Bengal is a zesty, filling, economical and convenient option to the random hunger pangs. No wonder this simple eclectic dish embodies the spirit of the city that is humble, joyful, endearing and vibrant.

From there we took a tram ride to reach Bidhan Sarani. Kolkata is the only city in India that uses this mode of transportation and hence it is one of the quintessential features of the city. Our destination here was the famous sweet shop Ghosh and Co. Pamela recommended their chocolate sandesh that are deemed as the best in the city. We were pretty surprised by this innovative sweet whose optimally sweet, balanced chocolaty taste was pure delight. We also tried the seasonal jaggery sandesh that was made with the season’s special date palm jaggery called the Notun Gur. This one surprised us with a coconut filling inside.

Next place was again a sweet shop that is an institution when it comes to the traditional Bengali sweet called Sandesh. A visit to the land of sweets in incomplete without paying a visit to the legendary Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandi who have been selling just sandesh since 1844. A morsel of their coveted Jalbhara was enough to cement their indisputable reputation of being the best sandesh maker in the city. We also loved their Mohini Sandesh, coffee sandesh.

From there we went to try some chaat from 80 year old Hedua Chaat Corner. Their Singhara with lentil stuffing and tikkiya chaat were hearty and fun. Soon it was time to try another popular evening time Bengali snacks called chop or vegetable fritters at the celebrated Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons shop.

The Aam Choop and Beguni were delicious. After such deep fried savoury treats we arrived at Allen’s Kitchen to relish their special prawn cutlet. This greasy prawn fritter made with humble ingredients was truly indulgent.

Our penultimate stop was this iconic eatery named Mitra Cafe. We loved their best selling dish fish fry and chicken cutlet. It was soon time to wrap up this gratifying food trail that was full of flavours and stories. Stay tuned for more.

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NORTH KOLKATA(COLLEGE SQUARE) FOOD TOUR

The worldwide glory of Kolkata rests not just on its rich history and heritage, diverse cultural and deep intellectual canvas but also on its irresistible food scenario that is a convergence of subtle and robust flavours. So today we are exploring the go to food items that thrives in the historic, vibrant and nostalgic lanes of North Kolkata along with our gracious host Pamela Das.

Before heading to College street or Boi Para as it is locally known as, we had to commence our food tour in the city with the ubiquitous Bengali sweet Rosogolla that is one of the soul foods of this historical city. And for this Pamela took us to Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar who Rosogollas are deemed as the best in this part of the city. True to its reputation, each of the syrupy white balls transported us to a state where there was complete bliss. It was fascinating to learn about the evolution of sweets especially the Rosogolla from Pamella.

Every nook and corner of North Kolkata is replete with history, a significant chunk of which relates to the Colonial rule. We visited the Shobabazar Rajbari which is among one of the oldest royal houses of Kolkata aristocracy. This important heritage site is famous for its annual Durga Puja celebrations in the month of October-November.

 

From there we reached the 300 plus year old potter’s colony called Kumartuli, that is the largest workshop for clay idols, sculptures and earthenware. Watching the artisans in action was a fascinating sight to behold. From there we covered a distance of nearly 3 kms to reach our next destination, College street. It is a huge area lined with books shops. College street is the learning center as it also harbours some of the oldest schools, colleges and universities.

We started our food trail with Radhaballabhi, Cholar Dal, Aloo Dum and Misti Doi from Putiram, a century old iconic sweet shop in the area whose sweets and breakfast snack are a craze with students, professors, teachers and locals. The food was subtle yet delicious. And the ambience especially the stone tables and the wooden furniture spoke of its glorious heritage.

Then we headed to another heritage shop named Paramount that has been serving an eclectic range of refreshing flavoured drinks since 1918. We opted for tender coconut and tamarind sherbet. As the drinks were being prepared, Pamela informed us how the place used to be a center of nationalists activities during the freedom struggle. Both the drinks were totally contrasting in taste yet amazing.

Our next destination was Indian Coffee House. Situated in the academic hub of Kolkata, the College Street, it is a favourite destination for hangouts not only for the students of nearby schools and colleges (Presidency college, Vidyasagar College etc.) but also the office goers and intellectuals of Kolkata. And all this glory is due to the colonial nostalgia that it boasts of. We tried their black coffee called Infusion and learnt about its history from our host. The food here is decent the ambience is magnetic.

Our penultimate stop was Dilkhusa Cabin, a 102 year old eatery that mostly serves cutlets and croquettes among other popular Indian dishes. We tried there Bhetki Kabiraji that was super greasy but delectable. These cabins used to serve as private eating spaces for the womenfolks of the aristocrat families who came to try European snacks. And the word Kabiraji is a distortion of the word coverage that refers to the egg and flour coating over the fish fillet. The final stop in this leg of our trail was Favourite cabin. This humble eatery that now serves basic snacks like tea, toast, cakes etc to the masses who loves adda or group talks was once the favourite hangout zone for eminent freedom fighters, leaders, poets and intellectuals like Netaji, Kavi Nazrul etc.