Un-stream-lined

Food, Travel, Design and the occassional wordiness

My Calcutta Chromosome August 18, 2012



Prologue:

Wait… how is it that the place that taught me to love food and people-watching didn’t get at least an honorary mention in my travel blog? At least until my mother made me do it. Gasp. Yes, she made me write a where-to-eat travelogue for a proceedings book for a medical conference her group is hosting. Confused? In short, doctors lead boring, stressful lives so when they go to conferences other doctors want them to know how cute their city is and where all they can go chomp between the talks.

Why does it have to be here? For one, the amount of research and thought that went into writing it deserves it be placed in this blog. Secondly, this is the best I got, yet. Until I sum up every piece of advice, I have been giving my guests and traveler friends and write something better about what to do in my city, you will have to be happy with the description of where to eat there.

Calcutta- A Taster’s Paradise

You might have visited before, you might have deep acquaintances in this city. You might associate this city with many things—Mother Teresa’s charity, Tagore’s literature and boisterous, friendly Bengalis, but if City of Joy were ever to be renamed into a city of something else, it would most likely be food. So, here’s an insight for you: your hosts (and coworkers here) are indeed, in their heart of hearts, self-proclaimed hosts of travel/food shows, they are judgmental critiques, passionate foodies and elaborate guides who want little more, than to show you their city, through their eyes and palates.

This Calcuttan might be traveling the globe for years, but ask her about a recent trip…and then listen carefully for the mention of brilliant food, jaw dropping concoction of ecstasy.  Food might not be the only reason she travels, but surely that is one that tugs at her soul. No matter where she goes, her function, budget or preferred ambiance, food, she loves. And now that you are in her city, there is little respite for you.

Unlike most other Indian cities, Calcutta does more than boast its home-spun (Bengali) cuisine—the quintessential fish and sweets. Instead, it proclaims its love for food by offering a magical amalgamation of all things tasty, all cuisines that have traveled across the globe to fascinate the Calcuttan palate. Tastes which have traveled far and wide to marry other tastes and create what is the eclectic Calcuttan flavor.

Home of the Kathi roll (or Frankies), Calcutta is opulant with neighborhood joints with scores of loyal patrons who will claim theirs are the “best Kathi rolls in the world”.

Calcutta will proudly serve you her own Mughlai and South Indian, often from the same store front. Stop by, feel royal with a crispy bite from our greasy, delicious Fish Kobiraji.

Our authentic Biriyani recipes are claimed to be from the Afghan hills. And if you question the Kabul heritage of their spices, Calcuttans will modestly explain (to their cousins from Hyderabad and Mumbai) that the aromatic, flavorful, no-sauce version of meat laden deliciousness is a Lucknow-style Biriyani, something the West and South are yet to discover.

We have Punjabi dhabas lining not just our highways but also, congested inner city streets. Stop by Azad Hind for a midnight snack or a heavy late afternoon lunch. With crowds spilling out of every door in that place, you might have to sit in your car or stand in the street to finish your food. Hence, street food. Make sense?

Our ‘real Madrasi’ coffee is the specialty of our Tamil neighbors. Even though we love our Cafe Coffee Days, every now and then we will stop by little holes in the walls in the Lake Market area, to sip steaming hot, frothy coffee from double-layered steel cups.

If you would much rather stay away from the hoopla and sip tea in the cozies of your own balcony, tasty snacks from Bikaner are there to keep you company. Available both in chain and independent store-fronts across the city, taste from dozens of varieties of toasted nuts, dry fruits and spicy mixes.

Internationally minded? Our fruitcakes are from Jewish bakeries from the past century, our Chinese lo mein comes from our very own Chinatown and Mediterranean delicacies are a-galore at upscale joints lining the city.

Craving more caffeine? Want a crash course in the last 50 years of Calcutta? Ride up north to College Street and walk up dimly lit stairs of the Indian Coffee House. See, Calcutta is a place where people don’t just go to work and then go back home, it is a place where every clerk is a poet, every officer an author, singer, actor, collector, critique… and to live this second life, they have a third place, where they “adda” (meet with friends discussing all things essential to surreal, from politics to football, from economics to literature). Long before Starbucks (and hence the modern day cafe) branded their “third place”, Indian Coffee House in College Street has been every Calcuttan’s “third place” for generations. Warm camaraderie and heated conversations are paired with an equally hot, black “infusion” coffee. That is Calcutta. Taste it.

So without much ado, let’s start you on the journey. 20 places to try and taste, while in Calcutta.

Full meals and sit-down eateries:

  1. Peter Cat—Home of Calcutta’s favorite Chello Kabab and also delicious mutton biriyani (Park Street area)
  2. Arsalan—Claimed by some locals to serve the best Biriyani in town, this is a must stop for other delicacies like Firni too. (multiple locations Park St/ Park Circus area, www.arsalanrestaurant.in)
  3. 6 Ballygunj Place— for authentic Bengali cuisine (multiple locations: the original was in 6 Ballygunj Place, near Ballygunj Phari of course, but now they have locations in Salt Lake as well as other cities like Bangalore)
  4. Charnock City—Named after Job Charnock, the founder of the city, this cozy, well-lit restaurant serves scrumptious Daab-Chingri (shrimp and coconut served inside a coconut) and other Bengali, Indian and continental dishes served with views of lush greens of the Salt Lake Stadium and beyond (Salt Lake, EM Bypass)
  5. Hush—Italian food with a cozy bar for those that prefer quiet times and good food (City Centre, Salt Lake)
  6. Five Rivers— for their Kashmiri menu (City Centre 2, Salt Lake)
  7. Barbeque Nation—Go for unlimited kababs and also unlimited GenX IT professional crowd (Sector V, Salt Lake)
  8. Mocambo—As a NYTimes travel writer says “My mother went to Mocambo to listen to Doris Day covers. I went to Mocambo for Fish à la Diana#”  (Mirza Ghalib St)
  9. Bohemian—Bengali cuisine but with an eclectic, international touch (Ballygunj)
  10. Chinoiserie—for upscale Chinese at the Taj Bengal (Alipore)
  11. Baan Thai—for upscale Thai at the Oberoi Grand (Esplanade)
  12. Sigri—North Indian and Kababs

(Chain restaurants that haven’t lost their charm

  1. Mainland China—for delectable Chinese food outside of Chinatown. (multiple locations including cities outside Calcutta)
  2. Oh! Calcutta—authentic Calcuttan cuisine (multiple locations including internationally http://www.speciality.co.in/index.php/brands/oh-calcutta/)
  3. Flame & Grill—(multiple locations including Prince Anwar Shah Rd http://www.speciality.co.in/index.php/brands/flame-grill/)

(Street food and Take-aways: )

  1. Hot Kati Roll—while kathi rolls are ubiquitous in Calcutta, this is locally claimed as one of the best roll-‘stalls’ in the city. (Park Street)
  2. Aliya—for beautifully fragrant, less-oily Biriyani (strictly take-away, Chandni Chowk)
  3. Utsav—for fish fry and chilli baby corn (Hajra)

(Dessert: )

  1. Flury’s—Housed in an old Brit-era building with tall windows bang in the middle of all Park Street action, Flury’s sells decadent pastries and savory baked goods. (Park Street, http://www.flurysindia.com)
  2. Nahoum’s—Their cakes and breads smell of childhood. Of rum, fruits, chocolate but mostly of nostalgic New Market childhood.. Nahoum’s is abundant in every Calcuttan’s memory, it is that much more prevalent in the confectionery-history of sweet-toothed Calcutta. So go there with a local, early enough in the day to enjoy fresh goodies. (Esplanade, New Market)

Epilogue:

This is no way an exhaustive list, and I haven’t been home in so long I forgot how some of this tastes. Maybe that was what my mother wanted–Me to long to go back home, to reach out to my old friends and go out with them to the old hangouts. Well you are successful, Ma, I am craving all of that now and some of your Jhinge Posto too.

Huge shout-out to Debarshi and Saikat for your help with this. Lets get together soon!

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2 Responses to “My Calcutta Chromosome”

  1. Biswa Prasun Chatterji Says:

    very very nice…..was absolutely delighted….may I add Ganguram’s Indrani and Bhim Nag’s sandesh? then there is my telebhaja shop Kalika in Surja Sen St, Kochuri at Putiram….OH CALCUTTA

  2. Debarshi Roy Says:

    1. Never go to Barbeque Nation for lunch on a weekday. The place is filled with the techies and the quality of food does take a significant beating. Weekends and weekday evening buffets are comparatively better.
    2. If you are going to Charnock City, never miss ‘Nolen Gur-er’ Ice Cream. It is like nothing you have tasted before, and probably nothing like you ever will.
    3. Try honey glazed lemon chicken in Mainland China, among other items of course.
    4. And if you have a few antacids, definitely try “phuchka” from the ubiquitous roadside stall. They are definitely better than the golguppas and pani puris found in other parts of India. I can’t guarantee a healthy stomach, but I can definitely guarantee a happy soul.


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