It’s everywhere in Kolkata. On Ma’s table (she’s one of the finest, most casual cooks I know), on the streets, in conversations, on wooden carts, in smart restaurants and ramshackle ones. It’s a city where gluttony is a pastime. And while we were there, it didn’t feel like no sin.
So here are the spoils of the war we waged over three weeks. Most of the places where we ate were worth their weight in pure nostalgia. A few were uncharted territories. And some were just grabbed off the street, on the way, without a plan.
And thrown in there are the bazaars, the wicker baskets full of fresh produce, the fish market, the local butcher Baba swears by, the street food, the sweet shops. Sweet sin!
Tell me what you think, which ones you like – for this plate is as much mine as it is yours. The list here is by no means complete; just scratching the surface, my friends.
So. If you go to Kolkata for one reason, and no other, let it be fu-hood.
First the sweets. It had to be the sweets.
Here are some of my favourite picks.
From Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick: Baked rossogolla, baked mihidana, patishapta (as close as it gets to the homemade version)
From Banchharam: Kanchagolla, aabar khabo, notun-gurer shondesh, pantua (gulab jamun)
From Jadab Chandra Das: Mishti doi (sweet yogurt)
Something to try: A combination that D and I absolutely love, and which was passed down by my father-in-law, is ‘tok doi aar bondey’ (plain yogurt topped with sweet boondi).
S. Sharma & Sons, opposite Saturday Club – a friend took us to this hole-in-the-wall on Wood Street for the most amazing rabri. Rabri would be best described as sweet, thickened milk with a creamy-cheesy consistency. Wonderful.
And you know you’ve got to have jalebis, right? Just after they’ve been fried and dipped in that sweet sticky syrup. That’s right, you’ve got to.
Kulfi, or Indian ice-cream, from this man, here.
Where: Shakespeare Sarani-Wood Street crossing.
My top flavours: Nolen gur, chikoo, santra, sitaphal.
A few must-dos on Park Street, the street where Kolkata eats out:
1. Chelo Kebab in Peter Cat
2. Chinese food (I really should say Indo-Chinese) at Bar-B-Q
3. Breakfast or tea at Flury’s (overpriced though it is).
For Indo-Chinese, outside of Park Street, you can’t leave the city without:
The weekend buffet at Mainland China
And a meal in Tangra (Tangra is Kolkata’s Chinatown, and Kim Fa is the restaurant where People In The Know go now)
Now street food! What can I say. For me, Kolkata is the Street Food City of India. You could have something different every day, and still not run out of options. Start with puchkas, end with chicken rolls, squeeze in some momos in between. Have a chai. Run wild.
Years and years ago, Kookie Jar redefined baking. I’ve eaten cakes in many different cities in the world, but their Black Forest still can’t be beaten. It was D’s birthday cake this year.
The first time we ate in Benjarong was in Chennai. They now have a restaurant in Kolkata, and it’s as good. Go there for beautiful Thai food.
When dinner’s done, start all over with breakfast. Radhabollobi and Alu-r Dom (puris stuffed with lentils that come with a spicy potato curry) from Ganguram in Golpark, or Maharani-Maharaja in Lansdowne, or Tasty Corner in Mandeville Gardens.
Kolkata’s Chilli Sauce is unlike any chilli sauce you get in stores here; maybe the only sauce that can look Sriracha in the eye. Pick up a few bottles of it from this shop – Sing Cheung – in Tiriti Market. They accounted for much of our luggage weight. But so worth it.
For the thirsty: Daab-er Jol, or tender coconut water. And sugarcane juice. Sweet salvation.
Dacres Lane. Now this is a street in Kolkata that stands for decades of good food. They’ve been feeding office-goers for years, and are known for their Chicken Stew. And their Bengali-style Chilli Chicken and Chowmein. And their egg curry. Really, it’s all good.
These bottles of little black salty-tangy balls are a Kolkata thing. Thye’re called Jaina Shipa Mandir, and apparently, they help you digest all the food you shouldn’t have overeaten in the first place. But I eat them because they’re lovely.
Here comes the fish. Fresh from Gariahat Market. Hilsa, prawns, bhekti. Or pabda, tengra and chitol. Fishmongers with their day’s catch.
And then the alleys of vegetables, an absolute mayhem of colours.
I know. Some of you’re going: “Enough with the vegetable already. Where’s the bloody Biryani?”
So what is it about Kolkata’s biryani that makes everyone go a little bit mad? It’s the saffrony rice layered with the tenderest meat and the softest, seasoned potatoes. It’s the subtle smell of spices. It’s something that no one can quite put a finger on.
There are two contenders for the city’s biryani-throne: Arsalan and Shiraz. I’ve tried both, and for me, there really is no competition at all. Shiraz wins by a mile.
This is what I would have: chicken or mutton biryani, mutton chaap, mutton shammi tikka, firni.
I love big vegetarian thalis, especially Rajasthani or Gujarati. We tried a new place this time called Khandani Rajdhani. They were very good.
And then there’s your pick of fresh fruit and street bazaars. They’re everywhere. In wicker baskets and roadside stalls. On your walk, in every colour.
This is the butcher my father swears by.
This is the best place for tea, in a city which knows it tea better than any other. Dolly’s Tea in Dakshinapan Market. I always have their Mint Julep, or the Darjeeling 2nd flush. Dolly’s used to be a regular haunt during my days in Jadavpur University.
There’s the puchka again. Really, it keeps creeping in. I’ve tried the one in front of Dakshinapan, the one in Vivekananda Park, but I’d still vouch for the puchka-wala opposite New Market, in the lane that heads to Treasure Island.
These are fresh pumpkin flowers (kumro-phool). Just before they dunked themselves in batter and leapt into the frying pan.
And here endeth the food trail; with mishti doi (sweet curd) from a Kolkata institution – Mother Dairy.
Was it worth the wait?