Eating Kolkata

Here it is, you lovely bunch – the food, the food. Oh hell, the food.

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.Β 

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.
Sweet mother!

Was it worth the wait?

28 thoughts on “Eating Kolkata

  1. Awesome!! never wanted the food trail to end πŸ™‚
    Next time do mention mochar chop, alur chop, shingara, and aam er chop (hope u remember) :)!

  2. Pia, I can't think any more! All I can do is drool… I will come back again to look at the photographs, to indulge, to imagine the taste and to drool some more. And then hopefully all the things I want to say will appear on my head which right now is filled with all the wonderful visuals you have shared and nothing else! To say that I LOVE the photographs is understatement! This is much more… Your words, the photographs, the life, and the FOOD!

  3. Thank goodness it was worth your wait, Sia!
    A trip to Kolkata is always intense – so much food everywhere. And really good food at that. I wish we had a tiny percentage of that street food here. Apart from a few pockets in London, the street food scene is so quiet.

  4. LOVED reading this post! Its really really awesome Pia… made me crave for the chicken rolls and the meethi boondi πŸ™‚ Nowhere can you get that authentic taste, no matter how many 'authentic Bengali' restaurants you go to outside of Bengal and Orissa πŸ˜€
    Those fruits next to the guavas? What do you call them? We had a tree in our neighbours house in Bhubaneswar and we used to call the Malkajam…

  5. You're so right, Swati – you need to go to Kolkata for Kolkata food – nothing else will do!
    We call the fruits Jamrul. It's just lovely sweet water in the shape of a fruit, isn't it? I love it. Reminds me of hot summers and hopscotch on the street.

  6. I have been stalking your blog for the last few days hunting for this post! Thank God, its here, finally!
    1) I am having chicken biriyani and mutton chaap from the Bangalore branch of Arsalan tonight.
    2)I am frying shojne-phool boras (drumstick-flower fritters)for lunch tomorrow. Do you know I have a drumstick tree in my backyard?
    3)I recognized Gour, at Gariahat fish market. That's where Baba picks up his fish too.
    5)The images from the stretch of Gariahat along the shops that frame and binds calendars and photographs, leading to the images in the real market are my favourite in this post.

    Love you, for this post Pia!

  7. Ah, I'm loving your dinner plans, Sambrita. London needs a Shiraz, it really does! And I'm liking the sound of your backyard too!
    Glad to have taken you down strips you know well; you're not such a 'disloyal lover' to Kolkata after all :))
    Thanks for loving the post so much – happy to have you stalking!

  8. Misht, you know what? The only reason I left that out was because I wanted to go to OUR shop in Taltola, and take pictures of OUR aam/alu-r chop. Couldn't squeeze it in, but then, that's what next-times are for.
    See, even without a name, I knew it was you. The aam-er chop gave you away πŸ™‚

  9. Uffff…torture torture. Ei rokom korle khelbo na. Loved all and wonderfully captured I must say. Eto kichu dekhe, mon sheshe doi-bonde te giye i theke. Want some perfect bonde nao.

  10. uuuff pagol kore dile toh! Ki je bolbo, mukhe jol and mone dukkho. Ami bar bar scroll kore ekbar opore jacchi and ekbaar niche. Mon bhorar chesta korchi with your virtual treat until I make my next trip!

  11. There's nothing like doi-bonde, I tell you! The only problem is, ekhane bhalo bonde paoya jaaye na. But then again, poaya gele aabar onno problem – roj khetam!

  12. Thanks πŸ™‚ It's a charm to photograph them first thing in the morning when they've just been set us, all colour and glisten.

  13. Shotti, pagol hoyar moton-i. In the first 2 days, I ate more than I do in a week. Ja-ta obostha. I didn't need to take a flight back…could've just rolled to England!
    Hopefully your trip's not too far off! πŸ™‚

  14. Pia: All this is conquered in just three weeks makes you my hero! I could manage a few phuchkas and a trip to Kim Fa in Tangra with Dada (which you need to go if you haven't already, just ask Dada) Your next trip will see me trailing right behind you. I am sad I missed so much this time but it's just as great to get a reminder sometimes.
    Chobi gulo khub bhalo lagche dekhte. They speak for themselves, they have so much character!

  15. But then, you had a wedding to fit into, Debjani! And you have plenty to do for next time. Kim Fa does get a mention in the post – it was recommended by quite a few people. You Dada is actually there in one of the pictures here…a bit of a spotting game though πŸ™‚ Do trail along next time, it'll be lovely!

  16. How did I miss that! It's a that food to blame making it almost impossible to concentrate on your writing. Haha! I did see Dada, selling phuchkas (hopefully he isn't reading this! :D) And I'm surprised Sharma's rabri never came home!

  17. :)) I had to scroll up to see the guy selling phuchkas one more time, Debjani. Haha.
    You'd have missed the rabri even if it had gone home. You had flown back to the cold by the time Sharma's happened.

  18. I didn't know much about Bengali cuisine and the types of food available in Kolkata until recently, when I read Bong Mom's Cookbook. After reading that and this post, I am craving to go to Kolkata, if only for the street food and the sweets. πŸ™‚

    Lovely post!

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