Ahh, the Smell, Mmm, the Taste: Foods of Calcutta (Kolkata)

On a wet, lonely and hungry evening, I find nothing more fascinating than dreaming about the wonderful food of my city, Calcutta (or Kolkata). The city only always thought to be a haven for sweets is, of course a perfect destination for that, but the spices rule too, along with the city's personal rendition of different food and cuisines. 

Take Chinese cuisine, for instance. The biggie restaurants not withstanding, every road-side make-shift food-stalls or the small food joints are more likely to have Fried Rice with Chili Chicken/Paneer in their menus more often than the Pulao, made Bengali style. 

It's my personal pride that Calcutta, though a city in Bengal, it boasts of Calcuttans rather than only Bengalis. The city's perfect combination and mixture of people and cultures from every part of India has its profound and fortifying effect on Calcutta's cuisine too. Every connoisseur of food, and Calcuttans are big on food, can get a taste of exemplary North and South Indian cuisines along with Moghlai, Tandoori, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Continental, French and the famous junk food among others.

But there are some specialities we have here, that really shouldn't be missed if you are in Calcutta. This is a list of a few true rude food in Calcutta, not really restaurants (except one) but stuffs that are worth tasting!

Chicken Roll
This one is a regular snacking item in our city, improvised by the city itself, by Nizam's to be specific. Nizam is a Biriyani joint (amongst several famous ones in Calcutta) in New Market where the story of Chicken Roll originates. A man returning home from office had ordered kebabs and paranthas, and asked to be served quickly as he was in a hurry. Seeing that he was late, he asked them to just roll the kebabs in the paranthas, that he would be able to munch on while traveling. Hence the advent of the famous fast food of Calcutta, the chicken roll. Nowadays you have mutton roll, egg roll (the parantha is made with egg), paneer roll, even vegetable roll amongst other improvisations.

Now you call it Panipuri or Golgappa, we will always only call it phuchka! Of course, it doesn't differ that much from city to city or state to state. But the taste of the water in Calcutta adds an entirely different, forbidden taste to it that I am sure is unavailable in any of the other cities. The phuchkas from mainly Chetla, with its characteristic tamarind water with amazing mixture of spices that beguile your tongue and literally can blind your senses (more sour, the better!) are special. The idea of where the best phuchka in the city is found differs with the locality of the connoisseurs who go far and wide across to just judge that. Phuchka-walahs in Vivekanada Park, Ballygunge Phari, College Street, Purna Cinema, Jodhpur park etc are famous. A note to people out of India, from cleaner countries (hence, weaker immune system) are advised not to try them out. If you want a more 'hygienic' version (phuchkas with mineral water!) try Haldiram's (joints across town), Junior Brothers (in Gariahat), they are good even if a subtle impersonation. And for those who abhor the water mix, you can try the drier version of phuchka crumbled with mashed potatoes (inclusive of tongue-tingling spices) that is lovingly called churmur.

Chelo Kebabs
An amazing improvisation of our pet famous restaurant Peter Cat in Park Street, it is a serve-one-only platter that is a favourite with the city-dwellers and every one of those who happen by. A platter of rice with butter, fried eggs (sunny-side up), with mutton sheekh kebabs, a skewer-long chicken reshmi kebabs (better than many other tandoors) with salads and roasted veggies, tandoori style, the traditional Chelo Kebabs is one filling dish and impossible to not enjoy! Very reasonably priced, at less than 200 INR, it is a must have. Teem it up with a prawn cocktail as an appetizer, you will be surprised how filled and satisfied you are after the meal. There are also other versions  of the chelo like mutton, for vegetarian. The sizzlers are also another speciality in here. Just go out there with a little time in hand, because any day, any time of the week, there is at least a 15 minutes waiting! Need the perfect food, Chelo Kebab will never fail you!

Breakfast at Flury's
A tourist haunt, but a traditional favourite with fellow Kolkatans too, Flury's pastries, breakfasts are to rave about. The decor, the ambience along with the food with a tad elitist touch makes it a regular haunt with people of every age.

Chocolates at Kookie Jar
If you are a worshipper of Chocolate, you reach Heavens when you enter Kookie Jar. Besides the usual patties, shwarma wraps, freshly baked breads, and other nonta (salty) quick foods, the confectionery is a haven of home-made cookies (iced, plain and other types), home-made chocolates and pastries. If you like Lemon tart, once from Kookie Jar will never be enough. But if you love chocolate, you'll fall in love with the variety of cakes (no just pastries, they don't seem enough!). Truffle, Walnut, Hot Fudge, Black Forest, even the plain Chocolate cakes are not just tempting but addicting! And add to that, they have the designer cakes that are down-right sinful! The first Rawdon Street Kookie Jar by the force of sheer popularity now have joints at Alipore, City Center, South City etc. Of course, venturing into Kookie Jar might burn a hole in your pocket but that's not just because of the prices but the aroma, and you succumbing to temptation. And every Calcuttan always swears by Kookie Jar!

Confections at Nahum's
The famous outlet at New Market that has been there for several generations (my grandfather used to go there with his grandfather) is probably the first-of-its-kind confectionery. The simple but fascinating tastes, Nahum's caters to the nostalgic and the old times. The old feel and immutable taste of the place makes it a favourite with the regulars that span generations. It's not just confection, Nahum's is actually a tradition.

The food in Calcutta, its history, its tastes and flavours are endless for the food-lover. The Calcuttan loves to eat (and  thus, loves to share too) and eat well! These were a few specials that are really popular. Be sure to try them when you land in Calcutta. For the probashi Bangali, do conjure up the sweet and beguiling tastes and smell of our delicacies ever imprinted in your memory...

In near future I hope to do another post on Bengali, really authentic Bengali food... think, kosha mangsho-luchi, ilish machher-r sorshe jhaal, bhetki paturichingri machher malaikari...  And some other time, the rosogolla and the sondesh.

Hope you are as hungry as I am  after reading this... Meaning, I hope you enjoyed!! :))
An Article by Guria who blogs at Maverick Misfit.

comment 1 comments:

BK Chowla, on September 16, 2010 at 11:41 AM said...

I couldn't agree with you more.During my training period in Calcutta, I remember have eaten at Flurry's,Black cat and another restaurant at park street.
Food in Calcutta is superb.

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