Mornings in Kolkata generally begin with a trip to the bazaar by the man of the house to buy tiger prawns, plump bhekti or rui. If the Bengali could afford it, he or she would have fish for lunch and dinner every day of the week, with perhaps kosha mangsho on Sunday, ending with an array of desserts made from curdled milk like the creamy rosomalai, the sandesh and the rosogolla that Bengal is famous for.
The paturi, ilish or bhetki fish wrapped and cooked in ripe banana leaves—originally smoked but now delicately pan seared—is a recipe dear to the heart of many wedding caterers. Some might detect a Persian influence here, similar to the signature Parsee dish Patri ni Machhi. Try it at Kewpie’s (2, Elgin Lane, Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani; +91 33 2486 1600) or 6 Ballygunge Place (6 Ballygunge Terrace; +91 33 2460 3922).
Kosha mangsho is rich spicy mutton served sometimes with a sliced egg and rumali roti on the side. Golbari in Shyambazar, now rechristened New Punjabi Hotel, is legendary for it (211 A.P.C Road, Shyambazar; +91 33 2554 6096). Also try this tasty delight at Bhojohori Manna (18/1A, Hindustan Road, Kolkata; +91 33 2466 3941).
The kebab roll is another Kolkata invention—its warm appetising smell can cut through damp shopping expeditions or heated debates. Tradition attributes its invention to the dark marble countered depths of a shop called Nizam (23/24, Hogg Street, Behind New Market; +91 9830017576). There the kebab is taken and stacked on a stake, then wrapped in a soft parantha—perhaps with a lining of egg—and wrapped in grease-proof paper.
Bengali confectionery achieved a new renaissance with the sandesh, coincidentally in the 19th century when the region was going through an intellectual rebirth. In the beginning, it was just a loose paste (still found in shops like Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick), but then a genius called Bhim Nag tried his hand at a new variation. He had been studying the sandesh for a long time and at the relatively early age of 17 had mastered the art of shaping it. By 1920, there were at least 45 kinds of sandesh available everyday at the Bhim Nag shop (5 Nirmal Chandra Street, Bowbazar; +91 33 2212 0465) located near the crowded crossing of Bowbazar and College Street.
While on the subject of sweets, there’s the ubiquitous rosogolla that Bengalis are supposed to look and speak like! The discovery of the rosogolla brought Nobin Chandra Das instant fame as ‘the Columbus of Baghbazar’ in North Kolkata, and the most authentic ones are found in his descendants’ shop KC Das (11-A & B, Esplanade; +91 33 2248 5920). Today, you even have the smoky notun gurer rosogolla—plump and brown—to be savoured in winter at Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick (2, Padmapukur Road, Bhowanipur; +91 33 2486 9490)
Whatever any non-Bengali has to say about Kolkata, the one thing he or she will admit is that the mishti doi—comprising of sweetened yogurt with the addition of jaggery—is perfection in itself. Ganguram Sweets (22/1, Gariahat Road; +91 33 2440 5947) was the first shop to experiment with mishti doi. North Kolkata’s doi at its best and richest is more like kheer than yogurt. Buy some at Amrita (94, Bidhan Sarani, Shyambazar; +91 33 2555 3281), where the doi is set in earthenware vessels by a fire for a firmer texture.
Walk into any Bengali household in the evening and you’ll probably find the family gorging on piping hot shingaras or kochuris. Try some of Mrityunjoy Ghosh’s cauliflower-stuffed shingara (Sarat Bose Road & Palit Street Crossing, Sarat Bose Road). If that doesn’t satisfy you, there’s always Flury’s—the uncrowned ‘Queen of Park Street’ (+91 33 4000 7453)—perfect for all kinds of catching up over a cup of Viennese coffee, some chicken patties and a slice of chocolate truffle gateau, which you will not find anywhere else in the city. Kolkata’s first tea room still holds its own for tea and for breakfasts.
The gourmet world raves about Lucknowi and Hyderabadi biryani, but this aromatic rice is one of Kolkata’s famous specialities. It originated from the Avadhi style which uses potatoes and, in some places, eggs. Lighter in its use of spice and more subtle in its layering of flavours than Hyderabadi biryani, it can be savoured in its mutton or chicken avatar at Amber (11, Waterloo Street, Esplanade; +91 33 2248 3018), Shiraz (135, Park Street; 91 33 2284 2349) or Arsalan (28, Circus Avenue; +91 33 2281 3921).
No culinary journey across Kolkata would be complete without trying the kabiraji cutlet, which is masked in a crisp crust of egg froth. The name apparently came about from ‘covered egg’ cutlet, which got corrupted in a game of culinary Chinese whispers. Try it at Mitra Café (23/37, Golpark, Gariahat Road. Also at Jatindra Mohan Avenue).
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- Anjana Basu
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