It's often said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, especially that of a Bengali one. The quintessential charm of eating Bengali cuisine is dipping into the rich history of it's culture. The culture, which has been moulded by a multitude of people who have called the city their home: the Mughals, the Marwaris, the British, the Chinese and even the Jews. So I decide to head off to the streets of Kolkata for a day of debauchery to bring you the places that you should be heading to satisfy your hunger the next time you are in Kolkata.
Breakfast has always been attended to quite royally in Bengal, especially in the houses of the erstwhile Zamindars. One of the essential elements of this meal has been the Luchchis and Radhabollobis, lightly fried refined flour flatbreads with or without a stuffing. Served with either a slightly spicy Aloor Dum or the sweet Cholar Dal, it is a dish that still continues to rule Bengali households.
Finding the best Radhabollobi in the city may be controversial, but I have zoned in on the Putiram Sweets. Located in a small alcove built into the shopping lanes at College Street, this 150 year old shop has been serving out the hot piping Radhabollobis along with Bengal's quintessential Mishti to hungry breakfast goers. Another restaurant that serves out this quintessential classic along with some soft, fluffy Rasmalai is K.C Das and Sons on Esplanade.
The Mughals especially the lineage of Wajid Ali Shah and his descendants had an indelible influence of the style of food that was being prepared in Bengal. Although most breakfast dishes of the Mughal have a typical richness, one dish that truly exemplifies Mughlai Bengali food is the Mutton Rezala at Sabir's. Served along with a thick flatbread, the sweet, creamy texture of the Rezala is unforgettable.
Lunch is at one of Kolkata's iconic Mughlai joints Arsalan where I decide to dig into the famous Kolkata Biryani. Quite unlike the Hyderabadi or the Lucknawi namesakes that you might have tried out earlier, this Biryani is much lighter on the palate comes along with it's two surprise elements: a piece of boiled potato and a hard boiled egg along with the well cooked pieces of mutton. Another one of Kolkata's iconic Mughlai joints is Aminia which has been serving out it's fare for more than a century now. Along with the Kolkata Biryani, do dig into the absolutely decadent Mutton Chaap and the Irani Chicken Tikka here.
Another influence that remains till date on the Indians is the British. Anglo food, served in restaurants all across the city. One of iconic Sunday breakfasts, even before Brunches became popular in South Kolkata was to be found at Flury's. Established even before Independence in 1927, the colonial era settings replete with chequered floors and chandeliers are quite at home at Park Street. The restaurant is believed to be Satyajit Ray's favourite joint where he used to gorge upon the continental breakfast consisting of Sausages, Ham, Omelette and Toast. The teahouse and bakery today serve up a load of mouth watering pastries along with the classic Sunday Breakfast that literally creates a line on the famous Park Street.
Although I would have loved some postprandial somnolence, but there is another cuisine still to be discovered in the City of Joy. Tangra, also known as Kolkata's Chinatown has been populated by Chinese-Indians since the mid 19th and 20th century offers a delectable style of Chinese food known as Tangra Chinese. The best exponents of this cuisine: Bigg Boss serves some mouth-watering noodles along with crispy, spicy Chili Chicken quite similar to the Hakka style of Chinese found all over the world. Although the restaurant may not score highly on the decor, but what it does score on is the taste. Kim Ling, on the other hand serves out some delectable Momos and dumplings that you must try out.
I might never ever enjoy the history of colonisation of my country, but the one thing I adore about the British are the evening tea snacks they left behind. Chops and cutlets are two of my favourites, specially the fluffy Kobiraji cutlets covered with a lace like egg covering at the Mitra Cafe in Sovabazar. No Bengali evening snack is complete without it's quintessential street food which includes Phuchkas and Telebhaja(vegetable fritters) sold on small carts across the city. While the former is served with a tangy, tamarind filled water, the latter is mostly accompanied by a packet full of flattened rice(Moori) to munch along.
There's just a bit more time left to go for dinner as I head to the New Market Area where the Nizam's has been belting out the classic Kathi roll for the better part of the last century. The Roll consists of freshly grilled juicy Kebab which is wrapped up in a crispy Paratha and sprinkled on with some Chillies and Lime for the added effect. The market also houses one of the oldest Jewish bakeries in town, Nahoum and Sons. Although I have been a fan forever of the gigantic Rum balls here, but this time I am here to try out the Sambusak or Cheese Samosas made with layers of cheese covered by a crisp deep fried outer cover.
But Bengali food is not only to be enjoyed on the streets. I decided to get myself a Thaali, zamindar style at the Sonargaon at Taj Bengal. The opulent Thali consists of all the classics including the Dhokar Dalna, Chingri Malaikari, Posto all served in small silver bowls on a silver plate along with a sherbet made of Godhoraj Lebu(Bengali Sweet Lime) in a traditional village like setting.
The newly opened ITC Grand Bengal on the other hand, has recreated the historic New Market at their restaurant Grand Market Pavilion where you can not only experience the street specials but also the classics of full meal including a delectable Kosha Mangsho along with Luchi.
At the other end of the Park Street, Chef Madhumita Mohanta at The Lalit Great Eastern which was earlier known as the Auckland Hotel and was the longest running luxury hotel in Asia also serves out some delectable desserts, many of which trace back their roots to the era of the Taj, almost 165 years ago.
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