Mesmerizing Multitude of Mangalore

My urgency was unexplained to my family. Neither did I share as to why I avoided a lunch halt en-route. With a couple of small halts to ensure that the soul is fed with the beauty of the landscape, I was holding back my more mortal hunger since I had a belief that if one wants something intensely, it happens. Google Map has rarely been so critical. As the cityscape gradually started appearing, it was 3 pm and it still showed 15 minutes to Jyothi Talkies, Bunts Hostel Rd. The chauffer also must be hungry and my restlessness probably irritated him further. The car didn’t even come to a halt, and off I went out and instead of even searching for the elevator climbed the steps up to reach there.

Inside, I told the supervisor, I need to order. A slightly indignant face of his made me take a glance at my watch – past 3:20. “Sir, you need to order right away, entire order”.  “Can you give me 2 mins? My family is on their way.” He didn’t. Quite naturally, since they close at 3:30pm. “Never mind – take my order.”

  • Chicken Ghee Roast – 2 plates
  • Pepper Chicken Roast – 2 plates
  • Mangalorean Prawn Curry
  • Neer Dosa
  • Steamed Rice

I realized that when at gun-point, one generally tends to deliver the best, albeit in areas around his/ her passion.

Rarely had I sensed such a feeling of relief and intense satisfaction. Order accepted, presumably they will be delivered. But then the wait was a restless one. When the hunger of the body adds up to the hunger of soul, it is terribly tough. So tough that when the entire order arrived, I almost jumped into the star attraction for which I am at Maharaja Restaurant, presumably an iconic place for the legendary Ghee Roast. As a habit, I keep my most yearned-for item last, but here, the stress of being on time and the hunger pranks were too overwhelming to align me to my practice.

The fiery red chicken pieces with ghee oozing out would have been a delight for the eyes, but my eagerness to taste it, marginally spoiled the visual delight and converged all my delight to my tongue and of course to my soul. Ghee, to a Bengali like me, has always been associated with dishes of more moderate taste like steamed rice, or Khichdi or light stew of lentil. But the overwhelming presence of it in the fiery masala gravy of chicken was a taste I can hardly elaborate through the keyboard. Maybe my abilities with the keyboard aren’t as robust yet.

The aroma of the dish floated me back by a decade to the first and so far the best Ghee Roast I have had ever at Coast-to-Coast in Bangalore. I am indeed lucky to have had some of the most delectable foodies as my supervisors at work. But little did I know then that my maiden tryst with Ghee Roast is at a place, whose parents created the famed Ghee Roast decades back in Kundapur, a coastal town near Mangalore. While KFC took the name of the place where it was originated, Kundapur didn’t get that fame because the dish was never named as Kundapur Ghee Roast (or KGR). Poverty forced his parents to get into the eatery business in the late 50s in Kundapur, but theirs was the first place in Mangalore in early 70s (Anupama) which witnessed people queuing up to have their meal.

 “The dish originated in the Mangalorean Bunt community yes, but that community is a dynamic one that sees an overlap of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian cultures. Therefore, one naturally adapts from the other, and almost every community of the area has its version of the Chicken Ghee Roast. My recipe for instance is a mix of each of these cultures, and an experimentation of variations over time. In fact, only recently I began to include a squeeze of lemon juice, along with the curd and turmeric in the marinade. The result has been great,” writes Jane M D’Souza in Jane’s Cook Book.

Untitled2

The Pepper Chicken would have been a memorable dish had it not been overwhelmed by the excitement that was built around Ghee Roast. But the Coastal Prawn curry’s smoothness with the intermingling of the heat from spices and the cool flavour of coconut made me gobble up a more-than-usual quantity of rice that I otherwise would have.

Untitled3

A sense of conquest was surely evident in me as I walked out of Maharaja. When you are just there for 2 days in Mangalore, missing out a meal in the city was something I couldn’t come to terms with. Hence that unusual stress and rush for making it to Maharaja in time.

Mangalore can be a culinary destination only. It is a melting pot of cultures and traditions not only from various geographies but also from various points in the tide of time. While, to most, it is that generic South Indian food, but dug deeper, there exists distinct evidences of multiples cultures and their cuisines. It has its own share of delights for both vegetarians’ non-vegetarians’ as well. Tuluva cuisine is the collective cuisine of the Tulu speaking communities of Tulu Nadu in coastal Karnataka. Being a coastal zone, predominance of fish is obvious.  Staying at Gateway Hotel, the live seafood counter at Port Café was irresistible. The ensemble of kingfish, silver fish, pomfret, squid and a larger variety of Indian Carplet was a delight when served straight from frying pan.

 

And so were their continental dishes. Grilled fish creates an image of a nice slab of bhetki served with mashed potatoes and boiled veggies. But to get fresh seer fish instead of bhetki was not only a surprise but a delight which percolated into the taste bud making me a fan of grilled seer fish. Because of the location and nature of the fish, the marination was probably different here with sparing use of spices like pepper.

Untitled12

 

But to cherish the absolutely local and authentic fish preparation, a meal at Giri Manjas is a must. There is nothing special about the place. You won’t even pay any heed to many such places in any city. This is a humble restaurant on Car Street (very little space to park cars).

IMG_20181228_135921

When it was founded in 1984 by Giri Pai, it didn’t have a name. It was only around 2007 that Manjunath Pai, Giri’s son, gave the unnamed place its name and also introduced the ever popular Tawa Fry. And you get the same Tawa fry for whatever fish you want. It is probably the most common and favourite preparation of fish that is made in households of this city. It catapulted the eatery into a different height. It still retains its capacity of 40 people and serves more than 200 plates of fish dishes everyday.

The standard thali comes with rice (one can choose the local thicker reddish variant or the more fine and white variety), daal, one veggie of the day, a standard curry made with fish portions and pickle. One can now choose the fish and/ or chicken dish to accompany. Anjal Tawa Fry and Bangude Tawa Fry was my pick of the day. I realized why people are okay parking their cars many hundred metres away and still walking over to this place. The taste of the Tawa Fry gravy and the freshness of the fish will linger with you for a long time. What’s so special about this place and their cooking? The answer to that was they always cook with love. No wonder, BBC covered this place as part of a program on tiny eateries in India. The restaurant’s name is a combination of ‘Manjunath’ and ‘Giri’. Both of them are now no more now. Yet their legacy and love has kept the food same over the years.

It is Tuluva cuisine to which many subsequent cuisines owes its origin to. And one of them is of course the famed Udupi cuisine. It is said that Masala Dosa owes its origin to Tuluva cuisine and hence one can connect as to why the vegetarian part of Tuluva cuisine evolved as Udupi. And heralding from Kolkata, the meal that Udupi cuisine associates with the most, is breakfast. Hence a breakfast at The New Taj Mahal Café, Panchmahal Building on KS Rao Road is a destination one wouldn’t want to miss.

Order their ghee soaked tuppa dosa without any preconceived mind-set of how a dosa will look like. Else you will end up charging the waiter for having served the wrong order to you. Slightly crunchy, yet juicy, the ghee laden Dosa will arouse you from the lethargy of early morning sleepiness. Unlike the slightly stronger taste of sambar that you encounter in Bangalore, here the sambar was more light, indicating its lineage to Udupi cuisine. Same can be said about the coconut chutney. But what left lasting impression in me is the taste and balance of the green chutney which was a mix of green chilli, coriander leaves and ginger.  That was the only thing I had to ask for a refill. Mangalore Buns is another key attraction here. Most of the local residents, who are in a hurry, drop in here for a bun accompanied with filter kappi (coffee as uttered in Mangalore).  Now, I am sure, you are not expecting a traditional bun that you have known so far. While this has a swollen look like a bun, but it is closer to a poori with a crunchy outer layer enveloping a soft inner layer. You will get a distinct taste of banana which made me feel banana is part of the ingredients making the dough. By the way, forget you herald from the land of tea gardens in Bengal. You just shouldn’t leave the place without its filter kappi.

Beyond the traditional Udupi food, vegetarian Tuluva cuisine consists of various steamed delicacies like Sannas, Kottige, Dosas like Neer Dose, dry items like Sukka/Ajadina and Upkari, also gravies called Gassi (Tulu word meaning curry)/ Rasa /Pulimunchi . Upkari of Yam and a mix veg gassi was a nice way to taste the vegetarian Tuluva cuisine. It was more by force that I chose to add mutton to this platter, just to taste how they make my most favourite meat dish. And they make it great with the elaborate use of spices nicely overshadowing the dominance of garlic, and the colour of the gravy made irresistible by use of jaggery as the sweetener.

Untitled4

Limited time in Mangalore meant I need to try out a mid-morning brunch as well. While not strictly a coastal Karnataka dish, Pesarattu, a dish which owes it origin probably to coastal Andhra was great temptation. Made with whole moong dal called as pesalu in Telegu, it is similar to Dosa, but absence of urad dal is what differentiates it from a Dosa. In Andhra, this pessarattu is served with ginger or tamarind chutneys and also with upma and is known as MLA pesarattu as it is probably the most common breakfast platter in restaurant in MLA quarters in Hyderabad. But I did settle for some pongal instead of upma – can’t help my weakness for pongal.

There is so much more to explore still.  Well, there is a distinct culinary trend in Mangalore which has evolved in the last three centuries. Europeans called Mangalore ‘the Rome of the East’ two centuries ago because Mangalorean Catholics are Roman Catholics from the former South Canara district on the south-western coast of India. Their ancestors were Goan Catholics, who had migrated to South Canara from Goa between 1560 and 1763 during the Goa Inquisition and the Portuguese-Maratha wars. The culture of Mangalorean Catholics is a blend of Mangalorean and Goan cultures. Hence their curry uses a lot of coconut and curry leaves while ginger, garlic and chilli are also used. Mangalorean Catholic cuisine has distinct Portuguese influence. Mangalorean Catholics mix pork blood and other parts in most of their pork delicacies as can be seen from Pork Bafat, Cabidela and Kalleze un Kiti. And when it comes to Bafat, what better place than Pereira’s to explore not only Pork Bafat but some of these famous Catholic dishes.

Started by Ignatius Pereira, this place will be 100 years in a couple of years’ time. While it is best paired with sannas (soft spongy idlis made with rice & urad dal), I couldn’t resist my temptation to pair pork bafat with my ever-favourite neer dosa. While it may seem similar to a Goan sorpotel, but use of Shindaap (chopped onions, garlic, ginger, green chillies and bay leaf) along with bafat powder creates a unique and yearning taste for this dish. Even the chicken (Kunkda Maas) liver, infused with that extra pepper on top of  The gravy that accompanies the neer dosa is an orchestra of spices mixed and executed by deft hands.

The fish curry especially their Fish Roe Curry made by Catholic Christians here, is known for its taste in the whole of coastal India while fried fish in their style is well known Pereira’s is a simple joint (possibly with accommodation facilities as well), but the warmth of the waiters and the taste of food will make you regret not to have stayed in Mangalore for some more time.

Untitled16

What excited me about Mangalore is its flexibility and adaptive approach to creating combination in a meal. A pure crispy dosa with chutney in the morning, but the sambar get replaced with egg curry prepared in a Mangalorean way. It was a super start to a day when you have to hold your emotion back that it is time for you to leave this culinary heaven.

Parsi Platter

Food has always had a strong co-relation to the culture, origin, evolution and geographical location of a community. While the ingredients in a cuisine has a strong co-relation to the geographical origin of the cuisine, the way food is prepared can be co-related to the culture, beliefs and traditions of the community.

One such cuisine, which is a medley of flavours and a skillful interweaving of various tastes, is now disappearing – not because people aren’t fond of it, but maybe because the custodians of this rich cuisine are slowly dwindling in number.

Time and again Persia has been invaded from the times of Alexander, maybe because of the strategic location and the extent of the geography till which Persian influence existed. Threat of intrusion and fear of conversion led to many moving mostly eastwards and ending up in the western coast of India. What we know of the famed Parsi cuisine is more of what they prepared after adapting to this country and ingredients available locally. While the predominance of stew, meats, nuts and raisins are from their traditions in Persia, inclusion of fish (sea-fish) probably can be linked to adapting to ingredients popular in India. Predominantly being in west coast of the country, the types of fish has mostly centered on sea-fish. The British era also significantly influenced their food culture through the inclusions of snacks and desserts.

They say that Parsi wedding food is incomplete without Lagan-nu custard. In fact the name is derived from the word wedding – Lagan. Its appearance and taste will make you correlate it with the more popular caramel custard. The addition of charoli (almond-flavoured seeds), cashews, nutmeg and cardamom adds to the richness of the dish. It isn’t too sweet and the texture is something I prefer over its more popular cousin caramel custard. Crusty top, partly burnt is an attraction difficult for me to resist.

Untitled6

But what was a welcome discovery for me was Ravo, during my recent adda session with elderly Parsi acquaintances at their home. Loved understanding how particular they are about every step in making their food. Semolina and sugar is cooked in ghee for about 10 mins. Then they switched off the oven, added half of the milk, beat the egg for a while with some milk added and poured the same in the semolina and switched on the oven and kept stirring till the first boil as remaining milk was added. Garnished with raisins and thinly sliced almonds, the dish was heavenly.

Untitled3

Ask someone the name of a Parsi dish and most often Dhanshak is the reply. It is a dish which is consumed on the 4th day of mourning (after a bereavement in family) indicating mourning is over since Parsis have vegetarian food only during the first three days. Hence, Dhanshak is not prepared on auspicious days. But it is often a must on Sundays. And for some, a heavy lunch with Dhanshak after some beer on a Sunday afternoon is the best way to invite a satisfying afternoon siesta. But it is time-consuming to prepare Dhanshak. It is a meal which takes care of most essential ingredients that one needs. Traditionally, seven types of lentil and seven types of vegetables along with mutton goes into prepare the shak. Little did I know (till my interactions with Parsi families in Kolkata) that the rice (Dhan) needs to be brownish in colour and that is done by the fine art of caramelization of onion and sugar (or maybe jaggery) and is spiced up by use of garam masala. Water is added in such a quantity that it is not required to be drained. And the taste multiplies manifold when you squeeze the lemon. Don’t leave any bit of it in your plate. Using the lemon rind, sweep off any remaining gravy sticking to your plate. Apart from Dhanshak, lentils find its use in Khichdi as well.

 

Can Dhanshak be cherished without kachumber? Onions, cucumber, tomato and at times radish is chopped into fine pieces and mixed with vinegar (probably sugarcane vinegar which gives a sweet & sour taste) to create a salad, which needs to be poured on the dhanshak on your plate and to be eaten together.

Apart from their intense love for egg and meat, potato is something that is deeply loved by the Parsis and it is apparent in so many dishes. Else why will a dish like chicken curry have thinly striped potato wedges mixed with it to form salli boti. Name itself denotes the contents – salli meaning sticks and here it is fried potato sticks with boti (meat chunks).

Untitled1

Vindaloo is a dish which strongly associates with Goa and connects back to the Portuguese influence therein. As the Parsis settled in west coast, it is likely that the Portuguese influence will surface in their local culinary culture. Not sure if it is universally true, but the ones I tasted at Parsi homes had an aroma of Coriander leaves which differentiated it from the Goan Vindaloo. Came to know that hot toor dal Khichdi gets nicely paired with this Vindaloo. One may often wonder if the flaming red colour of Vindaloo is by adding colorants. While the luckier ones use bedgi chillies, those who doesn’t get them create that magical red colour through use of Kashmiri red chilies. Homemade tomato puree helps in the cause as well. The small pork pieces, infused with this delectable gravy, is a memory which will last long. Guess the balancing of vinegar, jaggery and chilies is what brings out the charisma of the cook.

Untitled7

A dish that I had not known earlier and which completely bowled me over was Prawn patio. Quite close to Vindaloo in terms of the balancing act amongst sweet, sour and spicy tastes, the aroma of garlic was like the subdued violin in a tune dominated by the rhythm section comprising of jaggery, chilies and tomatoes. Soaked in the pao (bread) and with the bread absorbing the gravy, it weakened me considerably. But it also makes a wonderful combo with Dhundar (Dhun – wealth and Dar = Dal), which is steamed rice (cooked with some ghee and whole spices likes cardamom & cinnamon) and Toovar Dal cooked with onions and garlic. The sour and spicy patio is a killer combo with Dhundar. As they say “Dundar patio, bese bese chatio”.

Untitled15

Pathuri and Patrani machi has so much in common in the name. And that extended to the way they are done. But what differentiates them is the ingredients used. Patrani machi, in its current form having its origins in west coast, is based on primarily seafish like pomfret and the chutney is made with coriander & mint leaves mixed with grated coconut and green chillies. In contrary, pathuri is predominantly of Hilsa or Bhetki fish coated with mustard and green chilli paste and topped with mustard oil.

As I move in reverse chronology, the Parsi Stew was a great surprise for me. While it was there on the table, I asked the hosts where the stew is. Stew, to most of us, will have a flowing consistency. But here nothing is flowing. A tight consistency of medley of veggies was what was in the bowl. Came to know, they have two varieties and the one is the fried variety where vegetables are deep fried to make this stew. Call it stew or a dry vegetable curry, it was not only something different from whatever I have had, but was delicious too. Had to repeat a spoonful after I was through with Dhanshak.

IMG_20181202_132654

My first tryst with Akuri was in the form of breakfast in a Jet Airways flight almost 2 decades back. While I wasn’t aware of its origin, I loved it. But, in recent times, I realized how different such an Akuri can be from what is made in a Parsi home. While the ingredients may be same, the sogginess of the Akuri in a Parsi home made it so much more tasty than what is often served in many other places. While Akuri maybe a lot more popular, within the community -per-eeda is a phrase that is extremely common i.e. dishes with egg in it. Starting off with tomato-per eeda, papeta-per-eeda, Bhida-per-eeda, Turia-per-eeda, tarkari–per-eeda is a long line of dishes with eggs augmenting the taste.

Talking about breakfast, the roasted fowl sandwich was another delight where the meat is roasted with certain ingredients that leaves its teasing taste behind as the contents make its way into your stomach.

IMG_20190127_165718

As shared earlier, starters or snacks in Parsi cuisine have a visible influence of the colonial era in India. Cutlis Pao is nothing but a cutlet served inside a pao. So is the other vegetarian delicacy Chutney Patties. It is potato with green chutney, so very common in Mumbai made in the form of a chop, again, an influence of British era. The cutlets can be had even without the paos, and especially when the tomato gravy is poured over it. The snacks in this cuisine can keep going on, but am lucky (or maybe unlucky) to have tasted just a few of them.

As a Bengali, how I can’t restrain myself from samosas (or shingara as we call in Bengali). But unlike the ones here, the Parsi ones are flat in shape and the feel of mutton keema, after overcoming the crisp outer layer, is such a welcome deviation to the potato-peas combo of shingara. The subtle aroma of coriander and mint leaves lend a memorable touch to the same.

However, it was Mutton Soti Boti, which ranks at the top amongst some of the snacks that I have devoured. Marinated mutton cubes are cooked till it is done (also cooked in a way so that the meat is dry), is skewered with boiled potatoes. The skewers are placed across a frying pan and the meat & potato are fried till they are nicely browned. Then the same is again fried after rolling the skewers in bread crumbs and egg dip.

It is impossible to capture a rich and diverse cuisine like the Parsi cuisine at one go. There are so many vegetarian delicacies like Patrel or Mawa Cake or Dar Ni Pori which are also great starters or snacks. Paris Butter or Paris cheese makes some of their homemade cookies so unique in their smoothness. The homemade sauces, condiments and marmalade are sheer delight because of the honesty of their tastes.

They say that the speciality of Parsi cuisine is that it tastes sweet as it touches the lips; then as you chew the food, it tastes sour and then as you gulp the food, it leaves a spicy feel. In a very similar way, when you enter a Parsi home, you first feel their warmth; as you settle down, you feel the hospitality and as you get ready to leave their house, it is their generosity which touches you. Capturing the joy of being with them on here is impossible.

Coorg Cuisine

Too strong an association of a place with one specific thing has its consistent disadvantage. Being a Kolkata-an, the word Rosogolla is something I have heard the most from people who belong to other parts of the country. And I always hated this excessive association of Rossogolla with Kolkata, since it shrouded so much more of the culinary landscape of this place.

What Rossogolla is to Kolkata is probably what Coffee is to Coorg. The over emphasis on Coffee and its plantations created blinders in me as I approached the place. No doubt the filter coffee there is distinct, has all the merits to be highlighted and so are some of the unique variants that are available there. But what I never expected that amidst those plantations, there is extensive paddy cultivation as well, especially in zones which are not as sloping, like till about Suntikoppa or certain other zones.

The abundance of paddy cultivation has led to consumption of rice in various forms. While in Bengal Ghee Bhaat (Rice) used to be the default cereal in major meals of the rich and the affluent, Nye Kool (Ghee Rice) is somewhat similar in Coorg. Hence every place that I explored asked me if the accompaniments should be served with ghee rice. So many hundreds kilometers away, yet it reminded me of our very own Basmati Pulao, primary difference being this one is more whitish in colour and I found it slightly more sweeter than Basmati Pulao. The use of Cashew, raisins (and any other fried nuts that the cook may want to use) were more opulent.

img_20181226_141752

Personally not a great lover of Pulao, it was Kadambuttu (rice-flour balls) that attracted me. They were round shaped balls made with rice flour, juicy and soft, yet not crumbling as you hold it or bite it. It doesn’t have a taste of its own and I loved the lack of fermentation therein (compared to idlis) – but it surely has a unique feel and helps retain the authentic taste of the dish it is accompanying.

img_20181226_142432

But it was Akki Otti (plain & crisp rice roti) which led to all my confusion. I loved it equally as much as I loved Kadambuttu and had to navigate between it and Kadambuttu for every bite with the dish accompanying them. Mostly made of leftover rice mixed with rice flour, almost no water is added while making the dough to avoid the rotis getting hard. Whiter in colour that usual Tawa rotis made of wheat, I loved the hot rotis, slightly crispy at some zones, dig the pandi curry and navigate into my mouth.

img_20181226_142248

Coorgi Cuisine without Pandi Curry is incomplete. But I was more curious to understand as to why this singular focus and excitement around Pork (Pandi) though none of the surrounding regions like Mangalore, Konkan, Kerala has as much singular focus on Pork.

A common characteristics of most men in Coorg are their tall and stout physique. My assumption is that because they were mostly warriors generations back, the same is reflected in their features. In those days, as they moved in jungles, wild boar became a very common food on which they had to survive. And thus the strong attachment to pork even today amongst people from the place. Moreover, in the wild, getting cooking oil wasn’t easy. Pork, as a meat, can be cooked in its own fat and hence even today, minimal oil is used in cooking the same. Having said that, there is a distinctive kick in the authentic Pandi Curry that you taste in Coorg. To preserve the meat, natural preservatives were used I guess. And that is probably the genesis behind Kachampuli, their own version of a Balsamic vinegar that is extracted from the ripe fruits of the Kodambuli fruit (the ripe fruits of the garcinia gummi gutta tree). And it is this taste, mixed with the ones of green chilies and peppercorns (abundantly available), that lends its tangy hot unique taste to Pandi curry. I can do with one plate of pandi, but I can’t resist my craving for another plate of the curry.

img_20181226_141848

Being land-locked and not easily accessible for a long time, culinary traits from surrounding locales could never get infused within their cuisine in the past.

Maybe, with accessibility being no longer an issue, some bit of infusion has happened and that’s why I was lucky enough to try out something that weakens me considerably – neer dosa. And it combined graciously Koli Nallamolu Barthadh (chicken-pepper fry). The soft moist dosas allowed me to perfectly grab the gravy clinging to chicken pieces, spiced up with an aroma of pepper. And with so much of fresh pepper being grown all around, I guess it is difficult to replicate the taste of gravy of Barthadh elsewhere. Just like Pandi curry is a religion in Coorgi Cuisine, so is Pandi Barthad. I guess it is all the more difficult to replicate barthadh elsewhere and hence its suppressed fame.

 

img_20181226_142541

Ghee rice with a curry made of poppy seed? No – I am not in Bengal. I continue to be in Coorg and I was amazed at the finesse of the poppy seed & cashew based mutton curry which was a killer combo with ghee rice. The smell of coconut and the kick of aromas from cloves, cinnamon and cardamom were such a welcome deviation. I thanked Mr Swarup of Coorg Cuisine for suggesting me Ghee Rice with this Kori Yerchi Curry. Btw, you shouldn’t miss a meal at Coorg Cuisine in Madikeri, if you want an absolute authentic place to try Coorgi Food. It is not luxurious in ambience; but its food is grand and so is the warmth of the owners.

 

And if you are in Coorg Cuisine, do order coffee with jaggery and lemonade with honey, as you settle down to take a sumptuous look at their menu.

All the above made me convince about people from this place being inherently warriors and having moved through forest lands, fundamentally relied on natural ingredients and not on processed ones.

And that practice extends to their vegetarian cuisine as well. Bamboo shoot, jungle mangoes, jackfruit, kembh leaves (edible colocasia) and mushroom are popular in their cuisine. Kummu curry gave me a perspective of the vegetarian food of Kodavas. Historically, this used to be prepared using fresh mushrooms that appear soon after a night of thunder and lightning. I had to satisfy myself with the ones that must have appeared after waiting for the thunder for months.

img_20181225_221235

The way puffed rice and bhel dominates the chaat space in many parts of the country, it is fruit chaats that is dominant in Coorg. Yet again, the same reinforces their affiliation to ingredients naturally natural. Raw mango is a part of most chaat prepared (used in a way I have seen ourselves use potato) with a medley of fruits, pineapple having a predominance during the season I was there.

 

Oooppss! I am in Southern part of the country and not mentioned anything about “South Indian” food! For many, “South Indian” food is stereotyped as Dosa, Idli, Sambar, Chutney. The netted set-Dosa with thin strips of carrot weren’t anything Coorgi to the best of my knowledge. The strong taste and dark colour of sambar is typically what is unique to Karnataka and I do love that. Pohas here are usual to what you will get in Bangalore and Mysore.

img_20181226_084601-01

Exploring homemade wines and chocolates can be a blog by itself. They say that if a woman is presented with rose in Coorg, she will quickly take the petals off to make wine from it. The variety is indeed mind blogging. Sugar and the fruit of choice are added to boiled water and stirred at regular intervals for a period of five days. Then it is kept for 25 days (varies depending on the key ingredient) , after which the fruit and sugar mixture is filtered into a bottle without any traces of the pulp being mixed. In order to separate the pulp from the liquid, Muslin cloth is used in the filtration process. They don’t use any preservatives and alcohol and yeast are also not used. Through natural process of fermentation, the wine acquires alcohol content.

 

While I cherished the taste of the chili wine that I bought, my thirst for unearthing more about it is surely going to bring me back to this land of wine… or coffee as they say.

Beef Breakfasts in Kolkata

I was back around 7-30 am. My wife opened the door

Wife: walked extra today? Came in late?

Me: No, I didn’t take the morning walk today. Told you last night that I will be leaving early to be at Sufia.

Wife: but that was a joke I guess

Me: I told you while leaving at 4-30am today also

Wife: Oh!!! I thought I was imagining in my sleep basis what you told me last evening. Did you seriously go?

That’s the gap which happens even after living for a couple of decades together when one is a person who lives to eat and other eats to live.

Waking up at crazy early morning hours for breakfast must be weird as apparent above. Many would wonder that it is not quite a normal behaviour to get up at 4 am and board an Uber at 4-30 am just for some breakfast. And more so for the items not generally imagined as a breakfast in wildest dreams. Well…divine stuff needs those extra efforts. And I was on my way in the dark winter morning at 4-30 am towards Zakaria street. Even after entering Chitpur Road it was all silent and deserted and I was wondering if I am wee bit early in my worry not to miss it. Crossed Nakhoda Masjid and as the cab crossed the lane on right….well here I am. Ought to be the place bustling with activity and people. Is there a queue? Yes for those who are in groups of 3 or 4, but I was alone. Placed myself comfortably in a chair. No – One doesn’t need to order for it. It is given. At such unearthly hours, if you are at “Sufia“, waiters know why you are there. You just need to mention whether poori or roti. I went for the roti. And I surely don’t recollect a better tandoori roti that I have had. White, perfectly baked, not a single corner burnt, crispy outer layer, moist inner layer. Wow!!! Here it comes with the star attraction accompanying it. Read about it, known about it but never heard about any acquaintance’s own experience. Squeeze the lemon over it. And then with your finger gently tear the roti, dip it into the gravy and tuck it onto your tongue. Purely divine. I looked at my watch. 5 am. Divinity at 5 am.

untitled5

Nihari, the dish cooked overnight for around 8 hours and served once it is ready the following day. I haven’t tasted beef as succulent as this…nowhere in places I have been to inside and outside country. And the gravy… well it can’t be described… it can only be felt and internalized.

 

While discussing with the owner of one of the most respected and oldest Mughlai eatery in Kolkata, I came to know that the origin of the dish is linked to the Mughal emperors in the late 18th century. The workers, who stayed in the site where they were constructing buildings needed to start their work early. So that they can focus on their work and not stay hungry, it was ordered that their food be ready early morning before they get to their work. The cooks used the portions of meat which weren’t attractive for other stately preparations and with limited spices, put it on fire the previous night so that it can slowly cook and by early morning will be ready. The taste of this dish soon attained fame, and from being merely a food for the workers in the morning, it soon entered Royal kitchen. The term Nihari owns its origin to Nihar Mu. The word Nihar in Urdu is derived from the Arabic word Nahar. Nahar means day and Nihar is associated with dawn. Mu is mouth or face and Nihar Mu was used to indicate empty stomach or when nothing has been consumed in the morning. So this meat with gravy was served Nihar Mu for the workers with Roti. This meat with broth got synonymous with Nihar Mu and slowly came to be known as Nihari, not sure if the last part of Roti led to Nihari ending with i.

Hence, most places serve it early morning, after cooking it overnight. While mutton and chicken variants are available, nihari is more popular with beef shanks since mutton or chicken tends to melt when cooked for 6-8 hours.

There will be some who will still crave for Nihari, yet struggle to wake up so early and reach the place  before 6 am from distant southern or northern part of the city.  Nafeel in Park Circus offers a slightly more convenient option for people from Southern part of the city. And the Nihari is generally available till abut 8-30 / 9 am. And I can tell you, it is extremely good. For those who find a tandoori roti to be too heavy with an already tough-to-digest Nihari, and Poori’s to be too oily, Nafeel has the options of hot tawa rotis as well.

img_20190123_074748

Khiri is an item i love as Kebabs. The gravy here at Nafeel tempted me to try the Khiri as well. But ideally i should have taken it before the Nihari. For non-beef eaters, Nafeel offers a nice mutton paya, though that is served only in the evening.

 

And for them, who find even 8-30 am too early on a weekend morning, UP –Bihar Hotel in New Market Area is the option as they start around 7-30 and presumably the Nihari is available till late morning, though I have never risked going late.

There are some more eateries which make Beef Nihari but I have only tried ones in the above.

For those, who avoid beef as a meat, mutton paya is an option in many of these places and you can also refer to my other blog which will list down some of the cherished non-beef Mughlai breakfasts of the city.

Mughlai Mornings

Breakfast story and that too with beef remains incomplete without one of the most coveted destinations for beef-lovers of the city. Right – I am referring to Beeru’s Restaurant. Unless someone has told you about this place, you will comfortably give this place a miss, since the ambience is nothing to allure you. Located in Ripon Street, yet again try to be there by 8-30 am in case Beef Nihari is in your mind. There is also one more key attraction here which tends to get over early. Will come to that appropriately.

 

Tandoori roti, Tawa Roti, Paratha and of course Daal Poori are the options you have. I tried both the tawa roti and the Daal Poori. While Tawa roti is like any other place, I strongly suggest not to miss the Daal Poori here. Crispy and dry on the surface with absolutely no oil clinging to it, the soft inside with filling distinct in its taste, it can be had even without any accompaniment. But when paired with beef chaap, it is a combo very few combinations can beat. The meat was almost in a semi solid state, so well blended it was with hours of slow cooking and a gravy that was intricately weaving its magic through its presence amidst the pores in the meat. A beef dish I experienced where toothless people will also not have any problem having it. While two of us ordered just one plate of it, this is one dish where you will hate to share it with anyone. What was demoralizing was the unavailability of Beef Keema at Beeru’s. Didn’t know that during winter, they don’t make it in the morning since they make Nihari. Everything that happens, happens for good. Once winter is over, I will have a strong reason to be back here.

 

Coming all the way to Beeru’s early in the morning, it is a grave offence not to explore beyond one dish. The passing bowl of Ishtew for some other table made me order one for us. This one is light yellowish in color, dominated with the taste of poppy seeds & cashew nut paste, which is added after simmering the meat with the other ingredients for a long time. While the meat pieces could have been slightly softer, the gravy was a delight. Soft tawa rotis went perfectly well with it, with minimal interference to the shahi flavours of the Ishtew. Even if you are full, force yourelf to order the halwa and just one more Poori with it. The restrained sweetness and the smooth texture of the halwa will unfold in its glorious taste when it wraps itself up in the cozy folds of the hot poori in a cold winter morning and enters your mouth.

 

While you are delighted, guess you are too full now. Wash it all with their strong tea which will be as much memorable as each of the other items.

Netaji r Telebhaja

“Netaji r telebhaja” – the term Netaji, while being misused often nowadays, is mostly associated with one person in India and beyond. And the fact that he had a telebhaja shop is something that will amuse most. Yet it is known as Netaji r telebhaja. And people from all walks of life has sometime or the other come over here to cherish Netaji r telebhaja.

When Kshetu Shaw came in from Gaya and set up this shop exactly 100 years ago in 1918, he wanted to earn his living by feeding Telebhaja to a city which slowly transitioning into strife and unrest. Telebhaja is no specific item. It is anything which is deep fried in oil and is mostly associated with the street-side shops creating a coating of besan (gram flour) in which is the stuffing can vary as widely from mashed potato, brinjal to paneer or can be simply some onions and green chilli. The closest term in English can be fritters. Little did he know, that apart from many fans for his telebhaja, he will be able to make the emerging man of Indian Freedom struggle one of the most hardened loyalists of his telebhaja.

img_20190123_084158

 

Subhas Ch Bose used to drop in to this place to pick up their telebhaja (often fuluri) to go along with muri (puffed rice). He continued this practice even when he was a mayor or Congress President. It is said, the same fuluri used to be delivered to the venue of his meetings, as eating something is sacrosanct with meetings. Allegedly, even for secret meetings, fuluri used to get delivered but those deliveries were carried out only by Kshetu Shaw himself.

img_20190123_084256

He named the shop after his son Laxmi Narayan. He himself was an ardent follower of Netaji, having met him during the days netaji was in college, well before he became a loyalist of their shop. All his life he collected as much documents, memoirs of Netaji as he could, and preserved them as mark of intense respect for Bose.

Earlier everything was handmade. With time, and with emerging mechanization, they have moved some part of their work onto machines, like grinding of masalas or beating of gram flour paste.

It was January 1941, Bose escaped from under British surveillance from his Elgin Road house in Calcutta. This historic event and his disappearance might be the reason Kshetu Shaw decided to celebrate Bose’s birthday from 1942 onwards by distributing free fuluris on 23rd January, an item, Bose was so fond of. It is said that between 1918 to 1941, Bose celebrated two of his birthdays at this place. However, till independence, this distribution of telebhaja on 23rd January used to be secretive in fear of police atrocities on people known to be close to or followers of Subhas Bose.

This practice continues even today carried out by the grandson of Kshetu Shaw, Kesto Gupta (they have changed their surname). The haves and have-nots, all queue up for this. For some, it is an occasion where they will get some food to satisfy their hunger. For some, it is celebrating their idol or hero by tasting the same fritter that their idol loved so much. Some would still be clueless and queue up just because many has queued up. Maybe unknowingly they are following Netaji’s saying:

“We cannot sit still because we cannot, or do not , know the Absolute Truth.”

Cut-off forever – Kalman’s Cold Cuts

The era of the Raj was over, but the hangover of the same in the lifestyle of the citizen was amply present. It was a time when the past held onto its practices while the present was undergoing a transformation to build an independent India. It was a time when a new order was evolving from the foundation of independence, the misery of partition and the haunting memories of famine and then poverty.

Chowringhee, Park Street and New Market, the erstwhile white town retained its charm as the happening place of Kolkata. A 5-course set meal at Firpo’s starting off with a Consommé and ending with Gateau and Coffee was a desire many wanted to fulfill. The Soft and White pluffy bread of the place was a desire deeply resident in many citizens. If Firpo’s Italian spread was much sought-after, so was the Swiss delicacies at Flurys whose tea room was a comfort and luxury that still has their supporters amongst many. Shopping at the Great Eastern Stores after a Turtle soup in Grand Hotel was an ideal way to spend a Saturday evening. Nahoum’s Jewish Bakery, which still survives and  M X D’ gama, the famed Goan Bakery (which closed a few years back) were famous as patisseries. Christmas and New Year had a different fervor at home, if cakes were from these places.

Polos were hot in cold wintry days, while Circus was an entertainment that kept many waiting for the winter. Little did Kalman Kohary know that he will find himself stuck in this city and not be able to return back ever when he came down as a trapeze artist with a Russian circus troop. With the iron doors slid in Hungry, he had to stay back in Kolkata. Kolkata, being a melting pot of people from various nations, an Hungarian married a Burmese to start off not only their family life but an establishment, which outlasted him by so many decades. From a small place in Elliot Road, he started selling smoked hams, Hungarian sausages, liver pate, liver sausages and bacon. In a city, where the taste buds are tickled by the likes of places mentioned above, Kalman’s cold cuts became popular quickly as people wanted to replicate at home, what they cherished savoring at the famed places.

Bishnupada Dhar mastered the art of cutting the slices and also got himself immersed into the process of curing and reading the portions under Kalman’s guidance. When Kalman passed away in 1969 and his family left for Burma the following year, it was left onto Dhar to carry forward Kalman’s heritage.

2018-02-18 07.20.40

As they moved into their new premises, the list of items grew – cooked hams ready for slicing or smoked ones that you can cook back at home; collared meat plain and spiced salami, spiced beef, tender roast pork, roast duck and so on. If ordered 24 hours ahead, turkey and goose were also available.

With dwindling expertise around creating such cold cuts in-house, restaurants and eateries started sourcing their raw materials from Kalman’s. With all its popularity, Dhar still remained a patient gentle-tempered person, open to suggestions and explaining to his clients whatever queries they had. Soon, the fame of the place spread beyond the city and he had orders from other cities as well.

After Dhar passed away, this place was being run by his descendants till finally it decided to down its shutters recently. Kalman’s closing down is not about another long-cherished place in the city downing its shutters. It is part of changing scenario where lack of skilled people in traditional work is leading to many such handcrafted products slowly shutting their shops. The people, who were curing and spicing and cutting all these meat are probably past the age where they can continue putting in efforts the way they did decades back. Nor are the subsequent generations excited about being in the profession of their ancestors. In an era, where such products are dished out at a far higher pace than what manual efforts can yield, such places maynot be the hot spots anymore for clients of subsequent generations, for whom automated offerings may have as much value as such skilled, finely crafted man-made products.

There are some of these, which were great places to spend time and which left lasting impression amongst his clients. But then there are some, which goes beyond to become an establishment – places which just didn’t serve great products but which also became an intrinsic part of the culture and theme of the city. Kalman came in at a time when the city was wriggling out of its colonial past and social, cultural and food practices were transforming. It not only helped resuscitate what could have been a slowly disappearing food habit, but also acted as a place where people from various faiths and beliefs converged not only to buy their needs but also to exchange words and thoughts in an otherwise drifting populace.

A Place of Paramount Importance

Sharbat never used to be a force alone which could draw us to a particular place. And during college days, with stress of studies and excitement of everything around, it was unlikely that some old shop, tucked away amongst many, on the other side of college square would draw us away from more interesting things.

But yes, once there, the sharbat was a refreshing drink. But so was a soft drink, from the shop adjacent to college.

And once, you are out of that place and deep into life’s race, some years later, your inner self yearns to be back there – to soak into the charm of those places that has not been part of the path one has been rushing on, in last few years. While your companions of those years are long lost, you realize, somewhere unknowingly, certain places have silently yet  deeply got entrenched in your soul. They were there in your sub-conscious; it only took a while for you to realize.

IMG_2348

And that’s when, from extreme southern part of the city, overlooking hundreds of roadside stalls selling soft drinks, or state-of-the-art cafes selling complex refreshing drinks, you take the trouble to reach this place in Bankim Chatterjee Street, not to refresh yourself with a drink after travelling that far, but to refresh your soul, which is tired in all these years. And that’s when you realize that this city has an amazing chemistry of ensuring the co-existence of the old to refresh your soul and the new to refresh your body.

Their Sharbat evoked feeling for the motherland – and hence probably it was here that many of our freedom fighters used to gather to plan their secret moves. Be it Netaji Subhas or Bagha Jatin or so many other freedom fighters, they all frequented this place.

Their Sharbat evoked poetry and no wonder Kazi Nazrul and many other famous literary personalities would ponder over their next creation, over a glass of sharbat here.

Their Sharbat tickles the inner intellect in people. And be it Prof Satyen Bose or Acharya Prafulla Ch Roy, a glass of their Sharbat probably was the interlude between their long hours at study and labs.

Their Sharbat was music for many and musical Pundits like Sachin Dev Burman or Gauriprasanna Mazumder would probably have stitched a few notes over a glass of Sharbat here.

100 years is a journey to cherish – more so if the passengers in such a vehicle are the likes of the ones mentioned above and also the commoners who not only quenched their thirst here, but also carried a lasting memory of this place.

It is the same family across multiple generations, who run this place. It started as Paradise in 1918, but then had to close down for a while when the ruling British officials smelled that this is a place where plans of liberation movements were being drawn.  They reopened a few years later as Paramount and it is the same setup that runs today.

2017-11-10_12-37-01

What Sharbat to drink here? I will leave that to one’s own choice of flavour. The flavour of the place anyway will far outweigh the flavour that you look for a in a drink. If not averse to coconut, do attempt their Daab Sharbat. It is said that the same was introduced at the insistence of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy. With large part of their clientele being students, Acharya felt, coconut based drink will not only be refreshing, but will also act as a stimulant for the brain.

Rightfully Royal

Nadan Mahal in Lucknow. Don’t think many will associate this place with anything apart from people who are conversant with Lucknow as a city. And they will associate this place with mausoleum of Shaikh Ibrahim Chishti.

This is a place where one of the many chefs of the Nawabs of Lucknow used to stay with his family. And one of his sons thought of unsettling himself from a well-laid out life of being a chef himself there in Lucknow and boarded a train for Kolkata, the capital of India.

1905 – partition of Bengal along religious lines were approved in London by the Secretary of State of India. The partition came into effect in Oct, 1905 and tore apart an undivided Bengal into two with Muslim majority East Bengal partitioned from Hindu majority Western Part.

Ironically it was in 1905, this young guy from Lucknow, came to Kolkata and after initial struggle hired a place in front of Jamaluddin Mosque in Chitpore to set up a Mughlai eatery. There he started making only those dishes, that, he felt can sell – namely Khushka (spiced up version of Pulao (no meat), Seermal, Qalia and something that people in the city never tasted – chaap (or maybe champ). Soon after, he hired a place beside the house of Abhiram Mullick where he expanded further in terms of setting up sitting arrangements for clients. So long, he toiled throughout the day to not only buy the ingredients and cook, but also to sell by carrying the cooked items.

The word Hotel have mostly been associated with facilities having boarding options. Maybe that’s the reason that Ahmed Hussein named this place as Royal Indian Hotel because upstairs he set up basic rooms for people traveling from Lucknow and other parts to stay. If you look at the picture below, you can make out that the first floor looks more like motel rooms from outside.

Because of his physique, Mehboob Ali (son of Ahmed Hussein) was popularly known as Pahalwan. Little do many know that Ahmed Hussein was a trained Pahalwan himself.

1940s – India is heading towards its independence and so was Royal heading towards creating a fatal dependence for its clients. With Mehboob Ali active in the kitchen, Royal Indian Hotel embarks on creating Biriyani, a Biriyani, which till today, has probably little equivalence in the city. Many in the culinary world would probably also be aware of the association of legendary chef Imitiaz Qureshi”s (of Dum Pukht revival & Bukhara) association with Mehboob Ali in his early days. Today this place sells around 1200 plates per day and the subtlety of its flavour and the light spicy taste will first create infatuation, then make you fall in love with it leading to an ultimate marriage. No, there isn’t any next possible step of divorce here.

Mutton on Thursdays were strict no for any eatery because that was the day, mutton wasn’t available. But Royal can’t keep themselves closed. Hence all dishes were chicken only on Thursdays. All other days, there wasn’t any option called chicken.

In 1960s, coinciding with the Green revolution, chicken becomes an option as well on other days for select dishes (nothing green about chicken though). The place is now managed by Mehboob Ali and his sons also start getting involved.

It was around 70s  when the baton was slowly passing on from Mehboob Ali to his sons Manzoor Ali and Maqsood Ali. If you have been frequenting Royal Chitpore, till about two years back, you must have seen this familiar face at the entrance. Maqsood Ali, younger son of Mehboob Ali, passed away earlier this year in January.

7179ae41-f63e-46f3-b70b-820f460ba1e4

Also in the 70s spike in world population coincides with them dissolving the motel on first floor to make more space for the restaurant (look at the architecture of the doors inside the kitchen (as in below below) which still has remained the way it was when these were boarding rooms). But not before famed personalities including the likes of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali spent their nights in those rooms. As it is said, early morning, people used to wake up with the revered voice of Bade Gulam Ali practicing and the aroma of the simmering chaap blending together to create a jugalbandi to which only the neighbours then were witness to.

And if Bade Gulam Ali stayed there, there are very few famed personalities of Kolkata (or who frequented Kolkata) who weren’t addicted to the Biriyani, Chaap and Qalia of Royal – be it Raj Kapoor or Uttam Kumar. For Satyajit Ray, Royal was such a strong liking that it finds place in his literature too – Sucking the marrow out of the nali haar at this Chitpur restaurant in Napoleoner Chithi, Feluda discovered that the biryani at Royal Indian Hotel acts like a “brain tonic”.

The 75 seater first floor facility also ensures that it aligns to the practice of the era and retains a few cabins; primarily for families since women having food in front of everyone was still a taboo in many families. Of course those also ensure privacy for in-love couples to spend some time in isolation over rumali roti and chaap or biriyani. But often I wonder, with that classy biriyani or timeless chaap, how can romance get redirected to the person sitting beside you. It would have surely led me to an inevitable break-up with my fiancée.

If people can have air-conditioned eating on-board a ship, why can’t they have the same at Royal. Coinciding with Titanic’s release in 1997, Royal throws open their 40 seater air-conditioned wing to the clients. I am a firm believer though that Biriyani is best enjoyed in unconditionally in unconditioned air.

You give him 100 Rumali Roti’s to be made. Then hang them together – you can see the other end through the perforations in the rotis, so perfect was his Rumali roti making. Abdur Rahim Sahib (Photo above) was in charge of this kitchen for more than three decades till the 90s. Brother-in-law of Mehboob Ali, it was during his era, Royal diversified into many more dishes. Rumali roti is still not common in many such equivalent joints, but it is mainstay of Royal; and it ought to be. What else can better pair with the delicate combo of the “put” of mutton beaten with the back of butcher’s knife with yoghurt, saffron, kewra and the secret mixture of spices that created not only a trend but a chaap still unmatched. And it is still simmered over charcoal fire in their Chitpore joint, which lends itself a taste and aroma, which makes it stand out.

To celebrate 110 years of its existence, Royal opens it second restaurant in Park Circus. In an era when spreading wings directly or through franchises were a norm and all its competitors have done that rampantly, Royal hooked on with its sole joint and now a second one. Quality and legacy is too dear to them. They can’t afford to dilute that at the cost of volume.

The first spoonful of Biriyani in their Park Circus eatery made me feel that it is somewhere little different. I came to know that in Chitpore, they still cook Biriyani using firewood. But law doesn’t allow that in the new location. Good news is that soon Park Circus is figuring out a location to handle that. “But then why did you initiate the potato in your Biriyani, whose absence so long made you distinct”. “Quite a few times, families settled down and then the child was upset that there isn’t any potato”. Those made them reconsider the decision since the family’s fun of having the meal was spoiled with the child being upset about lack of potato. Well – potato is deep inside many people of this city, but they are missing out on that unique Koftis (keema balls) that is yet another subtle aspect of Royal’s Biriyani – something I have only seen in Amber. If someone wants Biriyani with aloo, that aloo replaces the keema koftis in the biriyani.

A beauty of the Biriyani of Royal is that number of burps or heaviness of stomach is not what it yardsticks itself on. Hence, you are always left with that soothing space in your stomach to relish their Shahi Tukra after that classical Biriyani. While preference for Shahi Tukra varies from people to people, here is royally soaked well so that every bit of the bread has the flavour and aroma of the juice, so delicately balanced with respect to the zafran, kewra and other condiments and the surface nicely layered with slices of almonds.

This is a place, which has not only created loyal clients for decades, but also created equally loyal employees. People like Muntaz ji and Md Azhar (in the picture below) are working here for almost 40 years and so are many of the 40 plus employees. Same story holds good for the cooks too.

 

“It was an item we only used to have at home. Then we thought if we like this so much, then why not have this as part of our menu for our customers.” And that’s how Mutton Pasinda came into Royal’s menu in recent years, as shared by Mehmood Afzal, son of Manzoor Ali. “Must be a lot of task deboning the mutton for Pasinda” was my foolish question. “We use the rann of mutton, so no bones there”.  It seems almost every portion of mutton has a use here. “Do others make Pasinda too?” was the next naive question of mine. Not really naive since I never thought that anyone else can. “Heard some do” said Mehmood ji. “But there is one dish that no one makes – Kundan Qorma”. Wow!!! Something I never knew. I need to order this for my meal today. “what is that dish, why so unique and why is it so named?” were my next flurry of questions. “Can’t say why no one makes it, may be the recipe. Kundan means Gold. This qorma has gravy which is golden in color”.

IMG_20181026_192100-01

I ordered it. When it was served with rumali roti, I realized it wasn’t something new. Years back, one wintery morning, when I was in Royal, I had it with hot soft rumali rotis. The person serving told me , it is the first item that gets ready in the morning because people love its flowing soulful gravy for breakfast. Decades back, as a child, I used to come to Kumortuli to take the idol of Durga before Durga Puja because of the prime attraction of having rumali roti and mutton chaap in a place enroute. During early days of work, one place near Nakhoda Masjid used to draw me for their Biriyani. I wasn’t aware of the legacy of the place, not their contribution to culinary landscape of the city. Nor was social media or a blog like this were there to shape a child/ teenager’s views.  It was sheer taste and quality that drove those desires and nicely creates a distinct space in the minds of its clients. And guess that’s where the success of this 113 year old eatery lies.

Himalayan Hospitality

Food was something to be savored and cherished. That’s how it was for me till few years back when I started scratching the surface of it to find out a little more about it. And that led me to explore beyond the obvious and tried & tested. Hence, a couple of years back, when my colleague suggested a lunch outside on a working day, I explored and chose a joint serving Nepalese (or Nepali) food and not very far off from my working area in Sector V in Kolkata.

But as I decided to call an Uber, I was told by Zomato or Google (I don’t remember precisely) that the place named Thakali, the only place serving Nepali food, has closed down in Salt Lake. Inability to have it aroused curiosity to understand what have I missed. Till then, never ever thought there can be Nepali cuisine. Must be something similar to what we have since rice and dal (pulses) are intrinsic part of it. Or maybe it is all about Momos and noodles.

Geography has always shaped the culinary practices in any area and Nepal is no different. Land-locked between India and China, its cuisines may often resemble food from these places. But that’s only apparently and more so because we are more used to cuisines from these places. In fact, it will be wrong to generalize and say Nepali Cuisine; just like there is nothing like an Indian Cuisine. With landscapes varying from fertile plains in the south to highlands in the north and with a large number of ethnic groups, food habits within Nepal vary vastly.

While Khas people have food similar to ones we are used to like daal-bhat- tarkari (Pulses- Rice- and vegetables), the Himalayan cuisine has similarity to the ones we associate as Tibetan food like Thukpa, Momo, soup and so on. But in between lay a terrain which is transitional between Himalayan and lowland, called Thakali; a cuisine that Thakali people have, people from Thak-Khola valley.  And the fact that I have missed having the food at this place called Thakali started biting me even more since amongst various Nepalese cuisines, it was slightly more popular since this valley was part of the trade routes and people staying in inns there were served food by Thakali people.

On a FB post from someone inquiring about Nepali food, I had stated that Thakali was there but has closed down. Against my comment, someone (the lady herself) wrote, it will soon re-open. Wow!!! And I kept waiting. And when it finally opened at a location far off from its earlier one, it took me quite a few months to finally be there. But I can’t be there without the gracious presence of the person behind it, and hence checked with her about her availability since I know very little about this cuisine and need guidance.

And it was magic to my ears when she suggested Sel Roti. It is a delicacy common in festivals and ceremonies in Nepal – a dense, rice flour-based doughnut. The batter is made up of rice flour, milk, water, oil, cardamom, cloves and sugar. The batter is dropped into oil in the shape of a ring, deep fried and then set out to cool. Soft like a pillow, super fatty with a touch of sweetness it can’t be equated to any other similar food to explain to someone who hasn’t had it. But it was the pairing of it with Choila that made a deadly combination – pour a spoonful of the hot choila in your mouth – the sugary fluppy sel roti balances the heat of choila to make a jugalbandi which many classical exponents may struggle to create. Choila is a salad made with smoked meat (chicken or pork) and wonderfully balanced with salsa. I chose the chicken one since my next order is going to be a pork thali.

While rice is expected in a Nepali thali, what was a welcome surprise was the ghea (clarified butter) served with it. It was a nicely laid out balance between simple attractive accompaniments and bowls containing tempting curries to be had with rice. Kalo dal (black lentil) and Aloo Dum Nepali styled (dry potato curry with Nepali spices) was again such a nice balance between sublime dal perfectly blending with the spiciness of the dry potato curry. Unlike in many  Bengali cuisine, the Rai Saag (mustard leave) is kept simple here, merely boiled with limited addition of any spices, and the simple Til ko achaar (sauce made with sesame seeds) reveals the simplicity yet freshness of the meal. On the other side of the customary salad of onions was pickled radish (Mula ko achar) and it was indeed reincarnation of radish and further ahead was Sadeko Gundruk (fermented and dried saag).

With taste buds satiated with a platter so similar to what we mostly have yet so subtly different and stomach feeling full (with age catching up, it gets full so quickly), it was time to pour the tempting sungur ko masu ra rayo ko saag on the steamed rice. A spoonful of it in the mouth re-energized the senses and recharged the soul. “Can I have some more rice please?”. Just a while back I was feeling full though. Yet again a preparation, very similar to what we have yet so different in its taste, this pork curry with mustard greens is something one shouldn’t miss. The curry itself blew me out – well the succulent pork pieces squared off the devastation. While I personally prefer slightly less fat in pork pieces, but this was so well done and so succulent, that I felt a few pieces more in the bowl would have still left me wanting for more. I am through with my meal; but I just scratched the surface of what all is possible at Thakali. “How soon” is the only thought I had as I walked out from Sikkim House (Thakali is located inside the complex housing Sikkim House in Kolkata in Middleton Street).

It was just in time for me that some of the members of The Calcutta Porkaddicts chose the same venue for one of the meet. And it was a wonderful combination – to continue my exploration of Nepali cuisine and focused completely on Pork, one of the most popular meat in the cuisine.

In-form Srikanth or Sehwag meant pulsating beginning to an innings and taking the charm out of the rest of the good batting to follow. That’s what precisely happened when the evening began with Pork & Chives Momo. Assuming you don’t know the owner of this place, you will surely utter that the Momo was queen of all momos you have had. And no wonder, Doma Wang is also known as the Momo Queen in this city with all her years of experience refining this art and creating the famed brand “Blue Poppy” brand. While Momo associates itself more strongly with Tibetan food, but dumplings in general have different names and forms in many other countries as well. Of course, with Tibet on its northern border, the Momos of this region is bound to be similar. The medley of chives with minced pork was eclectic paired with the Dalle and green chilli chutneys. This sauce combo is surely not for the mild-hearted.

Pork, mixed with a set of spices are first roasted and then sliced. Coated with a batter of semolina and rice flour, it is the deep fried to create the next wonder item, crispy fried pork. The outer coating reminds of so many similar savories in Bengali food, but having roasted pork inside was a maiden experience. While in a couple of pieces, in certain portions, I felt the meat inside was slightly stiff, can’t say whether it was by design or by chance. On a rare occasion i found the sweet chili sauce to be naturally complimenting some starter. But it was a start of a great innings and asking rate for the batsmen down below in the order is now a lot low.

EzyWatermark1810270228511051

Pork Ribs is probably one of the most common pork items that is savoured. But when you see large volumes of it coming over, it is difficult to control your calm self. The beauty of this item is that while it looks often the same, it is the masala mix that makes one different from the other. And we are in Thakali – ought to be a Nepali spice mix. The mix is something that is customized in-house and while that was the yummy part of this dish, it had a greater proportion of fat and is a chart-buster for those who prefer that way.

The main course was Sweet and Sour Pork Curry with Gobinda Bhog rice, a fusion of Bengal and China, bypassing Nepal. A dish that Doma Wang loves to recreate the way her father used to make it often at their home. For those who love sweet curries, it is surely will go well.

EzyWatermark1810270220221022

If one has a noodle factory and a father who has great passion for cooking, expertise in noodles is a natural outcome. The Pan Fried noodles indicated to the existence of that rich legacy. And with generous portions of pork meat and pork fat in the gravy so wonderfully balanced with greens I tried hard to figure out which one is more enriching – the gravy of the pan fried noodles. Concluded that they are like model married couples – can’t isolate who contributes to what to make such a successful marriage but the end outcome is is a memorable happy marriage.

The Pan fried Pork noodles could have been a dish by itself; but when the red tangy gravy of the Pork Shapta (at times also referred to as shaptra) flowed surreptitiously into it, it spiced up the taste to new heights.

Boiled pieces of pork (or chicken) is pan fried with slivers of garlic and ginger and other ingredients like onions, tomatoes  and so on makes for apparently such an easy dish yet leaving you want for more.

Barely could I sit straight after such a meal. Satisfied to the core, I also felt I have, at least, gone beyond scratching the surface of Nepali cuisine to taste some of the items that apparently seems similar to ones I have had, yet nicely customized to make them distinctly Nepali.

As you wait for the invoice, you may quickly browse the counter for some innovative pickles and sauces laid out there and I succumbed to my temptation of buying a chicken pickle, which has now replaced by chili pickle, every time I have aloo paratha at home.

EzyWatermark181027031509109

The colourful mouth freshener is the last bit that you can pick up on your way out. But I chose to spend a few minutes with the lady behind Blue Poppy and Thakali – Ms Doma Wang herself. And her warmth and hospitality is like a soul-freshener. Hence I decided to give the mouth freshener a skip.

Crumbling Cabins of Calcutta

I was alone, at a table, leisurely cherishing the kabiraji since I needed to spend some idle time before my next engagement. In a while, the owners of those voices, inside the cabin walked out and moved on.  A couple in their early sixties, on their way out, smilingly told the cashier– “this one is after 30 years…not sure if ever again!!!” “Aabar aashben” (Come again) was what the cashier reciprocated with.

Joint families and a society far more conservative then, than now, didn’t allow the space for a couple-in-love or married couples to spend time in a way they would have wished. The wooden cabins offered them few hours of seclusion then.

The cashier shared that this was their favourite joint during college days. Post that, after few years they came back to cherish their years of courtship, post their marriage. And now, after spending the whirlwind years of mid-life, they come back to re-live those golden years –golden years of the past and golden period of sunset.

All these cabin joints used to be either in areas where theatres were present like Hathi Bagan in North or Bhawanipore in South. Additionally some of these legendary joints also dotted the intellectual nerve centre of the city – College Street. Spending a while in these eateries munching over the delicacies which were not only tasty but also affordable before or after  a theatre/ movie show was a popular entertainment in an era when radio was the sole source of entertainment for the masses. As a child, I faintly remember, going over to some of them, before a movie show if it was an evening show or after, if the tickets were booked for matinee show. Evening and matinee shows maybe terms alien to the millennial.

Some of the mainstream restaurants, especially the Mughlai eateries, also nurtured this cabin culture. That was primarily to let womenfolk of the households come over along with their families for a lunch or dinner. Yes – things were very different then and for women to have a food outside, a barrier from the world was a necessity.

Today, in an era, when young couples can freely exchange emotions and words in a food court or when the society has emerged out of the taboo of women needing to dine in private,  cabins are predominantly linked only to its past stories more than serving any practical need. Hence many of them have dissolved those partitions though the names of the places still retain “Cabin”. It is no longer a common noun. Those names are now Proper Nouns – and names which hold not only memories but heritages which many new-age joints may not be lucky to expect, decades down the line.

The usual North-South divide of Kolkata a few decades back kept a South Kolkata boy like me away from most of these cabins in North and Central Kolkata. As a child, I remember accompanying my parents to a couple of them near Bhawanipore – Hazra. While the food was cherished, it always left a gap in aspirations for being in a “plusher” restaurant.

Somehow, that desire to be in the plush, decked-up restaurants tapered down a bit during college days, but being a student of Jadavpur University, the Cabins or eateries of North / Central Kolkata still eluded me. It was only during the two years of Post-Graduation, that I happened to be in College Street, and an adda at Coffee House was always something that I yearned a lot more than many since it eluded me so long.

Beyond Coffee House, rest all were eateries to have snacks on days when there was a vacant period after break or classes gave over early. Private tuition gave handsome earnings for at least food in these joints. Yet, they remained just merely a runaway eatery which is proven and serves tasty and good quality food.

I guess it is this fact that has allowed these joints, some of them over 100 years old, to stand the test of time; quality food which tastes so good.

When opportunities were aplenty to explore food of these old world eateries, we often didn’t value them as much. Now when, they are a rare possibility, the soul longs to be back to those places – maybe to re-live the days long gone by, to feel and taste a world which lies embedded deep in our subconscious, to consciously explore food that could withstand test of time over decades in an era when restaurants struggle to keep consistency over months.

If you feel keen to explore them, a list of some of the better known places is as below.

Basanta Cabin:

53 College Street, Kolkata 700073

Instead of suggesting any bias towards either north or south Kolkata, it is best to start from Central Kolkata, and the famed College Street. Started in 1890, they had five outlets in the city but only two functioning now. The one in College Street is better known because of not only the young college goers, but also a set of elderly citizens who still frequent the place for their work, the areas they used to frequent as students. Many today won’t even consider this place as worth spending time maybe because of the shabby interiors or absence of air-conditioning, but a fish Kabiraji with a ready-made tea can refresh the visitor like me much more than the artificial cooling of an air-conditioning or more comfortable seating of many other places.

And if you are an early morning person, the famed butter toast of Kolkata with a classy traditional omelette can be a perfect kick-start for your day. Walk up the stairs onto the first floor with your lady love. That’s only allowed if you are coming in a family or you are being accompanied by your loved one. Don’t ask me how they figure out whether the other person is the one you truly love or not.

Their outlet in Bhawanipore peaked in the 60s when it was the favourite haunt for legendary actors like Uttam Kumar and Basanta Choudhury.

New Basanta Cabin:

65, Bidhan Sarani –  Kolkata 700006

It is intriguing that New Basanta Cabin was chronologically before Basanta Cabin, as their staff proclaimed. In fact it was the first of the chain of five that had been doing brisk business for many decades. And this one in Hedua still survives. Layout remains same with the cabins located upstairs. A gentleman can be lucky enough to experience a cabin, only if accompanied by lady – the old world practice remains, though perspectives are different. However, do keep in mind that one is expected not to cross 1 hour in these cabins since that’s the stated time-limit for occupying the cabins. And one can only order Chinese food if seated in a cabin. My interpretation is that Chinese food is costlier per plate than a fish Kobiraji or Moghlai, and one can only order the higher rack rate items, if one wants to soak into the privacy of the cabins. I second this rule – at least it is better to insist on sustainability of a fast vanishing prized legacy of eating out in Kolkata. Choice is yours – whether you want to soak yourself into the yester-years by occupying a cabin, or you want to settle down in ground floor to taste the legendary dry potato curry that accompanies the Moghlai Paratha.

Purbani Restaurant:

72/6B Bidhan Sarani, Kolkata 700006

Few hundred metres ahead of New Basanta Cabin towards Hathibagan crossing is this place started 45 years back. Their name doesn’t bear the word “cabin”. And sadly neither does the interior have them. Well, to a discerning eye, it is visible which part of this eatery used to have the cabins, which were dissolved a couple of years back. And one can see that in place of possibly two cabins, now they have made space for more seating space. And I chose to occupy the cabin-side. With cabins non-existent, rules governing them too are no longer valid. Paratha-Mangsho (Mutton curry) is what dominated the heydays of Purbani. I might have missed those days but let me not miss the combo out here now. While I still can leave it to you to decide what you want to eat here, be it the Paratha-Mangsho or their famed grilled chicken, I am forced to bias you on their pudding. Don’t leave this place without having their signature pudding. A pudding in its truest sense, it is an honest one with perfect balance of stiffness and softness – will remind you of food that defined the word pudding when we were kids.

Dilkhsuha Cabin:

88 MG Road, Kolkata 700009

One cabin, that can hardly elude a college-goer in Central Kolkata is Dilkhusha Cabin. For almost 113 years, they are dishing out some delectable cabin food for its clients. Famous for its Keema (mutton Mince) coated Dim er Devil (egg devil) with the prized duck egg occupying the centre-stage, or be it their famed Kobiraji with the memorable cushion of egg layer making it soft and delicious underneath the netting of egg, its food, like its legacy, is bound to create incisive impressions in you. Reach little early in the evening if you want to taste their legendary doi chicken or the unique meat potato chop.

Often we are ourselves the reason for facilities getting withdrawn. People used to stretch beyond permissible limits of decency and time. And that’s precisely what led to Dilkhusha dissolving their cabins in 2011, when the levels of decency of the inmates of cabin started affecting their others guests. While the partitions are now gone, the layout and the positioning of  windows and fans can help you imagine how the cabins must have been, as you sit in that zone in the inner seating area.

Favourite Cabin:

69B Surya Sen Street, Kolkata 700009

We have seen many $10 shops in many cities. Here is one which can safely be called sub Rs 10 shop. Except for the terribly tempting “Amul Toast”, costing Rs 11/-, all other items are sub Rs 10/- here . You read it right – I am stating in present tense and not in distant past tense. Nothing here is outstanding – nothing here will leave a lasting taste in your taste bud. But for those who want to carry ever-lasting feel of a Kolkata adda joint laden with rich history, a visit to this place once is strongly recommended. You can order a pan-cake (don’t expect a pancake here, it is the age old cake which were so common during our childhood, kept in a glass jar. Shaped like a pan (betel leaves), they are called pan-cake) and a cup of tea and gorge over it with your friends.

They have left everything the way they were. Be it the ceiling with iron beams, or the fans which are many decade old or the French windows rising from just above the floor. And they have also kept those memorable tables unchanged –  the one where Kazi Nazrul Islam spent hours pondering over his next creation, or the one where Surya Sen always sat while planning his next moves. Seeing the alignment, it occurred to me that quite naturally Kazi Nazrul used to sit on the table with a large window beside it, facing the main door and through the door of the cabin the outside world was visible. And the one where Surya Sen used to sit was a place tucked into a corner, not visible from outside and no windows beside it. Their respective roles to their greatness determined their obvious seating areas as well.

Bonophool:

28A, S.P. Mukherjee Road, Bhawanipur, Kolkata

South Kolkata too had its share of legendary cabins and one of the best places to start off with is Bhawanipore. South Hall restaurant – you must have concluded that no such place exists anymore. The name truly doesn’t exist anymore but the place exists and was renamed ages back as Bonophool after the legendary Bengali writer Balai Chand Mukhopadhayay, whose pen name was Bonophool. He used spend hours here penning his creations. Bonophool still has managed to retain the cabins, like Basanta cabin. And the range of food varies from Cutlets to Pakoras and Biriani (no, I haven’t spelt it wrong) to Chowmein.

I went there in the afternoon, and was offered a rice meal. While I was in no mood for that and settled for finger-snacks, I wondered that how their menus had to change to attempt one last effort for survival. Serving rice meals is a practice now for almost a decade. Hence some of the more well-known snacks are not available during this meal time. I was probably the only person munching snacks. Even the black tea (tea without milk) is not available at this hour. I chose a plate of Fish Finger. It is one item, whose omnipresence also ensures that you can judge an eatery by the quality of this item. Glorious days of the past are gone; clients’ excitement of having snacks in these cabins has dwindled; yet the intent of serving uncompromised food has remained steadfast. And probably that is the one last ray of hope for these cabins. The fish fingers, if served in some iconic place or one of those glitzy pubs would have earned a lot of attention in media. I haven’t had fish fingers in too many places, which are as crisp, straight in their shape without any bend, wholesome quality bhetki inside with a wonderful layering of ginger based spices along the length in a line parallel to the fish. Pour a drop of Kasundi (Bengal Mustard sauce) before every bite and close your eyes to cherish a fish finger which many others may struggle to prepare.

The dark interiors, with the sound of the rotating fan, wide large windows, high ceilings and a décor dating back to decades will surely make you recount your childhood, and the lonely afternoons in the cool environs of your old styled house, cosy and comfortable.

Sangu Valley

6A SP Mukherjee Road, Kolkata

The most value added clientele of the cabin restaurants of Bhawanipore used to be the movie goers. And Sangu valley once had almost one outlet near each of the famed movie theatres of Bhawanipore – my last recall of food in Sangu Valley was the one near Indira Theatre. They had one more near Hazra crossing close to Basushree and one just beside Purna Theatre. It is ironical that today, while Indira and Basushree still operates, the Sangu Valleys near them have closed down and the only one that still runs, is the one near Purna. Ironically Purna is no longer operational.

Cabin joints are just not about Cutlets, kabirajis and chops. Many diversified into chowmeins, chilli chicken and many other locally adapted Chinese preparations and even an attempt at biriyanis. If there were some who loyally used to avoid Bonophool (just a few steps away from Sangu Valley) and come here, it was the sheer attraction for its Chilli Pork. And there weren’t too many eateries in Kolkata serving pork then. And of course, the Kulfi was a sweet way to round up a sweet romantic evening with your beloved, in those cabins, before or after a movie. Alas, they have stopped serving pork – I was told that many customers come and order mixed chowmein. If a restaurant serves pork, obviously pork will be part of that dish. But for some clients, pork is untouchable and that led to confusions. And thus, one of the heritage joints serving chilli pork has stopped its star attraction.

IMG_20180728_150328-01

If you haven’t had Afgani ever, do try out one in any of these joints. A taste and memory, you are bound to carry for a while.

Das Cabin

17, Gariahat Rd, Ballygunge Gardens, Ballygunge, Kolkata, West Bengal 700019

If Basanta Cabin was a favourite of Uttam Kumar, it was Das Cabin where Soumitra Chatterjee used to spend a lot of time.

Unless you know the place by heart, you are sure to walk up and down the left walkway from Gariahat to Golpark quite a few times. A small entry point, right after the lane adjacent to Gariahat Market building leads you inside this extremely cramped eatery. Even the tables and chairs are adjusted to the columns of the building to avoid wasting a space. If you are alone, you should be open to the fact that a stranger can come and sit opposite to you in the same table. People are here, not for fine dining, or maybe yes, for fine dining – depends on what you perceive as fine dining. For me, their legendary mutton Kasha and Paratha is fine dining. Chicken Kabiraji and Kulfi is fine dining. And hence I don’t mind sharing a table, as long as I don’t need to share my food..

Fern Hotel & Restaurant:

193, Rashbehari Avenue, Gariahat, Kolkata 700019

Being a resident of Kolkata, one wouldn’t even give a glance to a place which apparently seems to be a basic boarding facility, both by its name and by the look of windows on the first floor. Neither did I have any clue during my South Point days about this place being part of the cabin fraternity of Kolkata operating since 1928.

While many other cabins have adapted to serving rice meals during day-time, this place always acted more as Bhaat er hotel (place serving rice meals) during the day and snacks in the evening since its founder Shri Ramlal Dey started the place 90 years back. Run by their third generation, they have retained the cabins to retain the practice of their founder. But to avoid challenges like the ones many other cabins have faced, they have removed the curtains at the door of the cabins. Surely an innovative middle path. But does this mean, I could occupy the cabin when I went alone. Not really – the inscription on the top of the cabin still retains the word “Ladies”.

Food is very similar like other cabins – hence instead of repeating items similar from other cabins, explore their chicken omelette. It doesn’t contain lesser known classy herbs and spices flaunting which is so prevalent nowadays. It does contain overwhelming portions of shredded chicken lovingly marinated and with ginger juice and cooked with small shreds of ginger and some basic spices and finely shredded green chillies and is wrapped not only with a nice soft omelette but also bears evidence of honest food lovingly served.

Snacks start from 4 pm here. From 9 am till 4 pm, they serve meals, and if you happen to reach this place early, don’t wait till 4 pm – go inside and order for a rice meal with mutton curry. Maybe there are only few such places left, who can create such a soulful mutton curry.

Anadi Cabin:

9 JL Nehru Road, Kolkata 700013.

Don’t search for a cabin once you enter Anadi Cabin. They are gone now. But what remains is the essence of the past and the fact that they were synonymous with Moghlai Parathas.

You may read my blog on the same in the link below.

Anadi – Timeless

Dhiren Cabin:

126 Shovabazaar Street, Kolkata 700005

Why not conclude on the series of traditional cabins with the one, from where the city apparently started off. Sovabazaar (Sutanuti) too had it shares of Cafes and Cabins. The two legendary cafes on Central Avenue crossing of Shavabazaar are Mitra Café and Allen’s Kitchen. You can read through my blog on them by clicking here.

Sutanuti Junction

But when it comes to cabin joints, it is on the Shovabazaar crossing at Chitpore road that 83 year old Dhiren Cabin is as popular as it used to be. Coming from a family who specialized in sweetmeat business, Dhiren De chose to diversify into restaurant and he opened this café in 1935. While Chicken Stew of eateries in BBD Bag is well known, the one here is as delectable. And even if you are a person who has issues with digestion, this is one dish here, you can safely have. The stew from here used to go to Ramkumar Chattopadhyay’s house for the legendary singer. And the same used to be a great favourite of the famed cricketer Pankaj Ray. The cabin was the favourite haunt of the Legendary Bhanu Bandopadhyay.

And don’t leave the place without tasting their delicious Doi Chicken. It will be incomplete without a plate of toast. And if the stomach still allows, do savour their Prawn kabiraji. Needless to mention, the other dishes on the menu are as delectable.

Sabir’s Hotel

3/5, Chandni Chowk St, Kolkata  700072

2018-05-19 13.42.16

Not that people in love necessarily need to cherish moments of togetherness over Moghlai Paratha or Kabiraji cutlet. For some like me, smell of Awadhi Biriyani can lead to significant eruption of additional romance and maybe, it was for people like me, some of these famed Mughlai joints too had the facility of cabins. And if you want to soak into the romance of Awadhi cuisine with your romantic other half, the bright green cabins of Sabir’s Hotel with the vibrant red curtains can be a perfect date, unusual in today’s time.

Food at Sabir’s has the potential to become an independent blog in itself.

Chung Wah:

CR Avenue Road, Chowringhee North, Bou Bazaar, Kolkata, West Bengal 700072

Snapseed

Cabins weren’t only for Mughlai, snacks and Chinese in its basic forms. Chinese cuisine in its Kolkata form has been a favourite for a large part of Kolkatans for decades since making it at home wasn’t as popular then. Chung Wah, located centrally in Kolkata, and started by a Chinese couple, perfectly satiated the craving of people, who could only eat out behind the curtains, for Chinese food. And this is one rare bar of Kolkata, which still retains the cabins and meticulously follows the cabin ethics. Person coming in to serve food or take order will come in only after knocking. Today this is owned by a Bengali couple and the cabins are all named romantically after Bengali poetry e,g, Sesher Kobita, Songopone, Smriti Tuku Thaak, etc.

As you occupy the cabin with your loved one and relish their legendary roast chilli pork and sip your drink, somewhere you hear the tunes of Pa Ma Ga Re Sa of Salil Choudhury engulf you as Lata ji’s voice haunts’ your romantic self. Maybe you are in the same cabin where they sat and created this timeless classic.