Food · Uncategorized

Khasi Hills in Kolkata – Shillong Point

When I first came to know about the place, about a year back, I was so keen to visit it. Not many places specialize in Khasi and Naga food in the city and that too with a decently elaborate option covering the key preparations. I am referring to Shillong Point.

Hence when my daughter visited the place with her friend about six months back, I told her to get something, that she feels is good, packed for me. She got back home with a plate of Momos. The fact that she has a discerning taste bud was yet again proved. First when I opened the box, second when I cut through the first momo with a fork and third when I helped myself with the first bite. It immediately pushed itself up to the topmost rank amongst the pork momos I have had in recent times.

Cut to present, when foodie friends decided to meet up, I proposed this place since most of us love to savour pork. The innings had to open with pork momo, since my friends wanted to savour what I was fortunate enough few months back. The outer wrapping of the momo is something outstanding here. It is thin, not overbearing with the taste and feel of flour and immediately allowing you inside into the minced pork meat, so perfectly balanced with onions. While there could have been some more filling, but I guess, that might have made them compromise on the thinness of the wrapping.

Pork salad is intriguing and especially in a place with expertise in cooking Khasi & Naga dishes. Confused between Wahan Mosdeng (A Tripura styled salad) and Dokhleih (Meghalaya styled salad), we asked the lady there for more details. While Dokhleih is predominantly of pork fat, Wahan Mosdeng was a balance of lean meat and fat. Pork fat is first boiled till it softens and then cut into small cubes. Round strips of onions, finely sliced ginger, bit of pork brain is mizxed together with salt to create Dokhleih. Wahan Mosdeng is done again by boiling pork and then cutting into cubes. Green chilli and garlic is roasted together till the burnt aroma comes out. After adding garlic, it is mashed along with lemon juice and then Coriander leaves and salt is added to it. A zero-oil recipe, the quantum of salt depends on whether you will have it with Jadoh or you will have it as a salad. If you want to have it as salad, tell them and they will prune down the amount of salt. Foor someone, used to Bhartas, it is more like a Pork bharta. If it was the momo some months back that surprised me, this time Wahan Mosdeng bowled me over.

Years back, when I used to frequent Shillong, there were a couple of places, where a meal was must, especially for the way they made their food; minimal use of spices and subtly bringing out the natural flavour of the ingredients. My love for bamboo shoot grew from there. And hence, not exploring any dish with bamboo shoot is difficult to digest when I am in Shillong of Kolkata. But, unless you are an avid fan of bamboo shoot, do ask them to make your dish with dry variety and not the fermented one. If Wahan Mosdeng was the folk of Pancham’s music with a boatman rowing against a setting sun, the pork with bamboo shoot was the rock n roll of his, and a chart buster. The capability of a cook comes out when he retains the natural flavours of basic ingredients and yet the dish is hot but not overshadowing the natural flavours. The dish balanced so well amidst a mixture of Sichuan pepper, dry red chillies, dry fish paste and juice of ginger added at the end. This dish can alone take me back to Shillong Point time and again. The chicken variant was marginally dull in taste compared to the pork variety. I would strongly recommend this dish with hot steam rice.

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The hills of Meghalaya produce some of the best black sesame seeds. Hence they are often part of the cuisine there, both for cooking veggies and for pork. The seeds are roasted nicely and then grind till it becomes very sticky as oil comes out, bit of mustard oil is added. Grind onions and chopped garlic and fried till it gets red. Raw meat is then added and after a while black sesame seed paste is added to the meat and cooked till it is done. Dohneiiong (as this dish is called) was nothing similar to any other preparation I have ever had.

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And pair this unique dish with the staple rice dish of Khasi Hills – Jadoh. Small pieces of Pork Fat is first heated till it releases oil in which onions, roasted bay leaf, garlic is added and cooked for a while till it is red and then water and turmeric is added.  Raw rice is added to the boiling water and then kept in low flame. Once water gets absorbed, a bit of ginger paste is added and then the rice is served.

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Khasi chicken curry wasn’t a lot different from one we have. Yet there was something different. Guess the amount of garlic is less, there was the kick and smell of black pepper and yet  there was an aroma that was slightly different. Came to know that tip of bay leaf is burnt, both sides roasted on fire and then added in the middle of the cooking process.  And this is a practice for many dishes and that’s how they use bay leaf every time. Just like adding ginger paste at the end is also a common practice in many dishes.

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We could call it a day only after a nice hot cup of Assam Tea and a slice of Black Chocolate Truffle. Tentative at first, the truffle performed like a tail-ender in a batting line up, scoring at a gutsy pace against all expectations.

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While I am going to be back there soon for exploring the Naga delicacies, you needn’t wait for your friends to take time out to join you here. Shillong Point have lovely combos of a rice/ noodle dish with one of the above side dishes, created for solitary visitors; maybe because it is not easy to convince many to join you for exploring Khasi and Naga cuisine. Let them wonder what they are missing out.

Food · Uncategorized

Bye Beeru’s

They say “all good things come to an end”. Depending on what the “thing” is, tenure varies. And depending on the “thing” repeat potential may or may not exist. People, who cherished those few hours of marriage ceremony often maynot have a chance to repeat that “good thing”. Durga Puja is for 5 days and we assure ourselves that “aasche bochor aabar hobe”. A delightful meal in an eatery comes to and end in an hour but repeat potential is very high, you can come back to the place in a few hours for a repeat experience.

But what if, the meal that you are having at a place which is coveted to you, and you know that could well be the last meal there. Recently I had an experience somewhat similar, when the famed cold cut shop Kalmans closed down, letting its clients know their last date of sale.

But for the first time, I chose to have a meal at a place knowing that from tomorrow, they will no longer be serving this delicious food anymore, something that their clients have cherished for decades across generations.

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More than six decades back, Beeru, a local person, thought of starting this eatery in a limited space on Ripon Street, food of a particular variant, at a price which allows the population in the aftermath of partition, have a meal which satisfies not only their hunger but also their soul, at a price that won’t burn a hole in their pocket. While he started Beeru’s Restaurant in Ripon Street, he also started lodging facilities for people, who were arriving in a city considered to be of hope. Beeru’s Lodge started operating in Janbazaar area (Rafi Ahmed Kidwai lane). Success of both these places made him start his second eatery attached to Beeru’s Lodge – Rashidia (named after his son Rashid, who now runs Beeru’s). While Rashidia had to close down years later staffing issues, Beeru’s Restaurant continued to become an icon for beef-lovers of the city and for many visitors to the city.

As you enter the place, the soft tawa rotis being made outside will immediately set your Ghrelin rush; more so since in many such similar joints tawa roti is often not an option. As you enter, the freshly fried Dal pooris creates a maddening confusion in your stomach as Ghrelin secretion gains new heights. Basic but clean single dining hall has benches laid out. You are not here to spend leisurely hours reclining onto a cosy comfortable chair. Attempt at doing to will be cut short by form back of a co-eater on the bench behind or a slow but impact-ful fall that might cut-short the gastronomic experience for which you are there.

 

Now what? Were you expecting a manu card to be handed over to you? You maybe in the wrong place. Either you are supposed to know what you want to eat, or pretend to know all about the place and ask “aaj keya hai”.

While Sufia always is a notch higher when it comes to Nihari, this place also dishes out heavenly Nihari. For those, whose experience at Sufia has always remained an early morning dream, Beeru’s is a welcome option. Till about 9 am, you get Nihari here. And if you want to explore more culinary wonders of the place, avoid roti/ daal puri with Nhari and just use the spoon to glide through the gracious gravy into your mouth. You can explore their roti/ Daal Puri with dishes that can’t do without them.

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If you are unsure of any future visit to this place, you shouldn’t depart without tasting their beef chaap (chanp). For someone, who psychologically never allowed chaap of any place come close to Royal’s mutton chaap, Beeru’s beef chaap broke that strong veil of belief, piercing its way deep into the root of my conviction and creating a stable permanent position, in terms occupying the same pedestal as that of Royal’s Chaap. The toothless Nawab, for whom Tundey Kebab originated, would have cherished the beef chaap here, the otherwise fibrous meat, being in a semi-solid state and upper jaw and tongue is enough to taste it and unwillingly push it down your throat. Paired with Dal Puri, this meal may well take a spot in the top 10 food you might have tasted.

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Considering that tawa rotis aren’t as common in similar joints, the guy outside tossing up fresh tawa rotis might seem a torture to your anyway filled stomach. If the temptation slips beyond control, fearlessly order a plate of beef Ishtew. The light whitish gravy dominated by poppy seeds and cashew paste, will not apparently, seem heavy on your stomach with a piece of hot soft tawa roti.

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To pair up their tandoori rotis, you may explore the classy dal gosht here, which often loses out to the charms of most other dishes at Beeru’s. While the city has some great dal gosht eateries based on mutton, this one with beef is a welcome variant.

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While Nihari is slow cooked stew meat on the bone (with marrow) having whole spices (pepper dominating), a bhuna curry is one in which the spices have been gently fried in a generous amount of oil, to which meat is added and then left to cook slowly in their own juices. This isn’t an overly saucy dish, but will have lots of deep, spiced flavour.

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At Beeru’s, they make both Sukha Bhuna and Geela (wet) Bhuna. Shukha Bhuna will almost have no gravy since most of the gravy, rich in spices and oil, will cling to the beef pieces. The geela Bhuna isn’t sautéed as much and the beef pieces will comes as islands in a viscous gravy.

 

 

For many, a landmark meal has to end on a sweet note, and Beeru’s knows that. Hence they have halwa as one of their prized items, which gets over quickly. 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.

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I could never leave Beeru’s without a cup of their nice milky tea. However, this time, the tea tasted different. As I looked down at the tea, the surface reflected past memories of this place, a snapshot of dishes I have had here, and a place that addicted me to beef.

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Beyond tomorrow, this place ceases to exist, at least for one and half years. Will things change so much that Beeru’s maynot reappear here anymore or will it be that after the building is renovated, we will have Beeru’s in a new avatar, blending its illustrious past of 65 years with décor and innovations that may excite many more to cherish beefy bonhomie. Bye Beeru’s till then.

Food · Uncategorized

China Town in Hazra Road

It is still unclear as to why Mr Koo, hailing from China and settled for long in Tiretta Bazaar area, decided to open his eatery near Hazra Law College. But that’s how it is. Just beside this place was another old-era famed Chinese eatery Kim Wah.

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Started in 1992, this restaurant used to be the favorite Chinese eatery for people in South Calcutta, for whom, reaching out to Central Calcutta was not always an option. But after 10 years, Mr Koo sold this off to Mr Subert since age was catching up on him and to manage this place from Tiretta Bazaar was proving to be difficult. Lack of focus from its second owner led to the down slide of this place for the next 6-7 years till Mr Kwan (the current owner) bought this out and revived it to its past glory.

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Having tasted Chimney Soup (hot pot as they call in their homes), I must rate the chimney soup here as the best so far. The broth was a perfect balance of flavours emanating and tasted just perfect, neither bland, nor overwhelming. The thin noodles was a welcome addition to the meat and fish balls and shrimps & eggs.

What was elating was presence of fried eggs not dissolved in the soup, and to have the whole yolk slide into the mouth to occasionally enhance the taste. The crispy mustard greens and other veggies can make it a wholesome meal for you. If you intend to try other items there, do remember a small portion is good enough to feed 4. But if your focus is to concentrate just on the best chimney soup in town, two of you can fill yourself with a small portion.

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Boiled noodles sounds bland. Thin strips of cucumber on one side of that makes you wonder where I am heading. But when minced chicken cooked in oyster & soya sauce is poured on top of that mixed with expert hands on the table, it can make a dish magical. The intense yet balanced taste of the chicken with the mine retaining its granularity was a dish whose equivalent I have never had. Chicken Lo mein is something one shouldn’t miss at this place. One portion of this is good enough for two people assuming you are not having anything else here. And this doesn’t require a side dish to be ordered along with it.

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On your next visit here, order just some steamed rice and Pork Spare Ribs in Black bean sauce. The meat hanging from the bones, was firm yet juicy to the extent you can tear the meat off the bone with the fork. But…well the charm of taking the ribs in your hand a pulling off the meat with your teeth is heavenly. The tangy gravy emanated the flavours which black bean sauce lovers will love.

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The Chicken Hakka Noodles is just as good as it is anywhere else of repute. Paired with Claypot Prawn (Hunan style), it can be yet the combo for another day.

Food · Uncategorized

Piquant Pondicherry

On most of our family vacations, there brews a subdued stress amongst members about the venue and type of food we are going to have when on vacation. The trip is mostly planned by me and, hence, the other members are in stress as to how many meals they will be tortured through in terms having them in basic places and so-called not so cozy environment and a taste that may not gel with the bonhomie mood of the vacation.

This time, that stress wasn’t evident, our destination being Pondicherry. And beyond Ashram, Auroville and striking facades of White Town building, the other thing that comes to mind is French architecture and food and ever-popular cafés of the town serving French food.

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Pondicherry, with its thriving Tamil population, has some wonderful wonderful Udupi and Chettinad options but our exposure to Udupi food was restricted only as the first meal of the trip. Having landed in Chennai, our first meal had to be in an authentic Udupi joint in Chennai as it was nearing lunch time. My indecision with respect to having a thali or something else was put to an end moment I came to know Masala Bhat is part of the thali.

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My wife and daughters were not even half way through their butter dosa by the time my thali was over. And it included three varieties of rice – masala bhat, sambar rice and curd rice along with cabbage and another vegetable curry. The taste of authentic Udupi food is a distinct weakness of mine, especially the ones that form part of their lunch/ dinner. The crunchy masala vadas and the crispy pepper dosa clearly indicates how food of the soil varies from similar attempts elsewhere. And what makes some of these Udupi eateries of Chennai stand out are the taste of their sambar and the perfect blend of filter coffee.

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Now that was the last time we had Udupi food for the next couple of days. My eagerness was well aligned with that of my family for the type and venue of food in Pondicherry.

As I sipped my beer, and waited for the wood crust pizza to come out for me to snap a photo, I met Chef Suresh of Villa Du Orient (place where we stayed in White Town). Nice polite personality of his led us into discussions around food of Pondicherry. Knowing how keen we are to savor French food, he strongly suggested us to try out the restaurant at Hotel Promenade. He suggested we should explore the three top picks there – Coq-au-vin, Gambos Al Ajillo and Sole Meneuire. Coming from ex-chef of the place, we couldn’t ignore his advice. Luck favours the brave and we could get the lone empty table at the restaurant in The Promenade, one of the most popular places for tourists, considering its French food and location right on the promenade overlooking Bay of Bengal.

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We ordered exactly as advised by the Chef and I added one portion of Beef Bourguignon after I located it on the menu. I wouldn’t dare miss a dish known as “one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man” (As said by Julia Child).

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The beef stew (of Bourguignon) was perfectly braised in red wine and probably also in beef stock, nicely flavoured with carrots, onions, garlic and certain herbs and garnished well with pearl onions, mushrooms and carrots.

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The Spanish wonder, Gambos al Ajillo, which was all about tender shrimp cooked with garlic, sherry, parsley, red chillies and lemon pan fried in olive oil, disappeared from the plate within minutes.

Never knew before that it was Sole Meneuire that made Julia Child fall in love with French Cuisine. And surprisingly it is apparently a simple dish with the fresh fillet of a sole fish pan fried with simple flavours of butter (clarified, I guess), lemon, pepper and parsley. Having frequently devoured Bhetki Muneuire in Kolkata, Sole Meneuire seemed similar in approach but off course the Sole fish gave it a complete different twist.

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But for me, just as Chef Suresh had shared, Coq-au-Vin was the Man of the Match. Translated as Rooster in Wine, the flavour and taste of red wine was perfectly balanced with mushrooms sautéed in butter and the subtle aroma and richness rendered by sautéing fatty bacon with onions and garlic. The nicely browned chicken was hanging off the bone and was succulent inside the mouth. It was a classic and memorable opening meal at the erstwhile French colony.

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While the multi-cuisine restaurant of The Promenade is a strong recommendation, for some of your other meals, you should explore the various cafés located in the White Town. Les Saveurs on Dumas Street seemed appealing, not only due to their nice boutique appearance from outside but also because of the type of options for salads and breads. Some of their mocktails were appealing too. A late breakfast made me settle for Grilled Beef Salad as one can cherish good beef through how good it tastes in the salad. Juxtaposed with finely sliced radish, green beans and lettuce, the grilled beef, with a dressing of herbs like thyme etc. and cider vinegar, was just good enough for my appetite then.

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Baguette, Tartine and Panini kept us guessing for a while. Which ones we should go for. Baguette being a sandwich and often tired, we found the last two more intriguing. Hence, went for those. Unlike Baguette (Sandwich), Tartine is open and the sliced breads are placed side by side and topped with your preferred ingredients. We chose the chicken and mushroom option. What came as the ingredient on top was delightful for my family with a perfectly baked thick layer of chicken, mushroom and cheese that was deceptively crunchy on the top with a delicately oozing bottom-layer.

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Based on discussions there, what I could guess is that Baguettes were the sole domain of cafés in France and generally croque monsieur (slices of butter toasted bread filled with ham and cheese, topped with white sauce and gruyere cheese, baked and served) and croque madams (same as monsieur with egg) were consumed quickly by people there in a café as a hurried meal. A plethora of cheese that is available in France and luscious honeys, mustards, aïolis, tapenades weren’t used in Baguettes since those are enjoyed at leisure as third course in a well laid out meal. Maybe Tartine came in to converge these two. The savouries were poured onto the bread and, hence, it was kept open so that the ingredients can also be visually cherished before being devoured and topped off with as much quantity of toppings. Thus, squeezing them between two bread loaves wasn’t an option.

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The Panini is grilled Baguette. But the bread used is focaccia or whole grained one which stands by itself for the best results post being grilled. We chose chicken and sausages as the inner filling.

The taste of parsley, lemon zest and garlic differentiated the well crusted Gremoulata Crusted Grilled fish served with herbed rice.

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Take a slightly longer walk to reach Zuka on Mission Street. It is well worth the walk and walking back will help you burn of some of the calories that you will gain when you will fail to control yourself from the tempting desserts, chocolates and pastries of this place.

The sheer variety of Truffles, cupcakes, pakoras (not the fried fritters; here they are variety of chocolates), tarts, velvet, lava and caramello cakes will deeply distress you.

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Take your picks but don’t miss their hot chocolate here. It is strong and not diluted with milk and comes with a dark chocolate spoon, which you are supposed to dip in the hot chocolate and suck till it suddenly falls off (ensure you hold it over the hot chocolate cup to avoid losing out on that delicious bar due to pieces falling off elsewhere) with the liquid chocolate inside oozing out. A non-dessert person like me too felt overwhelmed once inside Zuka.

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Exploration for desserts further led us to a gem of a place, a small shop on the Promenade (Rock) Beach. In fact their name seems to be larger than the shop – Gelateria Montecatini Terme.

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Geographically, we crossed the border of France and stepped into Italy for one of their finest ice creams from Montecatini Terme a place surrounded by enchanting vineyards and olive grove hills, famous not only for its Spas but also for its culinary specialties and Ice Cream which are unforgettable landmarks in Europe. From this town their passionate ice cream master has introduced to India, for the first time, the heritage of the finest, truly traditional Italian Ice Cream Art. Considering you can have only that many varieties in one visit, you will need to revisit the place.

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Though i knew we have a late morning brunch plan, but the complimentary breakfast at Villa du Ocean pulled me up to their rooftop to explore the same. What i could figure out that wherever you are in the White Town, the basic food of croissant, salamis and sausages are bound to be tasty in most places, as is their homemade marmalade and jams. Also, in this part of the country, fruits are so wonderfully tasty and juicy.

I chose to walk down to Baker Street since that not only will augment my appetite but also will give me an option to explore the town. It is slightly away from White Town and you may hire an Auto-rickshaw as well. Yet again, this place will delightfully confuse you. It took us one visit to get confused and then another for the confusion to settle in. The variety of bakery items is awesome, more than any other place I have ever been to. No wonder, the French are also known for their bakeries and cheese, just like they are known for their wines, champagne and desserts.

You can just explore croissants here, such is their quality and variety. For someone who doesn’t savour chocolates, the Chocolatine (croissant with chocolate filling) bowled me over. The non-veg croissant with that tempting pork ham and cheese inside will delight you just by its sight.

The Escargots were superbly delicious inside as they were tempting from outside. My daughter fell in love with the vanilla and chocolate Eclairs so much that she almost wanted to pack home a few.

Apple and Banana Streusel disappeared from the plates like magic. Traces of chocolate filling remained on the plate after Moelleux Au Chocolat was ordered and consumed. The taste of the fruit was tempting and the crust was so wonderfully crunchy. The Sandwiches like the chicken olive one we ordered was deliciously cheesy with soft fresh loaf guarding that. Brownie and Hot Chocolate helped round off.

As you wander through the lanes of White Town, one thing bound to catch your eyes time and again in many corners will be Wood Crust Pizzas. That’s seems to be one of the most common dishes here.

When nutty buttery flavoured cheese is spread over a thin round of dough coated with tomato and herbs and then subjected to the relentless whoosh of heat in a brick oven, the result is a bubbling, molten masterpiece. Apart from Villa Du Orient, we tried the pizza at La Maison Rose on Romain Rolland Street, a boutique eatery with absolutely stunning French décor.

In your quest for French Cuisine, don’t miss out the snacks as you wander aimlessly on the promenade (Rock Beach). those were delightful munches just to ensure you taste the flavour of the land though your stomach feels full.

Our final meal at Pondicherry was at Villa Shanti – one of the many French colonial villas that have morphed into intimate boutique hotels. The restaurant too retains that old world French charm in its décor and the taste in their food.

French Onion soup was one of the more popular names attached to soups I had had as a child. While I don’t remember how they were, it will be puzzling in current times in India to know that it was a food for the poor during Roman times as onions were cheap as they were easy to grow. Unlike French Fries and French toast, the modern version of French Onion Soup, made of beef broth and caramelized onions, owes its origin to France. The croute topped with cheese and slow cooked egg arrived first in a bowl making us wonder if this is the first ever soup in our lives which won’t have any liquid. And then the caramelized onion broth was poured around to give a look of an island amidst surrounding sea. The croute softened as the hot liquid slowly soaked it.

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Dominant presence of tomatoes somehow doesn’t gel too well with my palate. That could be the reason the ‘ratatouille’ part of the Fish roasted with Ratatouille wasn’t as exciting to me. But the juicy roast fish and parsley potatoes and mushrooms accompanying it combined well. Ratatouille is prepared by heating onions and garlic and adding eggplant, red pepper, courgettes and tomatoes to it.

An yearn for red meat, that too in patty form, pushed me to order Crispy Beef Patties inspite of the obstructive unnecessary greens served with it. The onion-garlic-red pepper based gravy clinging to a well done mined beef patty called for some bread rolls to wipe of the gravy as a prelude before poetically biting and chewing the tender yet granular minced beef in the mouth. The pan fried potato, onion and mushroom cubes in thick sauce (fricassee) served as an interlude in that beautiful melody.

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The final meal needs to end on a sweet note. Hence, a French Crème Brulee (burnt cream) was ordered which the tongue cherished but an already filled stomach dreaded. It was interesting to know that burnt effect on it is done by torching evenly spread granulated sugar just before serving after the frozen dessert is taken out from the refrigerator and then again chilled for few minutes. The crunchy caramel topping on vanilla cream was a perfect swan song to this French expedition.

Want to know more about visiting Pondicherry? You may read my travel blog on the same.

Exploring Pondicherry

Food · Uncategorized

Darjeeling Delights

Food Tourism has truly evolved in the last few years. Thanks to social media and blog-sites, people are encouraged to share their experiences and that helps spread lesser known information about food of various places and which are the ones one should go for.

But there has always been some locations, which always associated itself with their culinary history or uniqueness among travelers for long. Cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad, Lucknow and so on had strong associations with the food of the land. And so is true for the “Queen of Hills” – along with The Mall, the Kanchenjunga, places like Keventers & Glenary’s have been recalled and talked about as many times. Movies of the past and present couldn’t avoid these places in their screenplay. Hence, for anyone traveling to Darjeeling, just like a visit to The Mall is unavoidable, so is a meal at Glenary’s or a breakfast or snacks at Keventer’s. These places have almost climbed to heritage fame not only for their years of existence and quality of food, but also the type of cuisine they have been serving, which, decades back, were not available abundantly. Moreover the cuisine helped connect to the colonial past in a terrain fresh out of colonial rule. But there remains quite a few more places in this town, whose food is slowly acquiring cult status in an era of pervasive social media.

The unfortunate delay of Air India flight to Bagdogra ensured that there is very little we could cherish on the day of our arrival in Darjeeling. It was past 8-30 pm and the day was completely wasted. Little did I realize that this delay ensured that I experience my maiden journey through Hill Cart road in the darkness of evening, for the first time. The Darjeeling station at night appeared spooky yet charming. 3 nights stay in Darjeeling (with day 1 lost) limits our scope to explore the eateries I have in my list.

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Reception staff at Central Gleneagles might have never encountered a guest, who, arriving at 8-45pm, immediately rushes out of the hotel after checking in, having traveled almost throughout the day. But I can’t miss the dinner on first evening at Glenary’s. It is too costly a miss with limited number of meals we are scheduled to have and also missing the dinner there meant a completely event-less Day 1.

To avoid taking any chances of losing out to a long queue or the eatery closing down for the day, I rushed and occupied a table as my family trudged in a while.

You can read about my Glenary’s experience by clicking on below Link:

Glistening Glenary’s

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Mornings in the mountains makes me feel far more rejuvenated, more so since I get the urge to wake up early and take a stroll out to capture moments of nature just waking up to the needs of another day. Hence the hunger pranks pinch me harder by the time others wake up. With half the family still in a sleepy state and having booked our stay on CP basis, we thought of trying out the breakfast at Central Gleneagles. It was a jolt to sit in the restaurant, opening up to the undulating slopes of Himalayas, and being served Idli with sambar (chutney still not ready) and some Poori Bhaji. Those who were feeling sleepy woke up due to this jolt and ones like me, who were fresh and well into the day, had withdrawal symptoms after the breakfast. Somehow managing to douse the hunger, we decided to have an early lunch and Kunga is best suited since during lunch-time, a long queue is something Kunga experiences every day.

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I reached earlier than my family members, yet again the worry of getting the table drove me to reach early and order a refreshing glass of Lemon tea with Honey. It warms you up before the serious hard work ahead.

 

Ordering at Kunga is easy, yet so very difficult. Easy because I will simply love to order steamed rice and chili pork. The small grained rice is so refreshing to the palate, not unnecessarily overwhelmed with the taste of chili pork, which comes cooked in light soy sauce with abundance of onions and green chilies and sparing quantity of capsicum.

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The constant jugalbandi of relatively bland rice and not-so-overwhelming gravy clinging to the pork pieces along with the onions and green chilies profoundly affects you. But that is only after I have satisfied my soul with a bowl of Phing Noodle Soup.

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The phing noodles per se is not having  a taste of its own but there is unique. Cooked in chicken stock, the thin strips of carrot, moderate addition of watergrass with pieces of chicken floating around is a delight one gets only here. Be careful if you are alone; a portion of this soup can be overwhelming in quantity for one person. In fact, quantities in Kunga are quite generous, in-line with their warmth. If you are visiting Kunga once again, Thenthuk soup, a delightful Tibetan noodle soup, is what you should attempt next.

Wondering how come I went to such a famed Tibetan eatery and am yet to write about momos? Steamed momos are something similar to what you get in many places – yes – but that’s what you feel when you see them on your table. Now once you bite them for the first time, the soft outer layer of flour seamlessly mingles with the loosely packed inner minced meat filling and it transports your soul through the streets to the undulating mountains and you seem to float in thin air till you open your eyes to see the stout strong beautiful Kanchenjunga in front of your eyes.

That’s what precisely happened when I closed my eyes and gave my first bite to the steamed chicken momos and by the time I savored and allowed it to leave my taste buds, I opened my eyes to see the stout strong fried pork momos glistening on a plate in front of me. Now even in appearance, the fried momos are something you wouldn’t have seen. Solid hard crust, you may threaten your friend with one, if he is not willing to pay the bill on your behalf for having hosted him in Kunga. But as is true for human beings, often the apparently toughest personalities have a very soft inner self, subject to you daring to penetrate through him. Same holds true here for the fried momo. A crunchy hard outer layer gives way to some amazing inner world of aroma and taste.

A small eatery which can accommodate a maximum of 20 people, Kunga, for almost three decades, have been serving blissful Tibetan (and Chinese) food to its clients. Wait can be long and you can assess that from outside through the glass panes which separates earthly pleasures from heavenly ones. Nicely done wooden panels and tables with colored cloths and topped with glass sheets create an ambiance of simple yet tasteful food at affordable price.

Just like in Kunga, at Dekeva’s, which is next door, you will need to write the order on a pad and hand it over to them. This one, I guess, is owned by the owners of Dekeling Hotel. Food is very similar at both these places in terms of menu options. Pork with bamboo shoot & mushroom and steamed rice is what I explored here since this was a meal squeezed in between two major meals as I was running short of meals for this limited duration at Darjeeling. This place, additionally serves breakfast though I could never stretch myself beyond Keventers and Glenary’s for the same. Do try out some of their soups like Mixed Special Soup or Talumein Soup. Want to try something different – check out their ChopSuey.

Tired of shopping and long walks around The Mall? Shangri-La Hotel, housed in a heritage building, has a gorgeous restaurant. It is a must for one dinner at least during your stay in Darjeeling. Distinct green outer frames gives way into tastefully wrapped inner woodwork adding grandeur to artwork.

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We skipped the soup in favour of liquors. And it is to be blamed on the ambiance. A perfect accompaniment was the Crispy Chicken Shanghai. How did the chicken pieces retain that crispiness inspite of being well coated with the sauce is still a mystery, or maybe I was tipsy.

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I dared to explore into the unknown by ordering chicken and veg steamed rice. I have always prefer Chinese food devoid or limited in usage of sauces. What arrived is Cantonese rice and it left such a lasting impression in me. Sauces can do wonders, but to make such simple dish devoid of sauce with chicken and veggies and retain the taste and aroma was indeed commendable. Don’t spoil it by ordering a side dish.

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I know a pork dish is beckoning you. Try out their Hakka noodles with a plate of Pork with mushroom and bamboo shoots.. You will appreciate the quality of both and the combo it creates. By the way, breaking out from the barrier of its name, they do serve Indian dishes as well.

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People visiting Malaysia often give Penang a miss because of limited duration of stay. But while in Darjeeling, you can’t afford that. Just like Penang loses out apparently in its attractiveness to more glorified locales of Malaysia, so does Penang with respect to the approach stairs leading upto it. And I was pleasantly surprised the way they have redone their interiors since my last visit in 2015.

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Operational since 1972, this is a place you must keep as part of your itinerary if you want to devour Nepali delicacies. And I was there just for one thing – Nepali Thali. As you munch on the fried wantons (slightly different in shape than what you are used to) as starters, your appetite seems to grow as the plate with bowls containing aloo bhujiya, soya chutney and powdered sesame & peanuts were kept in the table.

It was such a great teaser both for the stomach and the taste buds till the Kashar thala (copper plated bowl) arrived with the steaming hot white rice flanked by Rai sak (mustard greens) and aloo (potato) bhindi (ladyfinger) subzi on either side. Kali Daal (black lentil) with rice and seasonal vegetables is the staple Nepali food and that’s how I took off on my Nepali rendezvous in Darjeeling.

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Slightly slippery, the daal is similar to Bengali Kolai r daal but prepared differently. Rich in natural taste, both the aloo bhindi subzi and rai saag augmented the taste of rice-daal mix. The Radish chutney, which will be loved by even the greatest radish haters, added a wonderful punch when I chose to mix of that together and create an unanticipated riot of flavours on my kashar thala.

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How long can you withstand the sight of hot and tempting Nepali Pork curry without jumping onto it? The gravy, rich in oil and presumably because of pork fat, was mild in spices. With vast tracts of agricultural land, people in Nepal often bet on the natural taste of the produce of the land than camouflaging the taste with spices. The curry has typically pork pieces with almost 50% fat and is a delight for those who cherish pork fat as it seamlessly melts in your mouth. The natural aroma and flavours of the veggies, the tempting white steaming rice and the texture and taste of pork curry was the best swan song ever for me to Darjeeling.

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For the less adventurous, I ordered their Chicken & Pork Rice noodles with dry boneless chili chicken cooked in seasonal sauce. The flattened noodles was rich in taste because of the accompanying veggies and delectably done pork and chicken pieces. However, flattened noodles are something, I am not particularly fond of. Couldn’t figure out the constituents of seasonal sauces in an otherwise sensational yet humble boneless chicken dish.

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Into its 108th year, today Keventer’s is what connects the present with the past. A novel or a movie with Darjeeling as the locale, has rarely missed Keventer’s. How is their food? Ask any Keventer’s visitor. They will mostly answer how was there mood when they were in there.

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Where did Anil Chatterjee exactly sit? From where did Ray shoot the scenes? Why doesn’t Darjeeling look the same when one peeps out from the Keventer’s terrace as shown in Kanchenjunga, the movie? And how come Kanchenjunga still looks the same – the only thing that hasn’t changed in all these years. Sandip Ray too followed his father’s footsteps of leveraging the legacy and location of this place. And so did other movies and literature.

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Satyajit Ray did highlight their Hot Chocolate in Kanchenjunga. And so does generations thereafter. Not because Ray did. Because truly it’s unique. Asked my daughter, which one you liked between Keventer’s and the other famed café in Darjeeling. Predictably the answer was Keventer’s. They haven’t seen Kanchenjunga (movie). Asked them why. Answer was, “can’t say why. It was more balanced, more chocolatey”.

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For me, there can’t be anything more romantic than Keventer’s hot chocolate and linkages to Bengali literature. In absence of Pork Hotdog (they don’t make it during high season), which is unique here because it is not the traditional hotdog we are used to (it is minced meat in hotdog bread fried), rest all are offerings, which were once uniquely associated with Keventer’s are today available in so many more places. Yet, one doesn’t need to woo his/her companions like Ranbir Kapoor had to, in Barfi, to accompany them to Keventer’s since food here tastes delicious wrapped evenly with coatings of memories and romance.

Don’t forget to buy the Dalle pickle / vinegar/ whole dalle (Arpana’s Kitchen) on your way out from Keventer’s. Allow your kids to freak out on the softy cones on their way out as you pick the Dalle bottle.

 

If you have time, try to explore a local market and pack some churpi cheese for taking it back. Can be a great condiment when you cook leafy vegetables back home or add to momo filling.

There are many more delicious places in Darjeeling to explore for food. Only limiting factor is the duration of stay. In between all these overwhelming meals, if stomach permits, explore the street food along the lanes meandering out from The Mall. Awesome, freshly done meat tikias, steaming hot home-made momos, the Hakka Noodles, buns filled with minced meat, phuchkas as you approach the Mall Road from The Mall are items that your tongue will crave for. Check out your stomach and decide accordingly.

Been in Darjeeling and one halt is a must for unadulterated time with tea. Golden Tips or Nathmulls right on The Mall are my favourites. Come out of them, and you are greeted by the ever vibrant Mall. Sit inside and unending vistas of undulating hills make the tea taste so much more aromatic.

 

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Food in all the above places are indeed wonderful. But it is the location which adds romance and thrill to the delicious food. Hence a simple breakfast, common at our homes as well, of toast with butter, a soft juicy omelet and  aromatic Darjeeling tea also leaves lasting memories and a compelling desire to be back in her lap, as soon as one can again.

Food · Uncategorized

Glistening Glenary’s

“Long time since I last ate in this eatery. Let us plan to go there”, is a statement associated with an eatery in the city you live in. Difficult to conceive the same for a restaurant/ eatery in another town hundreds of kilo-meters away. Yet this place commands that loyalty and affection amongst its clients. Many have contemplated and finally traveled to Darjeeling with one prime objective of dining at Glenary’s.

Can we call it a bakery? Why not? Some of the most delightful baked items that I have had, and not easily available in many famed bakeries, are available here. It opens at 6-30 am in the morning. And you will find the first customer inside around the same time.

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Little did I realize that Zomato showing Glenary’s opening at 6-30 am meant it was the bakery and not the café. Hence our triumphant march came to an unexpected halt when we were told that Café will start at 8 am. But then we are in Glenary’s. How can you feel down and out!

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The day starts off with the spongy Blueberry muffin. Instead of dousing the imaginary hunger, it evoked a desire for the chicken cheese pie, lying in the shelf. Slightly crunchy upper crust, opens way to the soft cheese inside and immediately thereafter the shredded chicken further ahead. A perfect morning raga blending seamlessly across variety. Don’t miss their Japanese Cheese cake, which was something simple, yet so subtle in taste, something I might have missed in other famed bakeries.

Our commitment to the place probably led them to allow us into the café 15 minutes ahead of schedule and hence had the rare fortune of having the open balcony all to ourselves, albeit for about 15 minutes only. It doesn’t really matter as other tables get filled in. The view outside, the chill around and the aroma inside doesn’t allow anyone else in adjacent tables to distract you.

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The first part of the ordering was easy. Hot chocolate for my daughters and Darjeeling tea for me and my spouse. Then comes the difficult part – how to restrict ourselves from insane ordering, considering we can only eat that much, and that too after that memorable bakery feast.

I remembered John Harvey Kellogg – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and proceeded. Fried Eggs Bacon & Sausages is the obvious maiden order.  I cherish that I was bold enough to order A Plate of Cheese alongside. The purity and the cheesy punch (quite obviously) it added to every bite of the bacon and sausages made me pat myself.

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Hot Dogs won the debate between my daughters. But the most gorgeous platter arrived last – Roast Chicken Sub Sandwich. It reminded me of a simple yet memorable roasted fowl sandwich I had in one of my Parsi friend’s house. It is dangerous to have this roasted variety often. One loses all the affinity to have a regular chicken sandwich thereafter. They had also a roast pork and roast beef variety of the sub sandwich, and for that, I am exploring dates for my next Darjeeling visit.

 

Bakery and café explored, time to explore the restaurant and bar. Linen tablecloths, white-and-gold décor, gracefully styled ceilings with intricate works and plenty of tables and accompanying curved chairs with the majestic views enhance the elegant experience. The bar section aligns well with the décor as you walk in crossing Graphite Black Aluminum Gate Lamps and the stair area tastefully stacked with vintage photo frames.

Everything helps settle you into a different world of charm except when you need to order, which is an act that may unsettle you. I was steadfast and focused. While chili preparations are messed up in many eateries nowadays, the dry chili preparations here still retain the old world charm of minimal gravy, just traces clinging onto the meat/fish with ample onions, sliced green chilies and moderate dosage of capsicum. The Beef Chili was the right punch to kick-start the meal at Glenary’s. The juicy meat pieces were nicely coated with the sauce and that slight pull to tear apart the meat works well for a fibrous meat like beef.

Roasted Pork with French fries, was equally heartening. The caramelized gravy, about which I am often apprehensive because it surpasses the allowable sweetness levels of mine, was just perfectly balanced. A dish one must try here. But what left a lasting impression in me was the bread served with it. It was juicy, there was a ting of sweetness and it was oven baked with crusty outer layer and soft inner loaf.

Cheese and Bacon Macroni is another dish which is a temptation here. A portion of it was perfect for my two daughters. Generous portions of bacon, intertwined with delicious cheese, lend such a lovely taste in the mouth. Tasted remotely familiar. I remembered later that I had created a similar medley during breakfast biting a nice whole slice of cheese with fried bacon.

When the Chicken Ham Burger Steak was served to my wife, I was worried, if she throws one of those pieces at me, I may have a fracture. Wives throw up amazing surprises either way. She loved it. I should have assumed that, considering all previous experiences of 180 degree deviation in our preferences. Daring me stretched out for a bite. The hard outer shell somewhat camouflaged a tight medley of minced chicken inside. I learnt from her that one needs to pierce through the outer shell to arrive at the beauty of inner soul. No wonder, she is still with me.

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“A Century is not Enough” was the book that I loved reading. It brings out perspective of Dada (Saurav Ganguly) especially during the days of turmoil. Somehow the title flashed up amidst the turmoil in my mind the evening prior to departing Darjeeling. A Meal at Glenary’s is not enough. And on both occasions, I didn’t have to stand in a queue. On both occasions there was just a table vacant when I walked in. For someone who really wants to avoid liquor, on each occasion I had to order one, till my family arrived. Thanks to Dada’s book. Had I not come back again, I would have surely missed the dish that left the deepest impact in me at Glenary’s in this tour – Crispy Fried Pork. Crunchy crispy outer layer can have a wonderful juicy inner pork meat is something difficult to explain. Don’t miss this if you are in this eatery.

 

For my best other half, who avoids pork, chili prawn was ordered. The consistency of chili dishes is indeed praiseworthy. It perfectly aligns to what I said about chili beef above. The last bit of soy sauce based juice, at the very bottom of the bowl, was what I was fortunate enough to taste.

Too much food all these days ensured I order something mouthful yet not too elaborate. Beef Burger was what I went for. The sip on the vodka and dream about soft loaf of burger breads carefully covering a neat slab of beef. Vodka never seemed as intoxicating till the dish arrived. The meat slab, oh the slabs, were in a gravy similar to roast and the loaf remained isolated on the side. It was devastating or wasn’t it?  Well no!!! Who gets such lovely nice patties, unadulterated without conceiving the same?

The beef patties were softer than the chicken ones (the previous dinner) and the dark pink meat, peeping out after the first cut, was a delight. Tear a portion off, swap that same with the gravy and tuck it into your mouth with a small portion of that soft loaf accompanying it.

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While ordering American Chopsuey, do remember to inform them to serve the gravy separately if you prefer that way. Else it comes premixed with some generous serving of chicken pieces and I would say we loved the way it was served. Maybe, they mix the gravy in a ratio that would make it taste the best.

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The fact that this will be our last meal in this trip needs to end on a sweet note. That also fulfils the gap that so far we never had any dessert here. Being a classy bakery, the choice was obvious – hot brownie with vanilla ice-cream. It completed the full circle with the soft taste feel and lasting taste of the brownie reminding us about the breakfast the day before.

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The live music, which starts from 8-30pm acts as a great appetizer and the selection of songs blends seamlessly with the décor and mood that can only get created when you are at The Queen of the Hills. Just like a visit to Darjeeling leaves a lasting taste in your soul and a yearn to be back over and over again, Glenary’s perfectly shadow the same for your taste buds with food and mood, both suited for various times of the day.

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Not sure when they had started operating but they were named Vado then after their Italian owner and subsequently Pliva. After independence, a Patna based family bought it over and they offered the job of the manager to the Late A. T. Edwards, in 1959, a Darjeeling local working there since 1945. His family later bought the property. The family decided to renovate the place and start the restaurant in a new manner.  The task was definitely not easy, but the Edwards never gave up. He changed the name to Glenary’s but kept the spirit of the place the same. Today, any single item in the menu costs as much as the total sale of their Day 1. Long way indeed and hope it stays the same years ahead.

Food · Uncategorized

Chinese Chin

It may take you a while to search for this place. While in an era of Google Maps, you should still be able to make it, but for those who are still not as comfortable here is how you can reach the place. From Central Avenue, enter the road where Sabir Hotel is there. From the crossing at Sabir, turn right and immediately thereafter take the y turn on left and let the lane lead you to another busy lane. Turn left on reaching that and a few steps ahead on your right is Chin Wah.

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Once you enter, it immediately evokes a conviction of this being one of those many Chinese owned eateries which evolved as the Chinese settlers here created eateries serving food the way they have it at home. Dimly lit environment, with Chinese scriptures around, each table having that typical containers containing vinegar and soya sauce is what greets you. This place is not overwhelmingly red in tone as similar such places.

The most delicious appetizer here is the warm smile and hospitality of Marina Wang Li Hsien. If you are sure about what you want to eat here, she will smilingly oblige. Else you can leave it to her, sharing your broad preferences. If the ordered items are usual standard ones, you will be fortunate to have her around to chat. If there are certain key items in your order, you will be fortunate to have her away in the kitchen since she will personally prepare such items.

Daughter of Wang Huo Ting and Wang Liu Chin Ying, Marina was born in Calcutta. Her father was the first generation of Chinese from his family to migrate from Moiyan province. But she is not aware which generation from her mother’s side shifted here first –could be 3 to 4 generations earlier.

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Cooked in an amazingly simple chicken broth, the meatball soup here is to die for. Quite close to probably the way Chinese have it, it has almost nothing apart from the Bok Choi, chicken broth and salt. It carried the wonderful aroma of pork meatballs boiled in chicken broth. The soft succulent meatballs will melt in your mouth but they won’t disintegrate in the bowl. What was indeed soulful was to see fresh Bok Choi in the soup, something not very common nowadays in such Chinese eateries in Kolkata except in winter.

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Some of the Chinese Tibetan eateries make great Momos in Kolkata. Hence when the Pork Momo came covered, I wasn’t expecting anything far different than what I have had so far. The cover of the wooden casket was removed and then came out the steam like a cloud engulfing the Momo.

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I am sure all of us have been to hill stations. And most often, we are welcomed by a layer of fog or cloud shrouding the mighty peaks for which we are there. And then, it rains or slowly clears up and out comes the gorgeous mountain range, standing tall and graciously in front of you.

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As the smoke of the steaming hot momos thinned off, the momo inside started appearing loud and clear – I haven’t seen a more transparent and thin cover with the blackish filling of minced pork inside. Don’t rush into it after seeing it; you may burn your mouth. But once you give the first bite, out pours a filling which is the tastiest ever I have had. The filling seemed to have been tossed in a wok and thereafter put inside the dough. You can feel every tiny bit of pork meat mixed so well with the other accessory ingredients. Want it spicy? Add the pungent red Momo sauce with it.

Chin Wah special Chow Mein was the next star item. Cantonese style with a gravy that was bland in essence, aromatic with natural food items and not with spices, it was medley of flavours with an undertone of blandness. Bok Choi and egg dominating, the chicken pieces were small and succulent, the mushroom slices and carrots lend themselves to the bland undertone and the striking and lean pork meat created the intermittent kick resulting in an experience that is not going to fade soon. This dish doesn’t need any accompaniment. It has too many of them already tucked inside it. Peanut oil, the medium in which everything was fried, lends a taste which will be apparent to a discernible foodie.

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Yet the lure of Roasted Chilly pork was irresistible.  Nicely roasted slices of lean meat stir fried in a wok to perfection with homemade rice wine and with just chopped green chilies and lightly fried onions was such a great combo to the Noodles. The Pork can be had as a starter as well. The colour and the tinge of coarseness are subtly imparted by brushing home-made jaggery sauce while roasting the meat. Yet again I rate this amongst the best Chili pork that I have had in recent years.

One thing unique here (not too sure if many other places prepare it) is the Fish Noodles. It has two types, Hakka & Cantonese. Sliced and fried bhetki pieces along with the vegetables like babycorn, mushroom, carrot, cabbage makes a delicious dish. Yet again I will recommend the Cantonese version of the same.

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Too full to move, we checked if they serve Chinese tea. They don’t. But warmth and hospitality of Marina led her to arrange some for us. It was such a welcome finale to a memorable meal. As I was finishing off the tea, my attention was drawn to the Chinese deities kept in the corners of the restaurant. Browsing through those, my roaming eyes halted at the small yet nicely kept idol of Maa Durga with Chin Wah written below her.

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The Chinese people, as intrinsic to this city as any one of us, have helped developed our palate for a cuisine alien to us. Today, Chinese food is one of the favourites of people in this city. Also beyond food, they have created indelible marks of their skills in this city. And in turn they have adapted and internalized the culture and ways of this city and one of its greatest identities Maa Durga in their most coveted spaces. What an amazingly silent convergence of faith and culture in an era where religion is being used not to unite but to create a fatal divide amongst people.

Food · Uncategorized

Priceless Pice Hotels of Kolkata

When it is about food, often I am accused of clinging onto my past and getting involved in evoking my childhood associations. It must be so and I am quite happy about it; rather re-igniting those memories while penning them down, in an attempt to relate to current experiences, is probably what excited me into blogging. But, from there on, writing about experiences not related to my early days, also took off.

Pice hotels (or as they are called locally in Bengal Bhaat er hotel) are places which has no association with my earlier days. Rather, they were well outside the radar of any possible culinary exploration or experience that I had even ever thought of in those days. Those weren’t the places where I would have cherished a meal as I felt then. Those were apparently run-down eateries which will be having their own clientele with their own compulsions – that was a thought that came up even till recent years. And why will I sweat out in a dingy corner for food that I have anyway at home.

It was early 70s when urbanization in India started happening at a faster pace. Men left their traditional livelihoods of agrarian economy and took up jobs in cities in factories. The seeds of nuclear families were getting sown. With grandmothers around, and in some cases their culinary practices passed onto the next generation, traditional Bengali delicacies were a regular affair at home, though starting to fade off slowly. Hence to have the same food in apparently unhygienic set up (that’s what the perception was then), never crossed the mind. And I am sure it never crosses the mind of most of our children today. But it does cross our thoughts at times that I miss that classical basanti pulao of my grand-mother or a simple Aloor dum of hers which could negate need for any additional attraction on the plate.

And that’s the reason probably in the last couple of decades, Bengali Restaurants and some fine dining options therein, have come up and are quite successful in their ventures, especially the ones who have kept a consistent standard or the ones, who have brought in a neo-classical style on top of that. They may give the palate a satisfaction, but still the soul craves for that home-style food in an environment that the subconscious is used to.

At home, elders never asked, “want one more plate of rice?” The question was “some more rice?” Just that bit of rice is left and mother or aunt used to help with a spoonful of gravy. But in these fine dining places, you hold yourself back since there won’t be a spoon of gravy; one needs to order one more plate of curry. Familiar food with unfamiliar experience. Hence, often, as I walked out from such places after a meal, the feeling of stomach being full didn’t align with fulfillment of soul.

Did we sprinkle salt on the gravy from a salt dispenser at home? Or was it that forefinger reached out to the salt, kept at the corner of the plate? We used to press the finger on the small mound of salt at the corner and then gently weave the fingers to uniformly mix the salt. Your taste bud would tell your forefinger, how much salt needs to be pressed in and brought back to be mixed with the rice & gravy. But, there aren’t any such connection as yet, between your taste bud and a dispenser.

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Bengali food is a wonderful musical medley of rice and various forms of gravies. In places of fine dining one mixes them with fork and spoon. However adept one maybe at that, the weaving of fingers to mix the rice with that fish/ mutton curry or with dal, can never be replicated by a fork and spoon. Neither can a spoon, touching your lips with that rice mixed with gravy, give you the same warmth as that of your fingers touching the lips; an experience that is intricately embedded in you from your childhood. Moreover, this practice is also linked to the belief that one should feel the texture of the food one is having with their fingers before directing it to the tongue. Also, with various types of mashed preparations and ones with fish bones, fingers are probably the most dependable mechanism to ensure safe and proper food enter the mouth.

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Not that all these above thoughts surfaced as blatantly while cherishing tastefully done dishes in air-conditioned environment in fine dining (as some say) restaurants. But the differences became stark when I forced myself into one of those pice hotels, when I was at Gariahat Crossing a couple of years back during lunch hour, and was before time by almost 30 minutes for an appointment.

With Adarsha Hindu Hotel board temptingly hanging in front of a hungry soul, I ventured into it, completely unaware on what my mannerisms will be once I am inside.

Pretending to be confident, I occupy a table (in pice hotels, a table isn’t dedicated to you; it is only the chair which is dedicated to you) and confidently ask “Ki ache” (what is there today). It took hardly 30 secs for that layer of confidence to shatter when the smiling person rattled off at least 5 plus vegetable options, close to 5 fried items options, and about 6-8 variants of fish/meat dishes. My ordering was simple – first item of each category that he rattled off.

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You can read about my experience at Adarsha Hindu Hotel by clicking on the link below.

Adarsha Hindu Hotel

Being the administrative headquarters during colonial era, Calcutta, attracted people from not only neighbouring zones, but from across the country. People used to come over here even for commercial objectives, to set up business or get into trading. And often the male member used to come alone, leaving the family in the native places. They used to stay in hostels for men (popularly called mess-bari) and needed pocket-friendly homely food to sustain themselves. That is believed to be the reason for the emergence of what became Pice Hotels. Simple food, the way it is prepared at home, bereft of any additional ornamentation to keep costs down, these were the places that fueled the people working in the metropolis away from home. And hence, such Pice hotels came up in the central and north Calcutta (as per current map) since those were the hub of administrative, commercial and educational activities.

Many such Pice Hotels have perished over time – some lost their clients who moved on; for some, the man behind the hotel passed away and succeeding generations either failed to run it efficiently or didn’t find enough reason to sustain them; and yet there are some, who stood the onslaught of time and changed social-economic-cultural-historical landscape in these 100 years and still continue to delight their clientele. As I list some such famed places which still holds fort, do remember, before you venture out, the essence of such places is not for relaxation or taking a break – these are places where the buzzword is necessity.

Since I started off from Gariahat (Adarsha Hindu Hotel), my obvious next stop is Lake Market area. I found it unusual that the oldest surviving Pice Hotel of the city is neither in Central, nor in North Kolkata but it is here in Lake Market.

Tarun Niketan:

As you walk along the left-side pavement towards Rashbehari crossing from Lake Mall, keep an eye for a board “Tarun Niketan” just before Raja Basanta Roy Road crossing. Surviving for more than 100 years, the only thing that has changed here is that it now has tables and chairs and people no longer sit on the floor to have their meals. Don’t miss the blackboard as you enter the place to take a glance at the items of the day. Everything here is separately priced excluding the standard steel plate and glass, and salt. Even the banana leaf and earthen water glass (in case you choose to have the food in banana leaf instead of regular utensil) are priced separately. The blackboard at the entrance will also highlight the fact that items cooked here are without onion and garlic (except egg curry, fish kalia and meat items).

Onion has been associated with tamasic food and garlic, because of its heating properties has always been considered as rajasic food. So, ones, who want to restrict themselves to satvic food, may feel quite at home at Tarun Niketan. The dishes with shrimps namely Kochu Chingri or Kochu pata chingri are great way to flag off the meal.

If egg curry is a weakness for you, try one here. Their egg curry is strictly with duck eggs. Everyday 9 types of fish are cooked here. The prawn malaicurry won my heart with its subtlety, guess it purged off the onion pulp and just retained the juice, beautifully blended with mild coconut milk. While the Ilish Shorshe was mediocre, don’t leave the place without having the bowlful mutton curry poured into a mound of steamed rice. It is heavenly.

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Green Café Hotel:

Close to Tarun Niketan is another lesser known and smaller place which has not got prominence as much as many of the more famous Pice Hotels of Kolkata. The name indicates the fact that it started off as a café in the 1950s. Somewhere early 1970s, it chose to convert itself into a Rice (Pice) hotel. And that’s when Green café became Green café hotel.

This small place accommodates only 18 people and even today food is cooked in coal oven. The curry prepared with fish bones and the light yet enticing rui curry left lasting impression in me. I wondered how, this small place feeds more than 200 hungry souls for lunch everyday

Parbati Hotel:

While North and Central Calcutta has a long history of heritage and culture, the same can be said of the Bhawanipur-Hazra-Kalighat zone in today’s South Kolkata. And hence, an old Pice Hotel here is natural. Started by Jaidev Kundu few months before independence, this eatery, tucked inside a small lane few metres north of the famed Girish Ch Dey Sweet shop is difficult to locate.

The usual combo of rice, dal, and aloo bhaja is default. You are asked what subzi (vegetable preparation) you will take. They generally make two and you can choose one. Mind it, even a fish head curry, in some of these places, come under subzi category. I was given a choice of Dhokar Dalna and Mulo r (raddish) ghonto. Opted for the later. What came to my table was a semi dry fish head curry. Gosh! what they meant as “Muro” (fish head). i heard “mulo”.

Yet again, freak on various fish options here. The quality of fish is amazing and so is the cooking – especially the shorshe bata and the gravy of Katla Kalia. I haven’t had a more fresh and tasty Boyal for a long time, and the Koi jhal was hypnotizing.

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For the first time i opted for a chicken curry in a Pice Hotel. Don’t know how they make that soulfully attractive color of the gravy. i had to order for repeat serving of rice.

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Young Bengal Hotel:

The thought of Khidderpore evokes yearning for choicest Mughlai dishes. But tucked in a lane called Monilal Banerjee Road just beside Fancy Market is a place which makes Bengali dishes with very little oil and spices. The cleanly kept courtyard with a few plants will present cool environs to you just like their food does to its consumers.

The Rui curry with ginger paste and a flowing consistency is what pulls a large part of their 200-300 customers everyday. It not only helps satisfy your hunger during hot and humid days, but also helps avoid the body heat up during the hot and humid summer days. The Tangra curry (tel jhol as they say) is another key attraction here. Fried lumps of grounded pulses (namely Dhoka, Motor Dal er Bora) are known to be soulful here. The light mango chutney in the summer heat is a welcome way to bid adieu to this cool pice hotel which will soon be 100 years old in another 6 years.

Siddeswari Ashram:

Moving on from Southern part of the city to the Central zone, Siddeswari Ashram is located right at the heart of Calcutta in those days. Located on Rani Rashmoni road in Dharmotolla, the Sen Family has been running this for close to seven decades. Apart from being in a busy location, the quality of their food and consistency therein will offer you with a sight that isn’t very usual – people queuing up for their lunch. It’s the range of options that this place offers, which makes so many queue up as well.

While Malai-curry is popular across most Pice hotels with prawns, this place also makes an onion & red chilly based gravy of prawn (Chingri r jhal). The options of shrimps with potatoes or various other vegetables, Bhetki and its variety and Ilish during season with multiple curries are options not many places offers. Fish head used to a delicacy in Bengali household, reserved for the head of the family or growing children. You can order one here too.

And to top it all their Kabiraji jhol of Rui with a piece each of papaya, raw banana and bottle gourd, each of which are known for their nutritive qualities, is a dish that gets over quite early. Price of fish items vary depending on the size of the fish that day.

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And for those, who can’t gulp or digest food unless the temperature is conditioned and hence could never visit a pice hotel, Siddehswari Ashram may be a solution – it has A/c section as well.

Jagannath Bhojonalaya:

This maybe a lesser shining star to many than its illustrious neighbor Siddeshwari Ashram, but unfortunately, during lunchtime, this small place, which accommodates about 24 people, may need you to queue up for food.

Shaak Bhaja (fried greens) is an omnipresent item here along with the usual fare of daal and vegetables of the day and fried options like in any other pice hotel. And same is the case with fish, a plethora of options. The ilish I had there was the best in this season so far, moderately rich in it s fat, soft in its feel. The Shorshe Bata was a bigger hit – can’t say anything could have been better. Right consistency, it had that feeble kick that will just about tickle your nose yet won’t overpower to hide the taste of the mustard – both paste & oil.

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And in terms of quality of fish, the bhetki too deserves as much accolades as ilish. Not only was the freshness and taste of the fish praiseworthy, but the fact that it was from a large sized one.

Pice hotel and serving fish kebab or Moghlai is unusual. And that tempted me to come over another day for the same (they don’t make it everyday). Ordered daal with fries since I have ordered fish kebab. And then came a bowl with a curry. A bemused me was lost. “kebab dao” (Give me kebab). “dilam toh” (gave you) was smiling reply. He reiterated this is kebab. Clueless as to why, I tasted it. Aroma of garam masala and taste of poppy seeds in a gravy tighter than usual curries was what the kebab was. My conclusion is that since it is prepared with more than usual garam masalas, poppy seeds and charmagaz, it is called kebab, something similar to ways some Mughlai dishes are made.

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But before I could conclude as above, I did ask the foolish question if they make fish Moghlai by using a stuffing of fish in Moghlai paratha. The person would have surely dropped all the bowls in the tray had the tray not been empty. Yet again, the naming convention followed that of Kebab. The gravy is made with Cholar Dal (Bengal Gram), egg with spices which weren’t disclosed.

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Atithi:

Pice Hotels, generally aren’t branded for any specific dish. Each one do have certain types of preparations that are more popular. But this place is one rare Pice Hotel, which had developed a branding for one specific dish – Posto Rui. As I walked into the place (few hundred metres north of Rajabazaar crossing on the left hand pathway) around 12-30 pm, my confident self ordered for a Posto Rui thali even before I have settled down.

“Not available sir” was a polite reply from the smiling waiter. “Why, don’t you make it everyday?” “We have Rui Jhol, Rui Shorshe, steamed Rui”. “What happened to Posto Rui”. “Stopped it sir, some years back. We weren’t able to sustain it. People used to keep asking for the gravy. How much of that gravy we can provide at a fixed price of Rui plate”.

What he was saying was such a harsh reality. They were famous for a dish which they were famous for, yet they discontinued it for excessive demand, constrained by the need to maintain a certain price point.

This reality has the seeds to grow into a wholesome marketing theory in IIMs.

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I asked him, now that I am here, what can minimize by disappointment of not getting Posto Rui. He suggested Steamed Rui and truly it was one of the most delicious Rui preparation I have ever had. Dominated by Posto (Poppy seeds and onion paste), the gravy was rich and subtle in its taste with a large fresh piece of Rui dominating my plate. Kochu Chingri was thoroughly delectable and the I must say that the dal here was thicker than most of the other Pice Hotels.

“Sir: Want to taste the gravy that we make in place of Rui Posto nowadays?” He got the gravy in a bowl. I said to myself, steamed Rui was surely a far delicious option.

Jagatmata Bhojonalaya:

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Fish is the fruit of water and hence always an intrinsic part of Bengali cuisine including that of Brahmins (while in many other parts of the country, Brahmins were mostly vegetarian). Sacrificing goat used to be a ritual in Kali Puja and the meat, cooked without onion and garlic, was considered to be a prasad. Hence mutton became an integral part of Bengali cuisine across castes. While nature helped erode the boundary between fish and vegetarian diet supposedly to be followed by so called upper castes and Brahmins, religion helped retain the lust for meat, but only mutton. Chicken was a wonderful savior and was avoided by Brahmins and upper castes, as those are meat options for the less privileged who have to hunt for food rather than have the resources to buy the food. Birds are easy preys and hence, they allege, less privileged will survive on meat of birds, and rabbits and so on.

While all that demarcation has dissolved over time (for good), and chicken has emerged as the most common form of meat, ordering chicken or egg in Jagatmata Bhojonalya will remind you of those days of severe demarcation. The Brahmin waiter will almost avoid hearing you, though he will retain the smile and tell you “only mutton”. Don’t be disappointed. The cook from Orissa (and since the beginning the cook here is from Orissa, and known for their culinary abilities), delivers a mutton curry, that will not only satiate your tongue, but will leave a lasting impression in your soul. Just the curry will entice you to consume loads of rice, mixed with the curry. And hence it is known as “kochi pathar dildaria jhol” (Apologies for my inability to translate this). But in your zest for this curry, don’t overlook some of the small fish chochhori options like their Mourola with potato dry curry. Freak out on the other fish options available.

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Noone can specifically state when it started, but this is one place which still retains a zone for people, who sit on the floor and have their meals. But for those, who have never known the art of sitting on floor and having a meal, this eatery in Kailash Bose Street also has the zone for dining the way we are used to.

New Kamala Hotel:

When Nalini Ranjan Das and Dhirendra Chandra Nandi thought of starting thought of opening an eatery of regular Bengali food more than 70 years back at BK Pal crossing primarily for the artisans of Kumortuli on one side and the actors and workers of the famed Jatra groups on another side, little did they envisage that someday the subsequent generations will struggle to run it. Probably they also didn’t know that they will have such committed and passionate workers who will take over the reins and run it from a place just adjacent to where they existed for more than six decades.

The bouquet of items is similar to many other similar places but what left a lasting impression in my mind are two things – their Rui kobiraji jhol and the recitation by the waiter of items that a consumer had while preparing the bill. It is said that every other person comes here and inquires about their Kabiraji jhol, and once you have this, you will know why it is so. It is a light whitish stew of the fish with one piece of raw banana and a piece of potato. The heavenly taste of the curry is also partly due the fantastic quality of the fish they serve. Fresh and cut from a large sized rui, the fish piece itself not only will take care of part of your hunger but also will make you realize why Rui was such a coveted fish at one time, in Bengali households. I am sure, the same person, who revolts at home for such a simple fish curry will ask for a repeat of the same out here. For someone like me, who is satiated with a decent piece of fish in a curry for a meal, I was tempted to order yet one more plate of Rui, though this one was Posto Rui. Pankaj Roy, the famous Indian cricketer, who lives a couple of lanes down, used to frequent this place for this item. Maybe this stew energized him for the next Test match.

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Once you finish your meal, be back near the waiter to listen to pure recital of whatever you had, in an accent, where you can hardly make out a few words. Once he is through with his recitation, the person at the Cash-Counter will tell how much you need to pay. This place still uses all spices which are grounded in their kitchen, and do inquire about their dish of the day with fish egg in it. I missed the pumpkin curry with fish egg just by a whisker though managed to grab a piece of fried fish egg.

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Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel:

Many of these pice hotels has a rich legacy of historical events or presence of famed personalities from various walks of life. This particular place, as the name suggest, had some glorious connections to India’s freedom struggle. The stories this pace has been a witness to adds memorable aroma to the lasting taste of the food they prepare. You may want to read about this place in my bloglink below.

Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel

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Mahal Restaurant & Hotel

As you get down the Sealdah Flyover towards MG Road, you need to keep moving ahead till you chance upon Presidency Boarding House. For aficionados of Bengali detective stories, this name is familiar. It is where Byomkesh Bakshi was born. And author Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay chose this as birthplace of Byomkesh Bakshi since he himself used to stay here when he was staying alone in Calcutta. But he never dined at Mahal, which is on the other side of the same building since Mahal became operational only in 1991 according to its owner Sandeep Dutta.

A small place which can accommodate about 16 people, it has a menu like most other similar places. While the multi-course meal should start off with a bitter item, neem-begun or shukto is a always prepared. Unlike some places, it has a choice of Dal (pulses), moong or masoor, and with that you can choose your favorite fried item. Posto r bora (Can loosely be called poppy seed cutlet) is always irresistible. Gave the fish roe bora a miss and moved onto Topshe (a type of fish) fry.

Dhokar dalna or phulkopi was the choice in vegetables. Never expected a soulful gravy without onions or garlic in summer made of cauliflower. As in most such pice hotels, next comes the most confusing part, which fish and what variety of its curry to choose from. Generally rohu, katla, prawns (though not a fish) and in season ilish has more than one gravy options. But one thing one shouldn’t miss ordering here is the Rosha preparation of whichever fish is available. I had options for Tyangra and prawn. I went for tyangra rosha. It is something I haven’t had in any of the other pice hotels. Slightly tangy, the wonderful medley of red chili, cumin and ginger will make it delightfully different with stripes of potato to be broken and mixed with the rice and gravy everytime you take a mouthful.

Chingri (prawn) malaicurry was as smooth as it can be, a flowing gravy, not rich in taste yet so subtly invigorating. And like most other similar pice hotels, the mutton curry they make, is so temptingly light in its taste yet leaves a lasting taste in your tongue.

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Often I avoid spoiling such finale with chutney but here they make awesome khejur-aamsotto r (Khejur is date and aamsotto is made from mango pulp) chutney. Nice square pieces of aamsotto dipped in that sugary syrup is a delight with occasional interference of khejur. They temptingly kept a bowl with papad beside it.

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Belgian Bonhomie

My limited foray into cuisines across the globe keeps me away from engaging with chefs or experts from different nations, lest the ignorance gets revealed. And if lesser known celebrities are around, it is unlikely I will come to know about that since there isn’t as much craze around to highlight such arrival or images in social media to make aware the commoners like me to get to know about such arrivals.

Hence, when a friend of mine, who mistakenly assumes my abilities around food, updated me about the presence of someone from Belgium, who is an architect by profession and cook by passion, I gathered enough courage to confirm my presence for the same.

Let us explore the food first.

The set meal had a simple flow and was attractively priced too if one goes for the full course

Starter: Belgian Mixed Meat Roll

Main Dish: Vol Au Vent

Dessert: Belgian Waffle Burger

One had an option to choose one or two items as well but pricing was such that the set meal made sense.

 

Belgian Mixed Meal Roll reminded me about the crunchy and flaky just made patties that we often have. However, it was roll shaped here and to retain that flaky outer layer in a cylinder shape was even more intriguing. Inside the thin crust was soft filling of minced pork and beef (one had an option of pork & chicken as well). With egg as the only binding agent, the taste of pork and beef mince stayed unadulterated. The meat retained its granular texture to make you feel the meat perfectly, yet was neatly packed. Subtle smell of Indian spices did emanate but not strong enough to subdue the taste of cayenne pepper that was so beautifully blended. The sweet chili garlic sauce remained a silent spectator as I avoided diluting the sheer taste and feel of the mince.

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With very limited knowledge, I vaguely remembered Vol Au Vent to be an appetizer in French cuisine. Hence was intrigued to find it as main dish here. Later I came to know from the cook about the same as shared later down below. While in Belgium, this dish comprises of a whole lot of fried potatoes and a puff pastry filled with semi-viscous white sauce having chicken, meatballs and mushrooms, here, there was a portion of parsley rice and also the gravy served separately as well alongside the puff pastry and reduced portion of fries, keeping in mind our love for rice. The pastry is made hollow and the chicken, meatballs and mushroom gravy is poured into it. I must appreciate that the pastry crust retained its crunchiness even after the filling was poured into it. Its soft light consistency connects back to its name – vol au vent means “windblown” in French. I was awed when I came to know that she had made the puffs as well after arriving here.

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For someone who is not really a dessert person, the Belgian Waffle Burger turned out to be the man of the Match. It was simply too good, something I haven’t had before. The crunchiness of the waffle  (and it tasted amazingly delicious) greatly complimented the crunchiness of the chocolate bar in between the two waffles and mingled so well with the cream and chocolate sauce that oozed out with every bite. Was there something different about the waffle?

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Conversation with Adeline – the lady behind the food

Me: How is the experience of doing this kind of an event for a day here in Kolkata

Adeline: I am loving it. Belgian food is not widely known and such occasions help spread the cuisine of my place. More interesting is to slightly modify it for places where, they maynot like exactly the way we have it.

Me: Have you done some such modifications in this food?

Adeline: Some bit of it. I have added a touch of Indian spices to the meat balls since Indians love the meat with some spices. Also the rice – I am told Indians love rice. But in Belgium, there is no rice in the main dish. It has whole of fries and the puff pastry.

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Me: Belgium has significant influence of French and German cuisines. What’s unique about Belgian cuisine?

Adeline: True, it has influence of French, German & Holland cuisines but there are certain unique ones like Flemish Stew, which is made of beer, and some other dishes where we use beer – sour white beer, brown beer. Flemish stew is with brown beer but we have some nice chicken stews with sour white beer.

Me: Beer you use is all local Belgian beer?

Adeline: Yes, Belgium is famous for beer and we use beer made there only in local breweries.

Me: I loved beer when I was in Germany but not been to Belgium.

Adeline: (laughs)- very politely she says – Belgian beer is something else. I wouldn’t say Germany has very good beer. We have outstanding brown beer. You know Trappist Beer? This is a famous brown beer brewed in our monasteries.

Me: In Monasteries?

Adeline: Yes – the monks brew the beer but not for profits. Whatever money they get, goes back to the upkeep of the monastery. It is an old practice where most monasteries had breweries to sustain the monks from the money obtained by selling them.

Adeline: Also some dishes are anyway available here (Tintin & the Brussels Club) like Beef Stew and they make it quite well. And this is what I love about this city – openness to explore cuisines from various places.

Me: True – it went through so many invasions and mingling of cultures.

Adeline: Yes – but I also noticed the differences between other cities in India (couple of other metros I have been to) and Calcutta

Me: What are those?

Adeline: I find the place far more comfortable. It is slightly more relaxed, in line with how we live, fun loving, people here truly love food. There isn’t a mad rush like the two other cities I have been to. Difficult to really express;  maybe the openness towards this kind of cuisine, towards me. I never felt as welcome or comfortable in the other two cities.

Me: Did you get all your ingredients in this city?

Adeline: yes. Except that I carried Cayenne pepper and waffle. Rest all ingredients I could get here. For some, I modified a bit like the cream, which is much fuller here. I had to tone it down.  I wasn’t too sure about Cayenne Pepper and hence carried it. And waffle I wanted to carry from there. We have two kinds of waffles there – Brussels Waffles and Liege Waffles.

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Me: You have chosen these three dishes – why?

Adeline: I wanted to prepare whatever is most authentic there. Vol Au Vent is one of the most popular main dishes in Belgium. You will get it almost everywhere. Flemish Stew is another such dish but since it is available here in the regular menu, I avoided that.

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The starter – I don’t know what it is exactly called in English, but in Belgium we have a culture frequenting eateries that serves fries, fried meats – the sausage roll came from that but I tried adapting it a bit to suit the taste here. Generally sausage roll is very popular there. Some have that as breakfast also. For the dessert I thought of doing the waffle burger since Belgium is famous for waffles. Since these are for dessert, I have chosen the Liege waffles since they have pieces of sugar and is sweet. You will get them in streets of Belgium – people add chocolate and sauce and have it. I felt that people in Kolkata like sweets. And hence chose that. Brussels waffle is bigger & lighter, and not sweet. It is like a square / rectangle and is mostly served in restaurants.

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And on that sweet note the conversation ended at Tintin & The Brussels Club

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Radhubabu Rendezvous

Somehow this Rashbehari – Ballygunge stretch, being associated with most exciting phase of my life, transforms the mind whenever am there. Post a quick work at the bank, was heading to a logical point for calling Uber. Melancholic soul was saying it is 3-50 pm. Past 20 mins since Radhu Babu has opened. Should I?

The person, whom I walked into, while debating this, was none other than one of my closest college friends and been the most frequent company of mine during those days to Radhu Babu.

Realized it is Almighty who often helps you decide in moments of serious double thoughts. Now I didn’t need to walk also. He has his car with him.

There are some places which deserves certain actions. Alighting from a car in front of Radhu Babu is not an action I could carry out. It is a place where one walks in leisurely, for a cup of tea with whatever you want as accompaniment depending on time of the day and cash in your wallet. It is a place which is not a destination just to arrive, have a quick and classy meal and move on.

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As we walked into Janak Road from Lake mall, time rushed back by a quarter of a century. Post those apparently complex engineering lessons together at my friend’s place, a cup of Radhu Babu’s tea used to be such a welcome break, not just for the tea, but for the entire mood and bonhomie of the area. If those used to be at the beginning of the month, a kabiraji used to accompany the tea. Towards the middle of the month it scaled down to a fish chop. We avoided all such places post 25th of the month, but if those evening study sessions got rigorous, Radhu Babu was unavoidable. Toast was the only possibility then – with or without butter varied based on monthly savings of money earned through tutions.

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The kormas and the stews at Radhu Babu were amongst those few targets in life then, for which a decent job was a must. And that’s what ensured a more focused study post the tea at Radhu Babu.

The gap from then till now has been too long – clueless about how much that coveted plate of korma or stew will cost. The chicken roast must be costlier since the piece, as I vaguely remember , was larger. With all these complex calculations, I did arrive at Radhu Babu some months back around 7 pm. Excitement was overflowing – finally that coveted korma or maybe stew. Or should I straightway jump into the roast.

“Ki Debo?” (What should I serve you) Was the question that pulled me out from this self debate. Roast being the last thought, somehow I uttered that automatically.

“Onekhon Sesh” (over quite a while back) was the instant response. I felt relaxed – God wants me to scale up gradually.

“Thik ache, stew dao” (ok, give me stew).

“Stew Sesh” (stew is over) was the response. Almighty was doing magic for me and wants me to have the korma here.

“Korma i dao – chicken kintu” (give me korma, chicken one).

“Oi ke last plate ta Chilo – uni khachhen”.

Not often has my gratitude for the Almighty, that was building up in the last few minutes, got shattered so fast. It was even more devastating to watch someone intensely finishing off that last plate of Korma.

My expression probably was too visible – “fish chop ache, Debo?”

A mindless me nodded to his query.

Not sure if the quality has gone down or my gratitude but it didn’t taste as it used to be decades back.

Thanks to the seamless standard of tea, the greatest charm here, I could recover a bit as I went out to pay for my misadventure.

Radhakishore Dutta was a freedom fighter before he came down to Calcutta. Once he moved in to the city, he started this little shop to earn his living. The shop was started by him somewhere in the 1930s. Some old timers say deer meat was a tempting item here then.

I glanced at my watch. It is 3-55 pm as we stepped in. Just about 25 mins the shop has opened.

Only a lone customer inside. Outside is crowded as always with people having tea. Both of us settle down. My friend, being from the locality, seems to know them all.

“Roast khabi toh?” (You will have roast?). He does remember our childhood aspirations.

Before even I could nod, from behind the shelf, a voice floated in

“Roast aaj nei” (Roast not there today). Neither did I allow any sort of emotion to settle in, nor did I want to lose a minute communicating via friend – stew, korma? I asked in one breath.

“Stew du plate ache, aar korma ache” (2 plates of stew is there and korma available).

“Diye dao” (give)
“Ki” (what)
“Dutoi” (both)
“Kota kore” ( how many each)
“Duto kore ” (2 plates each)

Crisis leads to people unnecessarily blocking more. However civilized we are, at times, the bare basics come out.

I have not seen a famine in my life, but seeing me others might have experienced what it is like to come out of a famine and have the first meal.

The onion-garlic-ginger-cardamom smell will awake your senses.. The distant aroma of combo acting as a wonderful far flung blow of sax in oily gravy acting which is like the key tune of the song. If I failed describing it properly, just switch on “phule gandho nei” composed by Pancham. The onion garlic aroma was like Manohari Singh’s sax and the mustard oil based gravy was the voice of Asha ji.

The spoon is given for you not have have the gravy initially. The gravy is to be had by dipping the typical bread of Kolkata in the gravy so that the bread is soaked in the gravy which makes it so very kolkatan way of having a snacks. You can use the spoon to scoop the balance gravy up, if some is left.

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It was a mistake to have pounced on the Korma first. That made the stew mellow down after the rich state of korma. Here the papaya, carrot or potato is not served with the stew. A gravy which is thicker in consistency than the ones popular in Dalhousie and hence a more intense colour.

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Being Thursday, both were chicken variants. The succulent wholesome piece of chicken is well infused with the gravy to have the gravy linger in your taste buds long after it is over.

25 years later, even after 2 successive visits , Radhu babu still leaves a reason for me to be back.

Of course, not only I need to ensure I am just behind the person unlocking the shop at 3-30 pm but also I need to ensure it is any day of the week but a Thursday.

As we walked out from the shop, my friend’s murmuring “mutton stew here is a class” reinforced my resolve.