Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Famous Street Foods of Calcutta

I personally think, Kolkata has the best food anywhere India. Be it good value for money or quality.Bengalis cannot stop talking about food. This comes from a person - who has travelled almost all the states in India and eaten every kind of food - be it street food or good restaurant.

Victor Banerjee embarked on a food mission for The Telegraph last week. The task was spread over 3 days, punctuated heavily with autographs and photographs at almost every stop. So do these 12 calcutta classics deserve their crown? Victor tasted and tested them to find out.

1. Mughlai Paratha and Kosha Mangsho @ Anadir Cabin: The sign reads ‘Anadir Prashiddho Mughlai Paratha’. Victor insists that our gastronomic journey through Calcutta classics would not be complete without pausing opposite Metropolitan Building on SN Banerjee Road. He sits down to relish his bite while giving company to two software engineers visiting Calcutta. “My wife Maya and I used to come here often. But only up to the point the public allowed me to do so. When I became more important than the menu to the wonderful customers, I stopped coming here,” says the man who has worked with David Lean and Satyajit Ray. Moghlai Parota  is a crisp paratha with egg & minced meat filling.
My Note: Better alternative is Radhubabu's shop (also there for more than half a century) on Janak Road ,beside Lake Market , Mutton stew and Mutton Korma is awesome, not to mention their tea.

2. Rolls @ Nizam’s“Log desh-videsh se Nizam’s roll khaane ke liye aate hain. Enough said!” announces our munch man, striding into the kitchen of this 1932 eatery, just off Chaplin Park. The cooks greet him like a long-lost friend and Victor cheerfully supervises the assembly of his rolls.
“Calcutta has been able to kill Charlie Chaplin but not Nizam’s! In my theatre days all of us — including Mr Amitabh Bachchan — drove here after 2 am and each of us had a favourite man who knew our order without us telling them. I eat the same thing till today — one Double Mutton and one Single Anda Aloo.”
My Note: Rolls at Bedouin near Gariahat and Hot Kati Roll beside Asiatic society are equally good. But for Beef Roll Nizam is the place. According to Anjan Chatterjee it is Kusum on Park Street - Double Anda double chicken Roll. (update: I tried it few months back...nothing special...as good as the one I have mentioned above)

3. Kosha Mangsho @ Golbari

“One of the great things about Shyambazar More is that one is never able to tell whether the Golbari has caused the traffic jam or the traffic jam caused the Golbari,” says Victor, tearing a bit off the paratha and dipping it in the Kosha Mangsho.
A crowd has gathered, people are going click-click, but Victor is concentrating on his grub. “It probably runs out so fast that it never has time to cook, which is why it’s deliciously kosha! No other community has under-cooked meat, like Kosha, except the Americans with their rare, medium-rare steaks. It’s the kind of paradise that vegetarians only dream about. Every now and then in life you need to be reminded of why God gave us canines. Man started out as a carnivore, a hunter-gatherer, and the evolution of society has never suffered a greater loss than the conversion of meat-eaters to vegans!”
One plate of this delicious treat comes for Rs 72.

My Note: I have eaten this "dry Mutton curry". I find it good , but bit of hype. Any day food at Radu Babu is better. It is just beside famous Lake Market - on Janak Road.Try Mutton Stew and Korma. If you don't believe me, believe Mr Anjan Chatterjee, food connoisseur.

3. Rosogollas @ Chittaranjan

Chittaranjan’s Rosogolla has to be on the list of Calcutta must-haves. It’s not for nothing that the Shyambazar Street mishtanna bhandar runs out of them twice a day! The shop was set up in 1907, and lately the price tag has climbed from Rs 3 to 4 then 5 and now 6. “I remember Netaibabu of Chittaranjan used to take orders on the phone. My pishima’s (paternal aunt) home is about a hundred yards away. She was married to a well-known stevedoring family who loved food and great whiskies. So it was a standard thing that my cousin Barundada would bring tons of Rosogollas to my grandparents’ house for us all to hog on,” recounts Victor as he places a home order for 12 white Rosogollas and bites into a yellow one. Chittaranjan sells over 3,000 of its Rosogollas every day, special seasons not included. “Their Rabri is also very good, but I prefer Dwarik’s,” says Victor. He wants to try some but it is all sold out.

4. Sandesh @ Girish Ch. Dey & Nakur Ch. NandyThe green-grilled mishti shop at 56 Ramdulal Street is simply called Nakur, short and (very) sweet. Peering through the iron, glasses perched on his nose, Victor picks up one of their best-selling items, Jol Bhora Norom Pak, gives them a thumbs up, and gulps down the sandesh.
From a two-item menu consisting of Kada Pak and Monda back in 1844, to 2010 where Chocolate Sandesh can compete for the number one spot, Nakur has come a long way. “You walk into the door and they treat you like a zamindar. They have dealt with so many people of eminence who have had more to offer than just a flashy bank balance,”smiles Victor.
The Banerjee household on Ho Chi Minh Sarani regularly orders the jumbo sandesh from this age-old favourite near Hedua Park. “Their Kanchagolla is outstanding. It evaporates in the mouth,” adds Victor.

My Note: Normally I am not such a great sweet lover. But I think Sweets of Bancharam (opposite Lake Market or Gariahat or near Golpark) is probably the best. It is premium quality and comes at a price.

5. Fowl Cutlet & Mutton Chop @ Chacha’s Hotel

Hotel Chacha’s has been “over 132 years at your service”; 129 of those, the chop shop was glued to Swami Vivekananda’s home on Gour Mohan Mukherjee Street in north Calcutta. But with the takeover and revamp by RKM of the heritage address, they were relocated across the road a few years ago.

“Everyone from Vivekananda himself to Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, my grandfather, my artist friend Bikash Bhattacharjee and myself have, at one time or another, gorged on chops here,” says Victor pecking on a mutton chop and fowl cutlet. “Their fowl cutlet defies imitation. Many people have tried to copy it but have failed; like kathi rolls in a fancy hotel. And unlike five-star hotels where people go to entertain and be entertained, each person in Chacha’s Hotel is a foodie and is here just to eat. It may not be fashionable to be seen here but it is the sensible connoisseur’s choice.”
Chacha’s style might have changed with the addition of two AC floors but the substance is unchanging.

Direction: Get down at Girish Park and ask for direction - it is opposite to Vivekananda's ancestral house ( heritage building turned into museum)

6. Chai @ Balwant Singh’s

Balwant Singh’s teashop is forever crowded. And it’s no different on the Thursday evening we drop in at the Harish Mukherjee Road destination. The young and the not-so-young are all there, drinking from or waiting for their bhaands of chai. Though not a tea-lover, Victor has special memories of Balwant’s to share as he sips their delicious Rs 14 brew.
“My father served in the army. During the Partition of India, he was posted in the Punjab. From a village where he was able to save just a few lives and witnessed the massacre of hundreds, he was able to rescue a Guru Granth Sahib. He gave it to a Sikh family here in Calcutta, who then handed it over to this Gurudwara adjoining Balwant’s. Every time I drive by, I think of all the sad history contained within this place of worship and as I watch people drinking the famous tea that is served outside, I feel proud of my dear old Dad.”

My Note: Sorry you are wrong!! The Masala chai just oppoiste to this Gurudwara at Sharma Tea house ( http://picasaweb.google.com/bomadg/KOLKATATHECITYOFJOYWestBengalIndia#5402809543602546194) is the real crowdpuller and is awesome. Close contender is Maharani on Sarat Boase Road near Lake area. Do not miss the early awesome early morning jalebi there in both these shops.

7. Mishti Doi @ Ganguram’s, Elgin Road

“For years I’ve associated the name Ganguram’s with Mishti Doi,” says Victor, as he savours this sweet treat. “I remember driving early in the morning to the airport and on the way stopping at the Ganguram’s near Dum Dum to pick up some. I have carried it to all parts of the country. For personal reasons, I have the fondest memories of Ganguram’s.”
The Elgin Road Ganguram’s receives a fresh batch of Mishti Doi every early morning. So for the true experience, reach well before 10am. This dollop of delight is available for Rs 199/kg.

My Note: Sorry !! The "White" Mishti Doi of Bhimnag (e.g. near Deshapriya Park on Monohar pukur Road) is awesome and best in the world. Most of my friends will vouch for it!

8. Biryani & Champ, Halim @ ArsalanAs if the Park Circus connector wasn’t clogged enough, Arsalan was born! The brand is only eight years old but the biryani is already iconic. “Two rozas ago somebody told me to try the Halim at  Arsalan. So I did and liked it so much that I now keep their number saved in my cellphone. During the month of Ramazan, I distribute the Halim amongst my Muslim friends. My family physician, Dr Akhtar, still sends the best Halim but sadly does not own a restaurant! I also prefer Arsalan’s mutton biryani to that of Shiraz — it’s easier both on the stomach and on the taste buds. But I have a specially reserved soft corner for Zeeshan,” says Victor taking a spoonful of biryani straight from the box.

My Note: You are right. But Biryani at Bedouin near Garihat, Zeeshan , Shiraz, Aminia are also equally good. In fact according to Anjan Chatterjee of " Oh Calcutta ! " fame Biryani of Calcutta in the streets is THE best in India

9. Phuchkas @ Max Mueller Bhavan

The phuchkawallah opposite Max Mueller Bhavan has been at his station for 40 years and, in all that time, has never lacked a crowd of jostling customers. “I have lots of phuchka haunts from Narayan’s at Globe cinema to Loreto House to Chhotelal of Little Russell Street to Nagaland House. It was when Gunter Grass was visiting Calcutta that I went to meet him at Max Mueller Bhavan and tried the phuchka outside its gates. Puchkas are best eaten at closing time when the water level is low and rich with the masala from countless phuchkas dipped into it,” says Victor, popping one fireball into his mouth. “They are undoubtedly very good — though not comparable to the phuchka at Nagaland House — and I only wish he served the phuchkas out of a traditional wicker basket instead of a glass coffin!” He also samples the aloo dum and pronounces it to be “the best” in the city.

My Note: You get good Phuchakas in many other places in Calcutta not only Max Muller Bhava. e.g. Pricey Phuchkas at Vivekananda Park or Lake Kalibari or Jatin Bagchi Road. But for Alur Dam crown goes to Phuchkawala in front of Priya cinema,South Calcutta - 4.30 pm onwards

10. Chanachur @ Russell Street

There are three white men selling chanachur outside the Russell Street Dhaba and Victor decides this has to be the ‘it’ chanachur hub. After digging into a nice hot packet of chanachur and then crumpled chips, he holds forth.
“I have never actually studied the history of chanachur, all I know is that it is not just a part of Calcutta’s but also of Indian history. ‘Babu chanachur garam garam’ is a refrain as well known to Calcutta as ‘gilli gilli gilli’ was to Port Said! There was a time when you could hear the wail of Magnolia ice cream, of chanachurwallahs and the mellifluous voices of wandering minstrels who went from house to house singing everything from Pat Boone and Presley to Hindustani classical.”

11. Muri @ Russell Street...Lake Kalibari...Vivekananda Park

“Muri is dead!” expostulates Victor, as we fruitlessly hunt for the perfect packet, first in Russell Street, then in front of Lake Kalibari and finally at Vivekananda Park. Rejecting each packet, Victor says, “The good old Muri of old, with lots of coconut and mustard oil seems to have been replaced entirely by the modern Jhaal Muri. The trick is the kancha shorshe tel.”So what if a visitor wants Calcutta’s best Muri? “The best place to get a good packet is at home, or at the unknown, nondescript street corner closest to your home!”

PS: My personal favourite is Jhalmuri at the crossing of Lake Road and Lake view Road - beside Samaj Sebi Pujo. The quantity at Rs 5 is mind boggling.

12. Bhel Puri at Lake Kalibari...Vivekananda Park
It is simply out of the world......the last stall/Bhelpuriwala from Kamala Girls school and first one from Lake.

13. Amber at Waterloo Street
Kabuli Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala at Amber (and also Chicken Pakora) is out of the world! I personally consider it best on this planet called earth. Equally good is Fish Malai Kebab, Sag Mutton.Kabuli Nan is the best Naan , you must have before you die !!

14. Cold coffee at coffee house - College street
At Rs 15 it is value for money , more so because of its ambience

15. Chienese Breakfast at Teritte Bazar near Poddar court neat India exchange place

16. Best Hyderabadi Biryani - Khawab

Beside Deshapriya Park (National High school) on Sarat Bose Road

16. Kachuri Daal, at Shree Hari Mistanna Bhandar near Hazra Road, opposite Indira cinema:      Simple but very good....old world charm

Read this one for details:  

17. Best Chinese food according to some foodies are found at Eau Cheu at Ganesh Chandra Avenue. Personally I do not think so..though I have gone there only twice...found it to be okay...but did not try the famous ones...since I was alone...But you must try Thai fish/Thai vegetable and Tom Yum Gong soup at Hatari opposite Triangular Park (next stop to Priya cinema)

18. Allen Kitchen Restaurant – The Special Prawn Cutlet

I have tried it once. It is near Sovabazar metro station, near Axis Bank. Their Prawn cutlet is very famous and it is good. But I particularly liked their Steak. I did not like their chop.It is on the main road.

Note: One of the founders grandson, Debabrata is a successful restaurateur in Toronto, Canada (he owns Debu’s Nouvelle Indian Cuisine and The Biryani House )

18A Mitra Cafe

It is almost opposite to Sovabazar Metro and diagonally opposite to Allen's cafe. Their Fish Kabiraji is very famous. I particularly liked their Mutton Kasha. It is on the main road. Their fish roll (Rs 50) is also quite good

19. Teej - Rajasthani food

Though I have not gone there I have heard it is very good. It is near Park street - lane opposite to Park hotel.To know more read...

20. Momo 

The one which I like THE MOST is at Buzz - just try Pan fried momo - it is quite different from the momo , we know - and BETTER THAN BLUE POPPY OF SIKKIM HOUSE (In Sikkim house the chilli garlic sauce is very bad - though the momo is good.....it is bit pricey at Rs 65). It is 50 seconds from US Consulate office on Ho Chi Minh Sarani - on Little Russel Street. Their chicken Thupka and steamed chicken momo (@ Rs 40) is also very good.

21. Dal fry/Tarka fry

The best Egg Tarka fry is found undoubtedly at Ballygunge Phari (Sharma) Dhaba. It is without any doubt the best in India. I have tried it everywhere - but this one in incomparable. It is quite different from anywhere else. (Trade secret: they use Ajwan and ginger julienne !!)

22. Best SE Asian food/Thai/Japanese food in Kolkata (I do not rate five star hotels )

The best Thai food I have tried is at Hongkong Express, behind Triangular Park (after Priya cinema). Their Red curry and Green curry is very authentic. I can vouch for it. It is as good as the one I have tried in Phuket. A new SE Asian restaurant has been opened at Rashbehari More called Straits. It has authentic Malaysian food and the Chef is from Malaysia. Many people say the best Japanese food is available at Wall, though I have not tried. It is near the crossing of Lansdowne Road and Sarat Bannerjee Road.

23 Best Lebanese food

The best Lebanese food can be found at the crossing of Lansdowne Road and Raja Basanta Roy Road. Their Chicken Shawarma is really good. But Chicken Roll is better, in my view.

24 Sherbat / Lassi/ Drinks/Beverage at Paramount sherbat & Syrups

The Sherbat at Paramount opposite the lane to Calcutta University (College street) is very famous and it is famous for Coconut/Daab Sherbat, not without reason. Unique flavours like Daab Sharbat (tender coconut sharbat), Cocoa Malai, Passion Fruit, Grape Crush, Strawberry Malai and Tamarind and Litchi are the popular drinks here. A must visit for reliving the past.It is In existence since 1918, it has seen personalities like Prafulla Chandra Ray, Subhash Chandra Bose, Kazi Nazrul Islam and later Satyajit Ray.

There is another discussion in India Mike..which is as follows:


Bharer Chaa:Tea served in clay pots. At the Maidan, from shining brass vessels on a rainy day. This is also good at Calcutta Stock Exchange street (Lyon's range).
Boudir Lebu Cha (Deshapriya Park): This is the evergreen Lemon tea.

Here's the Must-have dessert list:

Mishti Doi & Rosogolla from Mithai (Beckbagan)

Sandesh (all types) from Balaram (Bhowanipur) (Naram pak &Ice cream sandesh),

Nakur’s at Shimla. 

Bhim Nag in Boubazar.

Pantua from Bancharam

Indrani from Ganguram

Rabri from Ganguram

Darbesh & Kheer er chop from Sen Mahasay in Shyambazar.
Amritti from Bhim Nag/Ganguram, Maniktala (Jalebis are no match)
Patishapta - A delicate crepe with a filling of coconut and gur at Putiram.
Chhanar payesh - Better than rabdi anyday and does not weigh your stomach down, at Putiram (College Street)


Alukabli - Another must try at Vivekananda Park or opposite Menoka Cinema.  This is a chat like stuff with boiled potatoes, germinated choleys, ginger juliennes etc. with juice of lemon. I had to wipe my mouth while writing about it.

Kuler achar - the best outside Gariahat market. This is a chutney made with a particular berry which is available in the winter. Try this along with Aloo Posto, hot rice & Urad dal.

Shukno mashla makha tetul - Available with the churanwalas outside all

schools, much to the delight of the students and dismay of the parents, it is made with tamarind.

Bikrampurer kashundi - Mustard just pales next to this, available in most Bengali grocery shops. Bhetci macher fry with sliced onions & Kashundi. Dijon take a back seat here.

Aamer morobba - the best outside Gariahat market, this is a mango preserve.

Mochar chop - A delight even for the staunchest non vegetarians, banana flower stuffing in a potato cover braided with bread crumbs & deep fried, at the Tele bhaja shops in Baghbajar & Shyam bazaar. Plucking out the small florets is a big job so most ladies today simply don’t cook it at home these days.

Kumro phul bhaja - In tiny little food joints around Chittaranjan Avenue. These are pakoras made with the fresh yellow flowers of Pumpkin. We often eat them with hot rice to which gawa ghee has been added.

Dulaler tal michhri- Candies made from the juice sapped from Palmyra trees. Tasty & good for cough & cold. These were all the medicines we took as a child when noses began to run.

Ujjala's Chanachur ( no comparison anywhere): Even Haldiram's don't any where come Close to it.

Dab er sarbat at Paradise at College street. One of the young managers used to practice tabla sitting there & it was great to hear him play while sipping the Sarbat on a summer afternoon.

Cakes, pastries & patties at Nahum’s in new Market. I still can visualize the shop during X-Mass time, ginger loaves, marzipans, cinnamon rolls, plum cakes, mince pies & for us who had ordered months in advance with full payment bottles of resin wine, the excise department just kept their eyes closed during this period & no one ever complained.

Baked beans on toasts at Flury’s.

Simply delicious:

Muri ghonto - Defies description, this one is rice cooked with rohu fish heads. Check out at Suruchi Elliot road.

Daab Chingri from Kewpies (Elgin Lane): This is Prawn cooked in coconut.

Chicken Cutlet near Samur (Bhowanipur)

Chelo Kabab from Peter Cat: This can't be explained.....

Beaf Steak at Oly pub (with beer!!): This joint is also at Park Street.

Champ & Biriyani at Royal hotel in Chitpoor. Close competition for Karims in Delhi although the menu is different.

Kochuri & Tarkari from Tasty Corner (Mandeville Gardens) & various tele bhaja shops at residential localities. 

PS : The best one is undoubtedly the one at Lake Market (on Rashbehari Avenue - at the crossing of Janak Road, beside the shops selling Rice.)

Kabiraji Cutlet from Regent (S N Banerjee Road). The speciality of this dish is the fluffy & crunchy wrapping made with egg whites. Thanks to a Bengali lady who has dared to open a Bengali restaurant where we live in Delhi & has imported some good cooks from Kolkata. We get to eat this stuff now!

Bijoli Grill's Fish Roll.

Phulkopir Singara from Mrityunjoy (Lansdowne - only in winter), small Samosa’s with cauliflower filling. Best enjoyed with a steaming cup of good Darjeeling tea.

Pabda Paramaditya, a delicate fish cooked in a very tasty gravy at Aheli.

Bread & hot mutton stew at Dacres lane at lunch time on working days only.

Roti & mutton curry at Aminia. What a treat after a film at one of the many theaters near by or after a tiring shopping at the New Market..

Pulao & mutton rezalla at Shiraz.


The country liquor bar at Khalashi tala, in our time writers, film makers, ad men, actors would sit & discuss various things over the drinks, there would also be groups of smugglers & wagon breakers, thieves plotting out the night’s activities, harassed men pouring out their woes to patient listeners. Fights would break out once in while but a word like “Poolish asche..” would calm down the people. Rickshaw pullers who used to hang around were experts in guessing the level of inebriation and quoted accordingly. I really miss the sound of their bells at night.

(From top)Telebhaja in Dacres Lane, sandesh from Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy, ilish from Oh! Calcutta, and assorted treats from Nahoum & Sons

What is common between a 300-year-old city and a 17-year-old family of restaurants? One is a city grown wise and grey on innumerable cultures and flavours. In the last few years it has grown in girth as well as in height faster than ever in its long and colourful history.

The other is a young and restless group, sweeping city after city with flavours. Venturing beyond the country, transforming itself into a limited company and knocking on every opportunity it finds. But both have a common centre, a weakness that is also their greatest strength: food.

You cannot think of Calcutta without opening your mouth wide automatically, expecting a juicy, tangy phuchka or smooth rosogolla to shoot in anytime. For Calcutta, life, love, laughter, tears, creativity, passion, past, future, sacrifice and growth, everything centres around that one perfect bite and the experience thereafter.

If you have not already guessed by now, I am a Calcuttan for many lifetimes together. I can’t imagine belonging anywhere else because, as they say, the relationship that is built on food is like the bond between mother and child. Our first tie is born through food, when a mother nourishes her newborn.

My first experience of this city goes back to the taste of Amrito’r Doi, which was one of the few unadulterated joys allowed to children in our family because we were too young for most other pleasures. Not that I ever complained.

From then onwards I had a taste for only the real thing and became choosy about what was fed to me. Calcutta spurred my appetite for good food as I went to school and discovered new landmarks — Radhu Babu’r Dokan and….

I collected a princely amount of Rs 33 as pocket money in my fifth grade by diligently touching the feet of every elderly relative I knew. It was so much money that I could throw a feast for friends on Maha Ashtami, from Mughlai Paratha at Basanta Cabin to Fish Kochuri on Shimla Street. The joy of eating together with five friends, millions of devotees and Ma Durga made me look again at my half-chomped kathi roll in the crispy autumn sunlight. And I realised in that instant that food is what I want to do all my life.

Food makes the occasion

Rolls from Nizam’s. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray
My passion for food was Calcutta’s handiwork and it almost threw me out of my family. Academic, bhadro Bangali poribar sent all sons to become doctors, engineers or professors. My plans to open a food shop did not fit the picture frame and my father seriously thought of disowning me. But he could not summon the strength because my passion was equally his own handiwork.

A Calcuttan by heart and stomach, my father’s reputation as a host preceded him wherever he went. And he maintained this high standard by selecting a handful of shops and vendors for the best flavours. That is how I discovered Dwarik’s, Nahoum’s, Entally market and several friendly fish mongers. He identified, sourced and selected raw ingredients with the eye of a French chef, but the joy he took in all this was typically Calcuttan. And if his sharp sense of smell led him to a fresh arrival of ilish, young vegetables or mangoes, invitations would go out to friends all around.

If Mohun Bagan won, my father would invite friends to lunch with Chingri Malaikari and if East Bengal won, he would bring home ilish, bringing his soccer loyalty very much into question, but not his loyalty to Calcutta. He would laugh and say, “Everywhere, occasion makes the food but in Calcutta, food makes the occasion.”

When somebody wonders, “You do not have a lineage in the restaurant business and still you managed to come this far”, I beg to clarify that you don’t need a lineage in warmth, hospitality, passion and creativity. In Calcutta, food is about all this and more and all I have always tried to do is to reflect that in my restaurants.

So with neither lineage nor my family’s wholehearted blessings, I joined the Hotel Management Institute at Taratala. It was just a finishing touch to a lifelong relationship with food, already made permanent by gorging at Skyroom, Firpo’s, Royal, Mocambo, Nokur, Tiretti Bazaar and other hungry zones Calcutta is strewn with. Whenever I pass these places, I feel hungry, even today. But this hunger would not go away by just food, as I knew well back then and still know now.
Wherever Speciality Restaurant goes, I will still be a hungry man, munching my favourite churmur on Russell Street or stealing a delicious moment or two at Dacres Lane. It’s the only way I know how to say “Thank you” to this food-pagol city.

Chronological order