Sunday, January 18, 2015

Eating in and around Kolkata -- part 1

It has been a while that I have logged in here and I am glad that I haven't forgotten my password!!! It has been so long that it feels like I blogged in my other life or something.

But if I tell you all that I did since November, you will know that there was a worthy reason for all that absence. In November we went to India for a three week vacation. Now, that itself is big enough, given we were traveling with two kids, who had neither valid visa nor passport, a fact we were oblivious of until we decided to book the tickets, which incidentally was about 10 days before the travel date. You see the dependency in there ? The multiple critical paths ?A slip at any point and we would not be going anywhere. But it did not slip. Thankfully.

Then we came back, right in time for the Christmas holidays, and so had to rush around getting the Christmas tree up and then buying at least a few presents for the kids if only to re-instill Little S's faith in Santa Claus. Throw in a birthday party for Big Sis where seven of her friends came over one evening to make their own pizza, sundae and to generally have fun. The girls were self sufficient and I hope had fun though Big Sis was vehement about not having a party this year.

We had one more party on the 24th, where I made only the appetizers and catered the main food. I made a roast pork in the oven which was really good and wanted to note down the recipe, which involved marinating the pork in roasted Indian spices and was kind of free flowing, but never got the time to do so. Next time, I guess.

Then my sis-in-law was visiting with her family and we did the usual Rockefeller tree visiting on Christmas day braving the insane city traffic for about 2 hours, before our car could land up anywhere near the tree. Next the whole family went to watch PK where, you wouldn't believe this, two back-to-back shows were all sold out. We had to go back the next day for a showing!!! Some perseverance. Soon after sis-in-law left  we drove across neighboring states to spend the New Year with another friend. Finally when we were back on the 3rd, endless days of school and work seemed more relaxing than the break we had.

So, you see, in this whole rigmarole, it is a miracle that I still managed to remember my blogger password.

I had originally intended to do the New Year post about a chocolate cake that BS had made for her birthday and whose recipe was given by my niece R, a dear friend's daughter. But out trip back home was so much fun this time that I thought of writing at least a little about it, along with a few pictures in this post. I think after many years, this was a trip, when I ventured out of the home most and also ate out a lot. The second is definitely a difficult task to achieve, given our short stay and the home cooked food that my Ma and Ma-in-law wants to feed us but I persevered and managed to sample a lot of the old favorites.

The day after we arrived, we were at Park Street to get some personal work done, and of course I had to visit Hot Kati Roll. The small store was packed as it was around lunch time and the owner was visibly irritated with my attempt at photography. The egg-chicken roll however was not what it used to be and left me a bit disappointed and at the same time happy that I was not missing out on anything in the US.

From Park Street, we went straight to College Street to buy our stash of Bangla  books, Amar Chitra Kathas and Enid Blytons. I know, I know, Starmark or Crossword is the place these days but a trip back home without going to College Street is incomplete for me.

Since on my last visit we had done the Coffee House, this time I decided to skip it. Also we had landed just the day before and I had already consumed an egg roll. For old times sake, I walked around college Square to get a glimpse of Paramount. Again was a bit skeptical of going in and I opted for a fresh daab er jwol from the roadside. See, what age and staying outside the country has done to me. I am ashamed of myself.

However the sadness of not eating a kobiraji or drinking a chocolate malai sherbet was swept away by the sight of books jumping out of every bend and corner. If I had to define "happy" at that point, it would be to roam College street with the sole aim of buying books of fiction for pure pleasure. No tension of shouting for a Maiti-Ghosh or Tannenbaum. What relief.

After strolling a bit, I went to the old trusted bookstore of Dasgupta & Co., where a chai-wallah had come with his huge aluminum kettle and stack of earthen cups to deliver the bikel er cha. I started so longingly at the khuris(terracotta tea cups) that the the book sellers finally relented and offered me a cup. After a cup of tea, Lila Majumdar Rachanaboli, and "Aro Satyajit" we were out to face the booksellers on the pavement shouting out "Didi, ki boi chai, ki boi?" It is such a warm, fuzzy feeling to be in a street where all people ask is which book you want.

The next day, was at Flury's with the whole family. My dad felt it was a place fit for his grand daughters and so wanted to treat them there. Around noon, it was totally empty and the servers hovered around us constantly which made me feel a tad nervous as I like to be left alone when I am making up my mind about what to eat and then actually eating it. But they were only doing there job with too much enthusiasm and I shouldn't blame them for that. The ladies at the pastry counter were opposite of enthusiastic though and I figured had not much idea as I asked about the various kinds and the differences between two very similar ones.

The girls thoroughly enjoyed their pastries and ordered a pasta which they loved. My club sandwich was totally delicious and I will forgive the over zealous servers for it.

Our Biriyani quest started with Aminia, the one at New Town, and it went down with a whimper. Next since everyone was raving about Arsalan, we decided to give it a try too. I had never heard of Arsalan before so it was a brave move. I thought the biriyani was good but the pieces of meat in the Biriyani was really disappointing. Also in the US, we get really good Hyderabadi Biriyanis and again I felt that I wasn't really missing much.

All that changed of course, the moment we walked into Shiraz. The fragrance itself put me in place. It was 11 in the morning. I was there after a full breakfast of luchi-torkari and yet my heart trembled with what was to come. We ordered a Biriyani, mutton chaanp and roomali ruti. My words fail me at what I felt at the first spoonful of the Biriyani. The roomali roti, soft as cloud was like a whiff of warm air in our mouth enveloping the soft morsels of meat in the chaanp. The tender meat seemed to have cooked in the spices for a relaxingly long time to achieve that perfect taste. I hate to admit but the chaanp that I had attempted at home was not even a distant cousin of this miracle. 

Since we were running short of time, the plan was to do Shiraz and Peter Cat on the same morning. A difficult task bur had to be done. So after the 11 am Birriyani at Shiraz, we spent about 2 hours in and around New Market for the sole purpose of eating again at Peter Cat. Only a Bangali will do that. Hang around  for food like that

The 2 hour gap was not enough to induce hunger and only a single plate of chelo kabab was ordered to be shared by D and me. The taste was exactly like I remembered, the rice moist and rich with butter and a poached egg on top, and the succulent kababs. I don't care much for the chicken kababs but the buttery rice and the skewered lamb kabab is out of the world. I have to get the recipe of a chelo kabab and try to make it at home soon or I could just eat generously buttered rice. I think the second option will make me equally happy.

And then of course there was Oh!Calcutta. I had decided that come what may I would make sure to visit the restaurant on this trip. So even when folks on FB suggested Bhojohori Manna or some other place, I went ahead to Oh!Calcutta with a steely determination.

The ambiance was excellent and I was really happy to see apun ka Bengali food being served in such an atmosphere. However US has spoiled us and being used to large portions of food in restaurants , I was bit taken aback by the small portions. The price too I felt was exorbitant given the portions. The food was good if not great and loved the fried boris they served along with myriad chutneys. Little Sis loved her plate of bhaja with Gobindobhog bhaat. The Gondhoraj Bhetki too was delicious. We also had daab chingri, railway mutton curry, kaanchalonka murgi and another bhetki dish. The star was however the Nolen Gur er ice cream, it was totally out  of the world and even my parents, who were not impressed by any of the other dishes, agreed that the ice cream was really something.

(Part 2 coming soon...)

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  1. Great to read of your Kol trip in details, sounds like you had an amazing gastronomical vacation! Glad to see you back blogging, keep us food inspired, and with humor! :-)

  2. Great! waiting for your next book..... may be on this :)

    1. Ha, ha, tahole tor saathe Royal theke shuru kore shob khete jete hobe for six consecutive months

  3. Oh... wonderful! That's like an action packed encyclopaedic roller coaster Kolkata ride - for the tummy I mean. No complaints at all, only sheer jealousy!!!

  4. Darun, Bongmom! Ekdin e Shiraz ar PeterCat is quite an achievement. I also had nolen gurer icecream during my last visit to Kolkata in 2013-14 and completely second your feeling. Though Oh! Calcutta has branches in Delhi and Gurgaon, never managed to go back for more. Waiting eagerly for Part 2.

  5. Loved reading your article on Kolkata. have been a fan of your blog for years and have read your book too. An article on your direct experiences in Kolkata is special. This had wet my appetite for my visit in 3 weeks time (not that it takes much to wet my appetite). Kusum Rolls in Park Street seems like a better option these days going by the feedback from food loving folks. Also I have never had the opportunity to try Nolengurer Ice Cream. Hope that I will be able to find that in February. Would you or any of your readers know if I could get it anywhere other than Oh Calcutta! in the middle of february? Looking forward to the Part 2 (please publish it before I go)..

    1. Subrata Guha ThakurtaFebruary 03, 2015 7:49 PM

      Bhojohori manna somehow seem to manage it the year round ! But guess it would not be same as the fresh one. Had it, worth having a go at.

    2. Subrata Guha ThakurtaFebruary 03, 2015 7:50 PM

      Bhojohori manna has it the year round.

    3. Thank you. Will give it a try.

  6. I am so hungry reading this ,,,,waiting for par 2 btw was wondering why U not blogging ,,

  7. Loved reading your Kolkata travelogue, having just comeback after my 2nd visit in 2 months. I did have Nolen Gurer Ice-cream at Oh! Calcutta (went to the EM Bypass/Silver Springs branch) as well as 'Dabka' (Daber jol with Vodka). I agree that it is over priced, and the park St restaurants especially Peter Cat, Bar-B-Q, etc. are a much better value. However my personal preference is for '6 Ballygunge Place' which I think has the best 'upscale' Bengali food and is much more reasonably priced.

  8. There you are in all my favourite places. The chelo, the Shiraz biryani and Oh Calcutta - sums it up for me :)

  9. Subrata Guha ThakurtaFebruary 03, 2015 7:54 PM

    You must try Mocambo on your next visit. An absolute value for money proposition. I could spend the whole day there having their divine crab thermidor and drinking KF !


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