There are two things that every proud Bengali believes in: food and adda. One can never underestimate the power of a strongly brewed cup of coffee and a ‘fowl cutlet’, as a group of Bengalis sit around a table, inhaling smoke and talking about politics, films, literature and the world in general. No wonder that, at every corner of the city you will find a shop that has existed for centuries, that were frequented by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray and many others. Come afternoon, Bengalis working near BBD Bagh will trickle towards Royal Indian Hotel, the last name when it comes to Biryani, and in the evening, the telebhaja shops will have their share of crowds, downing hot chops straight from the frying pan. Any food map would be incomplete without these classic heritage eateries in Kolkata, and if you are in the city, make sure you visit these to get a true taste of Kolkata.
The staple ingredient of the Kolkata Biryani is the big boiled potato. Where would we be without the ball of deliciousness cunningly hidden in the mound of rice, meat, and an egg? There are two restaurants, however, that are unanimously acknowledged as legendary, but don’t have the potato in their biryani!
Royal Indian Hotel
Where: 147, Rabindra Sarani
Chitpur Road, in North Kolkata, is a slice of Lahore in the heart of the city. The area is built around the Nakhoda Masjid, one of the oldest mosques in the city. The more famous institution on Chitpur Road is the Royal Indian Hotel, dishing out biryani and mutton chap for over a century. The aroma of mutton being stirred in the tawa over a clay oven, will hit you the moment you stand in front of the hotel. A steep flight of stairs leads up to a cluttered dining space. Order a plate of Chicken or Mutton Biryani and Mutton Chap, the most famous dishes on the menu. For more food love, go on a Monday or a Friday for the Mutton Pasinda Kebab, a delectable preparation of spicy, boneless mutton. On Thursday, the special is the Nargisi kofta, a whole egg stuffed with a spicy mutton keema, and cooked in a gravy. Royal Indian Hotel is stuff that legends are made of, and when you eat here, you understand just why.
Where: 34, Karl Marx Sarani,Kidderpore
Khidderpore, known chiefly as the dockyard of the city, is known in the culinary circles for a completely different reason. The India Restaurant, a century old institution near the Fancy Market, serves a biryani that you’ll be addicted to, after the first time! India Restaurant is known for its Mutton Kachhi Biryani and the Daryabadi Biryani. The Kachhi Biryani is different from the usual ‘Calcutta’ biryani, soft, delicious mutton cooked with the rice. It is one of the best biryanis in town! Also try their Mutton Stew, a mildly tempered gravy with boneless mutton pieces.
Where: 3/5, Biplabi Anukai Chandra Street
Sabir’s, the celebrated Mughlai restaurant in Esplanade, is the inventor of the Mutton Rezala, or so the legend goes. If you are ready to brave the early morning, try their legendary Mughlai breakfast of Mutton Dal Gosht, Quorma and Keema with lachha parathas and a tumbler of milky, sweet tea. The braver can try the Mutton Zuban (tongue) or a plate of Mutton Brain cooked over slow fire. At Rs 150 per head, it is one of the best morning meals in Kolkata, if you have the appetite for one!
For chops and cutlets
In Kolkata, evening tea is an elaborate affair. It’s incomplete with the alu’r chop, fish fry, and a variety of other cutlets. To witness the cutlet madness, a visit to either (or all!) these eateries is recommended.
Where: 47, Jatindra Avenue,Shobha Bazar
Mitra Café is one of the few remaining ‘cabins’ in Kolkata. These were essentially snack eateries, every evening, the unique fried goodies would attract crowds. Mitra Café is located opposite the Sovabajar Metro Station. All you have is a tiny, cluttered room, and a long queue of people waiting for the food. Mitra Café was founded in 1920, and is still going strong. The food here can only be defined as legendary, it is part of Kolkata’s love for food experiments, and the unique results which it yielded. Try the Kobiraji cutlets (Fish, Mutton or Chicken); essentially called a ‘coverage’ cutlet by the British, it is a slab of meat deep fried and coated with slivers of egg. The Dimer Devil (Rs 30), a Calcutta Classic, is essentially the tweaked version of the ‘devilled eggs’, the egg is stuffed with mutton keema and deep fried. The Fish Diamond Fry (Rs 80), Fowl Cutlet (Rs 60) and Brain Chop are best-selling items on the menu, served with a generous helping of a mild mustard sauce and salad.
Allen Kitchen Restaurant
Where: 40/1, Jatindramohan Avenue, Shobha Bazar
A little way down the road from Mitra Café lies another legendary eatery that was frequented by none other than Satyajit Ray. Allen’s Restaurant, though now a shadow of its former self, it still has its share of loyalists. The Prawn cutlet here is still to die for, as is the Fish Fry. The soft juicy prawns fried in ghee makes for an unusually delicious evening snack, hundreds would vouch for that!
Lakshmi Narayan Shaw & Sons
‘Telebhaja’, literally translated means ‘fried in oil’, is the favourite snack of Kolkata. Laksminarayan Shaw & Sons, standing tall in Hatibagan (Beadon Street), was established in 1918, and was frequented by the young Subhash Chandra Bose when he was a student of Scottish Church College. It serves a variety of ‘chops’, essentially vegetables, deep fried in oil and eaten with ‘muri’ or puffed rice. Try the Aloo’r chop (Rs 5), Kashmiri Chop (Rs 6) and Peyaji, a unique onion chop you’ll get only in West Bengal (Rs 5). Don’t forget to ask for a paper bag of muri!
For coffee, and more
College Street is the intellectual hub of the city. It is the also the place where storms blow over teacups (literally!). It’s interesting to witness the adda scene of Kolkata, as it’s called, and these are the two places you must visit.
Where: 5, Bankim Chatterjee Street, College Street
A visit to College Street (indeed, Kolkata) would go in vain without a peek into the Indian Coffee House. It began its journey from Albert Hall in 1942, and has been the hub of intellectuals ever since. It is chiefly known for its addas, random discussions, often between complete strangers. Witness all this and more as you sip the coffee and perhaps a Chicken Afghani cutlet. The constant humdrum in the huge hall, and the long windows looking out on College Street lend it the atmosphere of heritage Kolkata at its best.
Paramount Sherbets & Syrups
Where: 1/1/1D, Bankim Chatterjee Street, College Street
Founded in the days of the freedom struggle, Paramount provided the freedom fighters of Bengal with their strength and stamina, through the variety of fruit-based drinks. It has entertained, over the years, freedom fighters, politicians, film stars of the golden era, and many more. The cool marble top tables and bare wooden benches, and the antlers mounted on the wall form the interiors of Paramount. Sit down, order a glass of Cocoa-malai, and a Dab-Sherbet, and a Mango-malai…you’ll never get enough! The drinks are either milk-based, or water based, like the Rose Syrup and the Tamarind Syrup. The syrups are still made by them, apricots, passion fruits and walnuts are imported- all you get in your glass is pure heaven. The malai-based sherbets cost Rs 80-110, for the rest, it’s Rs 50-70.
A juice-shop that deserves special mention on this list is Kapila Ashram, a tiny blink-and-you-miss-it shop near Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house. It has survived a century, and every afternoon, it throngs with people who brave the sun for a glass of their famous sherbets. The flavours change every day, one day it’s green mango, the next day it’s orange. The lassi is churned in at least 5 different buckets of various sizes, poured in a glass, and handed to you, for Rs 15 a glass.
For the true-blue Bengali
Calcutta cuisine is incomplete without two things, the ‘maach-bhaat’, and the ‘kosha mangsho’. Pice Hotels, somewhat of a hallowed heritage in Kolkata, were originally places where you could get meals for a paisa (hence ‘pice’). Only few remain today. And for the second, there is only one legendary place in Kolkata.
Young Bengal Hotel
Where: 16/2, Karl Marx Sarani,Kidderpore
The Young Bengal Hotel in Khidderpore is an 87 year old institution that still pulls in more than 200 people every day. The simple meals of rice, a variety of fish curries and vegetables are delicious and fresh. If you want to taste heritage in very bite, this is the place to be. Bare interiors, cramped during lunch hours, but people go by the quality of their food. If you area fish lover, try the local fishes like pabda, rui and others. The food is light on the palate, just like home-cooked Bengali food.
Where: Shyambazar 5-point crossing
Golbari’s Kosha mangsho is somewhat of a living myth in Kolkata. Located on the busy Shyambazar crossing, the eatery gets its name from the circular building in which it’s housed. The menu is simple: Mutton Kosha and Mutton Keema. Red and fiery hot, they will burn your mouth but you’ll not stop eating and raving about them! At Rs 155 for the mains, plus Rs 8 for a roti, it’s light on the pocket but fireworks on the palate. The dark, red gravy is an addiction for those who have been to Golbari and had the Kosha Mangsho.
Every corner of Kolkata has a sweet shop that makes the customary breakfast of kochuri and a potato curry. Yet, given the opportunity, Kolkatans would rush to these two!
Where: 12A Surya Sen Street
Putiram, on Surya Sen Street, is regarded as the only, I repeat, the only place in Kolkata to serve a delectable dry potato curry, which no other eatery in the city has been able to replicate! Every morning, crowds throng to Putiram to savour the hot, fried kochuris with a plate of Chholar dal and the potato curry. It is an institution for as long as any Calcuttan can remember. To end with, there are sweet, crunchy jilipis, that usually vanish by 9AM. The pocket pinch? Only Rs 30 per head!
Where: Park street
Flury’s, on Park Street, has long been a name that’s synonymous with the city. It was founded in 1927. This teahouse is known for its cakes, pastries and savouries. Watch the busy Park Street drift by as you sit at the table by the glass wall, sipping a cup of the finest Darjeeling Tea, or the legendary Peach Melba (Rs 255) and the Chocolate Pyramid pastry (Rs 80). Flury’s is also known for its heritage English breakfast.
Kolkata is the City of Joy, but there’s actually one reason behind the joy, and that’s the great food that keeps every passionate Bengali going. Here, every problem has a food-solution! These heritage eateries of Kolkata have existed long enough to witness history, yet, their tastes have remained intact through the years. Many eateries have undergone a complete revamp, many have shut down- which makes it all the more important to visit these legendary places when you are in Kolkata next!
This article was published in www.tripigator.com on April 17, 2015
Lead image: colorandspices.com