Cheap gastronomic delights abound on the streets of Kolkata. The tasteful variety on offer is hard to resist, whether for Kolkatans or outsiders. The latest in the list of famous people to savour street food of Kolkata is none other than the prime minister of UK, David Cameron. While going along Camac Street, though on a whirlwind tour of the city, he made sure to get down at Vardhaan Market and have a taste of street food. He had a plate of vada at a kiosk called Victoria Vada and relished it, even promising the ecstatic owner that he would come back.
David Cameron having vadas
Once the city of jhalmuri (puffed rice mixed with other ingredients), phuchka, singara (as the samosa is called in Bengal), telebhaja and beguni (oil fries) mostly, street food graduated to hot kati rolls (kebabs rolled in a paratha) in the 1960s. Sometime after that, chowmein, till then mostly a staple of the Chinese community, made an entry and stole everyone’s hearts; people having street food for lunch and dinner had another filling food to count on. Dosas and idlis also became very popular. In recent times momos have become widely popular, with stalls all over the city.
The wide variety of street food is one thing. Another thing which especially outsiders marvel at is the price. At Rs 10-15, one can get a substantial meal, be it the traditionally popular ‘maach-bhaat’, that is, fish and rice (and this includes other options, like vegetables, eggs and chicken) or a plate of chowmein.
There are a few areas in the city which are more popular, mostly because the stalls there cater to a large population of office-goers.
Russell Street is the destination for some of the city’s best chats and phuchkas, especially ghugni-chat. With ghugni filled to the brink of the dish, extra onions, extra ginger, green chilies, and overflowing tamarind pulp, one is sure to lick the plate.
Dacres Lane, also called Decker’s Lane, in the Dalhousie area, known as ‘office-para’, can be termed the foodies’ paradise in Kolkata. Phuchka, aloo kabli, ghugni, egg roll, chowmien, fried rice, chili chicken, chicken manchurian, biryani, chicken chap, fish fry, fish kabiraji, chicken cutlet, momo, vegetable stew, luchi-alur dom, chana-bature, lassi, nimbu paani, gola, name it and one gets it!
Minto Park, the crossing of Sarat Bose Road and AJC Bose Road, is another destination buzzing with activity from late morning to early evening. While there, the area in front of Nizam’s Palace, which is another area of government offices, definitely merits mentioning.
Another busy place is at the Jawaharlal Nehru Road head of Park Street. The shops stretch a long way, offering everything from rice to chowmein to dosas to singharas to sweets, and many more things.
If one is looking for authentic Chinese breakfast, well, as authentic as Chinese can get in Kolkata, Tiretta Bazar, also called Old Chinatown (the new one being Tangra) is the place to head to. Both sides of the thoroughfare are lined with momo containers, containing steaming momos with pork, chicken and shrimp stuffing. Dimsums and momos are always the most sought-after items. Spring rolls and pork sausages are not far behind. Pau, the bun-shaped over-sized dumpling, which comes with pork, chicken, and fish filling, should definitely be on the must-have list.
Chinese food stall at Tiretta Bazar
One of the best places in Kolkata to try phuchkas, jhalmuri and other chat items is located on the East Metropolitan Bypass (EM Bypass), just after Ultadanga Hudco crossing. A slew of vendors dot the street just beyond this landmark, serving some of the most popular street foods of Kolkata.
A lot of individual stalls are popular too. Like the momo stall at Exide crossing, phuchkas at Vivekananda Park and Gol Park, Goutam’s Chaat just after Ultadanga Hudco. There are too many to name individually.
Another specialty of street food in Kolkata is sliced fresh fruits. The fruit-seller stands or roams around with a glass box full of fruits, some sliced and some whole, which are sliced according to specifications. They can be found on many streets of Kolkata.
Fruits in glass case
And why leave out the dessert. People selling kulfi, often called falooda, and sweets in glass cases can be spotted on many streets adjacent to lunch stalls. And of course, there are the fresh fruit juice and lassi sellers.
Lassi stall in Kolkata
Stall of Benarasi paan, found in many places in Kolkata
Such variety at such low prices is indeed a wonder, especially in these days of rising prices. With the popularity that street food in Kolkata commands, these stalls will continue thrive, and continue to provide delicious meals to lakhs of people, be it office-goers, students or just about anybody.