I like Kolkata for all that it offers!!.Kolkata always reminds me of Rajesh Khanna in dhoti in “Amar Prem” ( Remember “ I hate tears” dialogue of his!) with his head in Sharmila Tagore’s lap soulfully singing “Chingari Koi……” , a lantern swinging from the thatched roof of the wooden boat as it serenades on the waters of hoogly under the Howrah bridge.
That’s Kolkata, still lost somewhere in time, desperately clinging to old world charm, unmindful of changes happening all around the world.Infact, the minute you land in Kolkata, the 19th century air hits you ( even the air is so musty & soporific), the creaky all yellow wobbly ambassador completes the picture.
I like the stillness, laid back ambience that permeates the city (please don’t take in derogatory sense!).It still carries a long overhang of the “Raj”. Unfortunately, as is with the industrial climate of the state, West Bengal has not packaged its culinary jewels properly.
Bengali cuisine is one of the most underrated cuisines of India next to Wazwan (we shall touch upon that later!!).Here are some jewels:
“Aheli” at Peerless Inn (next to Oberoi Grand) is a pure unadulterated Bengali joint. The waiters are extremely helpful and ever-ready to engage in a discussion (so typical of a Kolkata resident) on anything. These highly opinionated waiters give you a run down on each dish as if his forefathers had invented the dish. It’s highly informative.Non-vegetarian should straight away order Pona Kalia with Radha Ballavi and steamed rice ( Pona Kalia is Hilsa curry-a fish full of bones- as per old Bengali saying-more the bones, more delicious is the fish, Radha Ballavi or lucchi is a jumbo sized hybrid of puri & bhatura).This dish denotes the Zen and Tao of eating. Sink your teeth into the succulent flesh of a freshly caught hilsa, smell its aroma, close your eyes and well-you, the dish, the fish, all become one and you nearly reach a cosmic nirvana. I would call this as a Karma dish. No dish delivers you such a cosmic experience like this one. Vegetarian should order Aloo-Posta ( Posta is khas-khas or poppy seeds) with lucchi.Aloo posta is another dish which mesmerizes you, if this doesn’t try the dish made of banana flowers. For more adventurous try the Papada Jhal (crunchy fish in mustard oil).The aroma permeates each and every cell of your living body and one needs to experience it.Don’t forget to ask for tomato chutney ( loads of it)
There are many Chinese joints on parks street going by the names of Waldorf, Mogambo.All of them are immensely passable and churn out pedestrian stuff. You need to hit Mainland China again (this guy is doing great) or hit the hutment’s of Tangda.Eat Chinese food under a lantern where desi hooch and manchow mingle freely. Skip the desi hooch though.
If you are in love with pastries & coffee, you could try the old trusted “Flurys” on park street. Although I personally don’t fancy the place and its stuff.Bijoli Grill is another good joint although pedestrian.
I do not have a sweet tooth, but I like Bengali sweets. Their Sandesh, Rosagolla, Kancha Golla is mind boggling. Kancha Golla is a paneer ball which is very less sweetened. Its excellent stuff. In Kolkata, visit any Mithai shop (incidentally Mumbai doesn’t have a single decent mithai shop! You can kill me for that!!), and a dilliwallah would be shocked to see the affairs at K C Das (world renowned for its Rasgullahs). They are very small, have no concept of presentation, the guys who shows you different mithai’s would most likely be wearing a yellow banyan (vest for uninitiated) and the whole place give a “run down” feel. But the mithai is great. Ucchi Dukan fika Pakwan fits the bill in reverse!! In Delhi you get it at numerous Annapurna shops- churning out good old faith full stuff.
Outside Kolkata, it is very difficult to find a good Bengali food joint. In Delhi you could taste Bengali food at O Calcutta at Eros Towers, Dilli Haat or head towards opposite Chitaranjjan Park.”Babu Moshai” is a small joint” and “City of Joy” also does some justice. Also there is Chowringee somewhere near Mayur Vihar (I can take you there but forget the address) which churns out good stuff..In Mumbai, hit “Oh! Calcutta” opposite Mahindra heights in Tardeo.