Any description of food is good. So when my sister Elaine went on a week long work cum pleasure trip to the City of joy, the food memories she described brought me joy. I requested her to write her experience for all of you and she obliged. Grab a cup of coffee and read a nice long post that will make you board the next flight to Kolkatta.
My tryst with the City of Joy, Kolkata
Food….for me is a soul touching topic. Having lived in a family that swears by food, I could not escape being a die-hard foodie myself. I put food in three categories—soul-touching, food for life, and daily food. My love for food was one reason of accepting an invite from a friend to come and spend a week with her in Kolkata.
While accepting the invite, my first question to her was “khaana accha hoga na?” Given the fact that I am a die-hard non-vegetarian, she assured me that I would not have vegetarian food even for a single day while in Kolkata. Did she fulfill her promise? Yes she did….and how….
Bengalis swear by their fish, chicken, beef, pork and of course a wide-variety of delightful veggies. And thus began our romance with the food and splendor of Kolkata. We began the trip with a lunch at Arsalan at Arina Garden Court. The first thing we did even before sitting was ordering the Arsalan special assorted platter kebabs. The platter included a mix of chicken malai kebabs, fish kebabs, and some lovely juicy mutton bara kebabs. The chicken kebabs were juicy and succulent, but the lamb racks….umm…..juicy, soft and melt in the mouth…
Then came the turn of the famous Bengali biryani…this time, we went for chicken biryani to fulfill our hunger pangs. The biryani came overflowing in a plate and we just went for it. Unlike the other biryani’s, this one was different. Spices right enough to arouse the senses, no overpowering gravy bathed rice. On the contrary, each grain had a hint of the gravy but also had its individual taste. One interesting fact here, the potato that accompanies the biryani is first par-boiled, and then fried. This helps get the maximum sweetness of the potato. The whole egg over the biryani was an add-on. Chicken + potato + rice + egg = 3 happy tummies and 3 big bright smiles.
Arsalan special biryani
With our tummies at peace, we moved on to see the beautiful city, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Victoria Memorial, Fort William, Eden Gardens (we got to enter Eden gardens…special thanks to our friend who requested that we Mumbaiites are very eager to see the stadium), Chowrinhgee, Shaheed Minar, New Market…..the list was unending…
All this sight-seeing made us hungry again. Next, we were told, our dinner would be at Peter Cat (famous for its Chelo Kebabs). Now Peter Cat is known to be a restaurant where cocktails are cheaper than the food. Right next to Peter cat is Flury’s (don’t visit unless you are willing to spend for over-priced items). And next to Flury’s is Au Bon Pain (more about this later).
Coming back to Peter Cat, the restaurant provides an interesting mix of Indian and continental along with an environment that is quirky and unique. A trip to the city of joy would be incomplete without dining here. The amazing chelo kebabs, the wonderful cocktails and some lovely desserts. First day at Kolkata was satisfying and satiating. The kebabs did make us want to stay back and have more and more of them.
The menu at Peter Cat….the shape says it all…
Chello kebabs…the dollop of butter and the yummy kebabs make you want for more…The dish consists of chicken kebabs prepared in rare spices and Persian herbs that are served on a bed of salty buttery, saffroned rice and egg. Peter Cat claims this special dish to be “The protected Regional product of West Bengal.” The egg and butter give the dish a different twist.
After the Sunday morning service, we headed to Au Bon Pain (this is a must visit place for good breakfast options at reasonable prices). I am thankful for having friends who are good eaters and are least concerned of calories and healthy eating.
A typical European type of breakfast, loads of options to choose from. The breakfast was so filling that we didn’t have to have lunch and had to have dinner directly; this after walking for nearly 20 km seeing some more of beautiful Kolkata.
The kings breakfast at Au Bon Pain
For dinner, our host treated us to some lovely Thai food from “Asia in the Box.” Our host chose the dishes for us which were tried and tested. We had rice with crabmeat, Chicken Takrai (chicken breasts cooked in fish sauce, chicken broth, and lemon grass) and Thai green curry. We were overwhelmed with the delicate flavors infused in the chicken gravy and the lovely rice. Another good food day came to an end.
One interesting ingredient that Bengali food includes is Gondhoraj (aroma king) Lebu (lime) as it is called in Bengali. The fruit itself is oblong and somewhat difficult to be squeezed by hand. One has to cut it into relatively long areas with its thick green bark, and then gently press the fruit to extract the juice. The extract is some real, heavy aromatic dough bits. A tiny quantity of this extract is enough to perk up the dullest daal or the most tasteless vegetables a hot summer day. These limes have a sweet smell and are used for making slush, Kolkata’s steamed bhetki fillets in a coconut-gondhoraj gravy, gondhoraj soufflé and much more.
Gondhoraj (Image courtesy: Google images)
The next day, we decided to go around Kumortuli to see how the images of Goddess Durga are made. Awe and wonder filled us for the craftsmanship of the artists there. Such simplicity yet, such wonderful designs. Again, the whole walk through the area made us hungry. This time we decided to visit Mitra café. One look at it would categorize it as any other road side eatery—small and very basic amenities; but the food, “finger licking good.” We ordered fish cutlet, chicken cutlet, chicken kabiraji, and mutton stew. One of the best parts of Kolkata is that it never disappoints you with food. The simplicity of the dish and the taste that filled each sense was simply awesome. No words describe the yummy food of Mitra café.
Chicken cutlet – A soft chicken breast marinated with their secret spices and deep fried to perfection
Chicken kabiraji – Fried chicken in lacy egg net – Kabiraji originally means coverage. History says that kabiraji cutlet is actually a colloquial version of ‘Coverage or CoverEgg’ cutlet introduced by the British.
The humble mutton stew which looked simple, but was packed with flavors. A simple dish of mutton cooked in coconut milk and boiled veggies
The yellow sauce that you see with the cutlets here is called kashundi, originally made out of mustard, green chilies, and garlic, this tangy sauce is now made from mangoes as well.
The next destination was Bohemian. The best of the whole trip. Slightly heavier on the pocket, but, the food, totally worth it. I’ll leave the photos to do the talking.
Aam kashundi soaked chicken escallops
Main Course – Pork vindaloo, anglo Indian spices, served with garlic and flattened rice pilaf and wilted greens
Main Course – Murshidabadi barbecued chicken with onion chutney and wine poached eggs, served with mustard and green chilli pita and potato mustard salad
Dessert – Pantua baked Alaska
Dessert – Cigar and coffee mousse
Dessert – Mustard and tender coconut mousse
The next stop was Café Ekante, this place has a good ambience, but the food is not good enough. You can visit it if you feel like getting away from a day of hectic work schedules.
Betki fillet marinated in mustard sauce (kashundi) and wrapped in burnt leaf
Dessert – Nolen gurer (date palm jaggery) ice cream
Dessert – Bhapa sandesh
Our last and best stop after Bohemian was Mrs. Magpie Bistro for an awesome breakfast before leaving for Mumbai. The best part of this place, the view, an amazing view of the Gitanjali stadium. Again, the breakfast menu, the cup cakes, the ginger cookies and the amazing décor. Look at the pictures to decide for yourself….
Breakfast – Clockwise – Chicken ‘n’ cheddar puff, Ham ‘n’ cheese quiche, Hot chocolate
The trip ended with us packing lots of sandesh and kacha gola for people at home. Must say, on the food front, Kolkata impressed me so much that I am already planning my next trip there to explore some more food for tummy tales.
A special mention to Anindita Ghosh, Anusreaa Paul, and Sandychris Inchiparamban.
Last but not the least, a heartfelt THANK YOU to our host and dost Pallavi Das (pictured below with her pet Jules) for making this trip unforgettable.