Immigrant song











I am off to Calcutta for a break ..which means I won't be blogging for a while.
One common grouse of most Calcuttans when they shift to Bombay is about food...home food as well as street food.

Frankly home food is not that difficult to get here unless you are a bachelor living in a PG like I was initially. (Then I would really look forward to my trips home to my Mom's cooking sp alu posto, machher matha diye daal and chicken curry.)

Most Bong families would locate rui or eelish at Bombay markets (even if Gujarati hilsa) and cook at home or have cooks or have Bong dabbas. In our case I picked up Bong cooking once we got a kitchen. Plus I have taught the wife how to make bhapa maach, kaalia, doi maachh, mushirir daal for the times when I am out of action because of my back (and she does a good job of it too). And there are always places such as Oh Calcutta, Howrah (the old Bengal Lodge) and more recently Calcutta Club where you can go and get decent Bengali baarir khabar (home food)
Street food is another story all together. If two Bengalis living at Bombay were to meet they are more likely to crib about the biriyani here which is more of a gravy and rice than biriyani, or about paani puris which are sweet and have boondi instead of the alu as in phuchkas, or about frankies which have curries inside them unlike any self respecting roll. No not so much about Ray, Sen, Tagore, Marx or the Statesman...

Ok here are some things which are must haves in my lists when I go to Cal. First is biriyani. Very different from what we get in Bombay where 'biriyani' tends to be quite mucky and is more like a meat curry rice with lot of gravy and soggy rice. In the Cal one every strand is separate, where the fragrance is heavenly, where the biriyanis have potatoes along with the meat and are white in colour with yellow specks. I personally feel the biriyani in Shiraz is the best in Cal. But I have never managed it in my trips home. Normally the ones at Zeeshan or the Bedwin chain are more accessible...and of course the original, Nizam has opened again.

Then come the rolls...right from the egg rolls from local roll shops which I had after school to the cheaper frugal veg rolls post movies from Karko after a matinee at New Empire or Globe during college. Rolls are very different from the Frankies of Mumbai which have a curry stuffed in them or the new local craze of kebabs wrapped in rumali rotis. Rolls have to be nice crispy maida parathas with either eggs or nice succulent chicken or mutton kebabs with sliced onions and chopped chillies. Bedwin, Hot Kathi Rolls, Badshah and their rolls are the high points of my trips Calcutta.
And then there are the phuchkas. The appeal of phuchkas are more universal than rolls or biriyanis as vegetarians can have them too. Phuchkas are distant cousins of the paani puris of bombay and the golgappas of the North. The phuchkas of Cal are extremely delicate and consist crispy little hollow ballls stuffed with a delightful mix of alu, masala, chick peas, chopped chillies and a tangy tamarind water. The Bombay paani puris in contrast are stiff, have besan boondis instead of potatoes and sweet chutney for heaven's sake. Ugh! Surprisingly enough I did not have phuchkas often while at Cal and was in fact a bit sqeamish about them. But now head for them like a homing pigeon whenever I am there.
In fact here is what I did when I had gone to Calcutta recently for a work meeting at the Oberois. Once we finished the head of our local office, the person who gave me my first real job and a true man of food if I have ever seen one asked me if I'd like to eat at the Oberois. I declined and moved on to New Market by myself. I first stopped by the phuchka shop behing New Empire and had a dozen phuchkas. Then as I walked around I was quite kicked to see that the Old Nizam had opened again even if with a new decor. It had been shut for ages because of union trouble. I went in with a big smile ordered a mutton roll. I took the first bite and I got the taste of the original rolls of Calcutta. Then stuffed as I was I ordered a mutton biriyani. I took a deep breath proceeded to devoured it.

I barely managed to lift myself and then staggered across to KC Das and had a mishti doi. That was a bit dissapointing though as it was served in a paper cup as against the earthen pot and was frozen. I have had better doi at our local Sweet Bengal at Bombay.

Yes, I did stuff myself that afternoon but hey I was there only for an afternoon and boy was it well spent

So how do I manage at Bombay? Not too well I must say. I occasionally pick biriyani from Oh Calcutta or Calcutta Club. And when I can't I go to Lucky's at Bandra and tell them to give me a biriyani with no gravy. I've tried to replicate phuchkas here by asking the paani puri guys to put potatoes from their bhel mix (but sliced alu is no match for hand bashed potaotoes) and only the khatta paani. Doesn't work! I've recently manage decent egg rolls by asking the local Frankie woman at Snack Shack to make egg frankies with no vineger and lot of choppped chillies. its somewhar close. But my biggest eureka moment recently was when when I made chicken rolls by lightly frying chopped boneless chicken legs, in sliced onions, chopped chillies and Cookme chaap masala from Cal. I then heated Sumeru's Frozen Malabar parathas and shallow fried them. After which I put the stuffing in the parathas and rolled the paratha. Jolly good if I may say so...as does the wife.

PS One would typically associate gifts such as saris or sweets from Cal. And then there is our friend, damaadji, who raised the bar by getting kaatha stitched work, kolhapuri chappals and a horde of other stuff for his lady love when he went to Calcutta. But I've rarely seen anyone as thrilled as the wife when after my last work trip to Cal I got her fresh rui and eelish from the market along with mutton rolls from the Bedwin on the way to the airport. Truly a woman after my heart
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