The kachoris from across ‘The Shadow Lines’ of South Kolkata … Maharani, Ganguram, Banchharam

To check out the complete photo set you can look at my Kolkata Jolkhabar album on the finely chopped facebook page

My tweeted query the other day for breakfast options around Gol Park in Kolkata threw up a few consistent names.

Maharani, Ganguram, Banchharam and Tasty Corner. All famous for their kachoris apparently.

It seemed to be a toss up between Maharani and Tasty Corner and I chose the former given my other commitments and locational conveniences.

My breakfast-mate that morning was Kaniska, a food blogging friend from Kolkata. Or at least that’s how we had started out. Now often a partner in crime when we eat out though we live in two different cities. My guide to what’s new in Kolkata these days. Introduced me to Bohemian and cooked us an exquisite dinner recently when he and his lovely wife hosted us. (You can see the pics of the dinner here till the blog post happens).

I remembered Maharani from one of my last Pujos in Kolkata before I left the city. We had gone out in a group, pandal hopping. A night spent around the Gol park area with a tea stop at Maharani and ending with a vertigo scare for one in the group on a nagor dola or Ferris wheel in one of the pujo grounds.

That was a night from close to two decades back and the world looked quite different on the sunny October morning when I returned. To start with, Maharani is now in the opposite side of the road. No longer just an open tea stall, it is now what one calls a ‘hole in the wall’.

The owner, Ram Chandra Gupta, who doesn’t waste his time with frivolous stuff like smiles, said that his shop is close to 40 years old. About  12 yrs in the new location. He had come to Kolkata from Varanasi.

We had some lipsmackingly tasty kachoris straight from the wok with a potato curry on the side livened up with green chillies. Made me ask for seconds though the second lot, which was fried a bit earlier, lacked the crunch. I followed these with a cup of hot chai in a bhaar or earthen cup and jilipis. I am a coffee and cookie man and later did go to a Barista for a cappuccino but must say that the breakfast at Maharani’s was truly spectacular and the sort you should definitely try.

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Next door to Maharani is Maharaja, an obvious spin off on the original with folks who seemed a lot more lively than our stoic Mr Gupta but for my money I would suggest going to the empress first.

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I did got to Banchharam in the afternoon looking for lunch. Kaniska and a bunch of others praised the parathas there. Alas, the parathas were not there at Banchharam when i went. The kochuri alu that they took out, heated and served, as well as the veg chop, were very undistinguished. I tried a chocolate sandesh. Again very unimpressive. The mishti doi nice though.

Unlike, Maharani which is an open street-side shop, Banchharam is a small mishtir dokan or sweet shop.

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Disappointed I walked around surrounded by people who were either finishing their Pujo shopping or eating. Both activities performed with equally serious determination.

This is when my college –mate Jaggo, suggested Ganguram, as we chatted over the phone.  I had a bit of time left before my next commitment so I walked into Ganguram.

If Maharani took me back a decade and a half, then Ganguram took me back three decades.

We had just moved into the Kolkata then and Ganguram was a place I would often come to with my dad. After England and then Iran, I was trying to make sense of life in the Coke, Pepsi and Rocket Lolly-less pre liberalisation Calcutta but Ganguram and it’s khasta kachoris were a favourite of mine even then.

I had stepped into Ganguram after decades that afternoon and yet Jayant, a part of the Ganguram family, and his men made me feel welcome as if I was there just yesterday. They had even kept the last khasta kachori for me! Ok, I am exaggerating, but I did get the last piece. The radha bolobbi and the more gravy laden potato curry were so good. As was the kheer chomchom which Jayant asked me to try. And they just refused to let me pay. ‘Next time’ said Jayant. (I did go and buy some mishti at Kolkata when I went back to Kolkata a few weeks later)

Grand man Ganguram too came to Calcutta from Venaras more than a century back. He set up the first shop in Mallick Bazar. Gol Park, the ‘newer’ one, was set up in the 1940s. Now they have franchised out across the city.

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The food around Gol Park reflects the eclecticism of Kolkata. Tea and deem parotid and tiffin cakes and omelettes sold by a young man running the stall that his grandmother had run for 30 years before him. Very British. Not ‘pucca’. Biryanis and kati rolls inspired by the nawabs of Oudh who came to Kolkata. From a shop curiously named ‘Iceberg’. Chowmein from the land of Mao…served here with a ketchup redder than his little book. And of course the kachori-wallahs that came here from Varanasi.

Kolkata. A city which has welcomed all. Made them their own, Including their food.

Which is why I find it ironic when Bengalis write in about the ‘right way’ of cooking things. But then as Simon Majumdar wryly says, “that’s us…after every praise there will be a ‘but’”

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Gol Park is also the setting of Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. Recommended to me by Ranjit or @qtfan on twitter. A brilliant book which flits across time and continents as it tells the story of lives of immigrants.

That’s what my outing that day in Kolkata was about. The story of sweet shops set up by folks from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh who had made Kolkata their home. The story of a wide eyed boy who came to Calcutta from a journey which started in England, move to Iran and then homed in before he moved to Mumbai. The story of his friend, who like him, had his roots in Bangladesh and was showing him around his own city.

Somewhere Tridib smiled from across The Shadow Lines.

By the way, do you have a favourite breakfast spot in Kolkata? Which one?

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