It is not unknown for flights out of Kolkata to smell of rose water, meat, garam masala or even fish.
For emigrants from Kolkata, or Probashis as we are known, often carry back rolls, biriyani, mishti (sweets) or even frozen raw fish back to our adopted hometowns. I have done the rounds too. Mishti for office folks, prawns cooked by Mom for K, rolls and biriyanis packed from Bedwin, or Zeeshan on the way to the airport, loads of Mukhorochak dalmut, pastries from Flurys and Kookie Jar and yes, I confess, even frozen fish.
Well, not so much these days after I have spent more than a decade outside. Since then I have discovered good fish markets close to home at Khar. There’s a Sweet Bengal at Bandra which I am fairly OK with. And now that Hangla’s has opened here, I have a decent roll and biriyani option too. Yes, they are more expensive but have you seen the cost of a ticket to Calcutta?
So I was driving to the Kolkata airport in a cab. It was Sunday. Traffic was less and we took the good old VIP Road instead of the circuitous but zoom down new Rajarhat Road. I had dozed off. I suddenly opened my eyes I saw a shop which said Nizams to my left with VIP Sweets to the right. I stopped the cab and walked back. Yes, it was a franchise of the famous Nizam’s of Kolkata’s New Market. The place where Kolkata’s legendary kathi rolls were apparently invented.
I walked in found out that the biriyani prepared in the central kitchen was ready. I picked up some for me. And mutton rolls for the Missus back home. With fried onions and chopped green chillies the way K likes her rolls.
I took out my camera and an impromptu photo shoot followed. It was almost as if the food Gods of Kolkata had come out to bid me farewell. I told the owner that I was planning to take the food by flight to Mumbai. He said that his rolls were often delivered to air hostesses at the airport. Let me know if you figure out the connection.
I chatted with the cooks as they took out the biriyani and clicked away as they made the seductive looking rolls. They were tickled to see me pack the stuff to take to Mumbai. “You can make these at home”, said the guy who made the rolls. I said that I did make chicken rolls with packaged frozen parathas at home. “But how do you make the biriyani at home?” I said. He looked at me and nodded sagely and sadly.
I got into the cab with my loot just as I heard the radio commentator say that Tendulkar had reached his century in the World Cup match against England
I then headed to the Kolkata airport which for long has been the most clogged airports around. It took me close to an hour to get security checked. A thing to keep in mind if you stop to buy rolls. And the fact that you are likely to miss Nizam’s if you take the Rajarhat Connector which cabbies love.
How did the food stay? Well the rolls tasted fantastic when we heated them in the microwave. The biriyani was good though a bit too dry for my tastes these days. At the risk of turning off fellow Bongs I must say that I prefer the Lucknowi Biriyani of Kakori House or Peshawari or the mutton pulaos of Parsi weddings which are slightly more luscious and have more meat in comparison to the Kolkata ones now. And yes, Hangla’s was of similar quality to this. Lot more expensive than Nizam’s of course.
But then hey, when was food just about food?
I had got a piece of home back home after all.