When time stopped … Flurys heritage breakfast, Mirza Ghalib Street, New Market, Nahoum, phuchkas, Badshah rolls, Kolkata …
Update: 21st July There was a fire at New Market Kolkata yesterday. read about it when Mallika, my classmate from college put up this TOI link on Facebook. Was there the day before. Horibble to think of the loss of property and of dreams. Mericifully no loss of lives according to the report. I hope and pray that those who were affected can piece their lives together. And that we do something to restorse these treasures from the past.
Nostalgia is a funny thing.
Memories can make you smile. Make you wince. They can hold you back. Or propel you forward. They could keep you trapped. Or take your across new horizons. They can be gut wrenching. Or soul restoring. And no place is as filled with memories as the city you have grown up in.
Something that was beautifully captured in the movie Cinema Paradiso.
I was perplexed when Flurys at Calcutta recently won some best ‘heritage’ award at some recent Food Awards. Flurys was owned once by a Swedish family no doubt but now by the local Park Hotel Group. So where was the ‘heritage’ in it?
I got my answer today.
My day started very early as I had to go to work without breakfast. I was ravenous by the time I was done with my assignment. Boiled in the traffic as I headed out in a taxi from South Calcutta. I was going to break my fast at Flurys.
The Gods finally took pity on me. I reached. I got a window seat. People watching at the best place for it at Kolkata.
I went through the menu at Flurys and that’s when it hit me. They had kept some of the original dishes of Flurys from the 1920s to the 1960s even today.
So once you paid the 2011 prices you could eat like only the really swish could at Calcutta in its glory days. All right I am being mean about the prices. The experience at Flurys with its bites of history and attempts to re-create the old European Tea Room look and feel is nonpareil.
I decided to go with the flow and order the ‘heritage dishes’.
The ‘classic’ omelets which are ‘fluffy’ today used to be tossed once according to the menu. And you could ask your waiter to tell the chef take you back in time.
I chose cheese and bacon as my stuffings. The result, the most perfectly flavoured and textured omelet to be had for your money.
Another classic. Beans and toast. As the menu said, unlike in the tea rooms at Europe, the beans and toast always came with green chilies and onions at the side at Flurys. And boy were the chilies fiery or not? The chilies are hotter than anything that threw at me Rajasthan a few days back. The famed Rajasthani red chilies seemed so tame and genteel in the shadow of the angry little green fellows at Flurys. The combination of the ketchup sweetened baked beans and piercing shards of green chilies was priceless.
I had the best breakfast in town. Gazing on to the streets, gearing myself for the next con call, a few girls giggling at the table behind me and two friends sitting beside talking animatedly about some contentious issues.
The cappuccino that followed was a bit too milky but made up by the vintage strawberry cube – sweet, creamy – the sort of innocent baby face you can never say no to.
This was the good life.
Cuds of history chewed upon, dark chocolate slabs picked for those at home, I headed out. A stroll to the hotel seemed a good idea after the king’s breakfast. So I walked down Mirza Ghalib Street by the inner lanes that connected Park Street past the East European backpackers, street food stalls, old buildings and record shops, churches and mosques, movie halls which had turned into banquet halls and shoe shops … every step laden with memories and events ...
And then New Market. The lodestar of those last years at Kolkata. I walked around clicking. Sweating buckets till the straps of my camera and of my bag were drenched. I went in to check the hallowed meat quarter. They were cleaning up the gristle and it looked quite grim.
I looked up at the ceiling and the arches and thought that this could have been our Vic Market.
What went wrong here?
I ambled along the lanes of the markets reliving its many stories. The canon at the centre of New Market was gone but the cold coffee stall was still there.
I stumbled into Nahoum, the Jewish confectionery, where one used to go for college wallet friendly chicken patties. I clicked away at the this 109 year old shop. A shop starter by the Iraqi Jewish forefather of the current owner Mr David Ellias Nahoum.
I walked out still stuffed but couldn’t say no to the tradition of eating phuchkas by the medical shop beside New Empire cinema. With Tiger, Globe, Jamuna, Lighthouse gone … it’s the lone theatre from the past still standing firm.
And then @bangdu tweeted me with his instructions I dutifully went to Badshah’s for mutton roll. The meat in this 22 Rs (0.5 USD) dish was sublime, soft to the point of surrender, a strong garlic punch making it distinctive and combining beautifully with sharp zest of lime. And the paratha so good that I didn’t even notice it. Yes, it was the perfect foil for the hero, the mutton.
Artistry needn’t come at a price.
I headed back to my hotel and to work from a morning that showed me that memories could be exactly as sweet as you want them to be.