Kolkata’s meaty Hungarian legacy … Kalman, Free School Street

smoked bacon

I admit that the I got to know about Kalman, the seventy year old meat shop or charcuterie at Kolkata, embarrassingly late in life.

Even my Bengali friends at Mumbai, ex Kolkatans too, were unaware of Kalman. We first got to know about the shop when Bonnie got a potato, peas and chopped sausage stir fry to one of our addas. The sausages had a bewitching taste. Sharp, with the rough granulated texture of good minced meat and a good scrunchy bite. Bonnie explained that these were Hungarian sausages from a shop called Kalman at Kolkata. She said that it is a hole in the wall just ahead of Princess and Kathleens at Kolkata’s Free School Street. It was started by a Hungarian circus guy years back.

A few days later Bonnie got me a stash of those sausages when she came to a dinner at our place. Breakfast the next day and I knew that I had to go to Kalman during my next trip to Kolkata.

That  trip thankfully happened  soon.

I set off one morning on an aimless walk after my breakfast at Park Street’s Flurys. I walked down the misty roads on a wintry Kolkata Monday morning when I suddenly realised that I had almost reached the New Market. I decided that II might as well look for Kalman as I was almost there.

Kalman

    

Well Kalman did turn out to be a hole in the wall. Literally.

I walked up and down the pavement four times. Past old LP shops, second hand book shops and shops selling Christmas decorations. Each time shopkeepers pointed out Kalman to me. Yet I could not spot it. Once I even stood in front of Kalman and then moved on.

And then the sky cleared, the sun came out, birds began chirping…I realised I saw the board that said ‘Kaman Cold Storage’.

I walked in through the narrow door of the very humble shop. The shop more like a long passage than a room. Very basic.

The shop was pretty full and there were two gentlemen slicing meat. The shop begun to get crowded. A portly gentleman came in and picked some ham. A leg of ham from which his portions were sliced. He left looking happy.

There were a couple of Anglo Indian ladies from Guwahati in the shop. They had dropped in to pick meat loaf before they took the afternoon flight back. We started to chat. The were in quite a jovial mood. As was I. We were in Aladdin's cave of meaty treasures after all.

fresh ham

meat loaf

I spoke to the the owners, Sujoy and Ananda, as I placed my order of Hungarian sausages. I was assured that these travelled well even if kept out for a while.

I tasted a bit of the sausages. These were ready to eat Sujoy told me.  Again that divine scrunch with a taste of garlic and pepper which conjured up visions of the romance of the Magyars.

Sujoy told me that they spice and pack the sausages and smoke them overnight at their workshop at Beleghata. Their pork is apparently sourced from farms at Krishnanagore and Allahabad. A doctor checks the meat for quality.

Hungarian sausages

I asked Sujoy if there were any other meats that I could carry back with me. Sujoy said that the smoked bacon would be good. The ham unfortunately had to be frozen and wouldn’t work. I had a bite of the bacon and was convinced. The flavour was compelling…fatty, seductive…the smoked flavour just right. This too was left to cure overnight I was told after being injected with spices dissolved in water.

Sujoy began to slice the bacon for me. Seeing this the Anglo ladies, my new friends, added the bacon to their list too

My order, a kilo each of Hungarian sausages and the smoked bacon. 500 Rs (10 USD).

Sujoy told me that the shop was started by a “Hungarian shaheb’ in 1940. He passed away after about 40 years of running the shop. His family moved to Australia. The Hungarian had apparently said that after his death his Bengali manager B P Dhar should get the shop. He would look after it well.

Mr Dhar ran the shop for about thirty more years before he passed away recently. Sujoy is his brother in law. When I asked if Ananda was related to him, Sujoy said “we are all related”.

Ananda Ananada & Sujoy The Late B P Dhar

I pieced the shops story further from writes ups on Kalman in  local newspapers put up on the shop’s walls. Arundhati Ray wrote that Kalman Kohary was apparently a Hungarian trapeze artist who came with a circus to Kolkata in 1940. When the war ended he realised that Hungary had become a communist country. He decided to stay back at Kolkata.

The rest, as they say, is great meat.

While I chatted and photographed everyone and everything in sight I saw a rather familiar looking gentleman waiting patiently in the queue. Ananda looked at us and said “aapanara keo Bangla gaan shonen?” (Do any of you listen to Bengali songs).

Turned out that the gentleman was Bengali singer and film director Anjan Dutta. Mr Dutta happily agreed to pose for the camera and insisted that I give the camera and join in too. Turns out that he lives close by and he told me that he is a Kalman regular.

Kalman evidently is not that big a secret for Kolkatans.

I headed out with my stash of bacon and sausages ready to head back to Mumbai. Wondering what discovery awaited me when I next visited Kolkata.

A seventy year old charcuterie started by a Hungarian, a bakery started by a Swiss family five generations back…at a time when Mumbai gets all excited about expat chefs coming to work here these days…I can only think of the old adage “what Bengal things today…”

with the two ladies from Guwahati   with ananda, Anjan Dutt & Sujoy

 

Comments

Sid said…
Great Discovery at Kolkata....the city never fails to surprise..'yeh dil maange more' on ur conversation with Anjan Dutta...I was hummin one of his tunes somedays back when soyel suddenly told me that u had met him in Cal...Waited for this post since then....I had also been to free school street a no. of timesto by stashes of old Time and Mad Magazines (what a combo!)but had never heard of this place...Cheers!
Anonymous said…
Amar fatty smoky bacon chai :)
Bonny
Kurush F Dalal said…
holy mother of god!! Kalyan u have hit the motherlode of Pork!! this is an amazing discovery ... cant wait to tell my mother in law what I want her to get me next month!!!
@marginfades said…
Naturally, I enjoy your posts on Bengali food the best - and anything connected to Calcutta. I'm taking furious notes for my next visit.
The knife said…
@Sid...where are those Mads?

@Marginfades...thanks and here's hoping you a have a great trip

@Bonnie: Bhooter Raja khushi hole

@Kurush glad you liked it and glad that you enjoyed the momos too
panu said…
I was so totally waiting for this particular post. Sujoy da is such a great person (not just because he is the one man who I can yell at saying "amar ekkhuni teen kilo rib chop chai" and he would calmly say, "adh ghontay chole asho diye dichhi" over the phone). However, in all my years (make it 13) of going to Kalman I have *never* come across Anjan Dutta and now I am jealous of you. Also, if possible use the Hungarian sausages and bacon to make a gumbo or goulash. It is going to make you swoon, if I may say so.
Sid said…
@ The Knife: The MADs might be in any of my MAD lovin friend's places or their freind's places following numerous sessions of magazine barter transactions :-)
Soumyadri said…
Kalyan, this is the ultimate porcine eureka moment! East european charcuterie products are in a league of their own. And what a shame, I didn't know about this till now. Can't wait to go to Kolkata to raid Kalman's!
The knife said…
@Panu...goulas? let me luck up the recipe...the bacon was divine

@Soumyadri...I didn't know that, thanks for sharing
panu said…
You can make a standard Goulash, but use bacon fat instead of butter or oil, and fry some chopped up sausages in it first, and then add the onion and beef, and the paprika, and then if you like it then tomatoes and salt. Mix around, and then leave it alone, simmering for forty minutes or so with water and if you like it potatoes and peppers, and then serve up with some sour cream and dumplings. I generally make it like this, and my father swoons by it.
The knife said…
i can't blam him Panu...looks like a very interesting rcipe. I've not made goulash before
Anonymous said…
First and foremost, I want to say that I'm pleased to know that my Grandfather's shop is still up and running.
I'm the daughter of Kalman's son, Frederick Kohary. He is at the ripe old age of 68 and he often talks about his father's shop in Kolkata, India.
I'm so overwhelmed and proud by all the acknowledgement/recognition my grandfather has received, as I have never met my grandfather personally. With this piece of information, you have given me something to truly cherish about my grandfather's life/legacy.

From his family in Australia, you have my sincere gratitude from writing this post. And I also want to thank the people who continue to support Kalman's cold storage.

Lots of love,

Kassandra Kohary
P.S I hope to visit Kalman's Cold Storage in the near future.
The knife said…
Dear Kassandra,

Can't tell you how thrilled I was to get your comment. Almost as thrilled as I was when I discovered your grandfather's shop.

Kalman's is quite the institution in the food lover's city of Kolkata. A heritage you can be proud of.

His shop is in loving hands of the current owners and I am sure they will be more than happy to meet you.

I do hope that you get to visit it some day and try out some of the wonderful stuff.

Take care,

Kalyan
Aditya Ghosh said…
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips&
Bacon strips.
Ant said…
wonderful discovery. i think this is the place my dad's friend has told him about, hole in the wall pork meat outlet near new market with the best quality pork ever. that smoked bacon looks like a chunk of heaven man!
Anonymous said…
Thank you....This post made my day....Nothing is as treasured as a good fat pork sausage...which is hard to find...Must go to Kolkata soon.
NILANJAN said…
Please give me your email address. I want to do a write up in a major daily. My id is nilanjanhajra@gmail.com. Urgent.
NILANJAN said…
Please give me your email address. I want to do a write up in a major daily. My id is nilanjanhajra@gmail.com. Urgent.
Anonymous said…
This article helped me a great deal. I read of Kalman for the first time in a Bengali newspaper (Ei Somoy from TOI group) around the Christmas weekend, and it was embarrassing because I have been in Calcutta almost all my life. I planned a trip, called up Christian friends from my school days who are residents of the area, and Bingo! I was given rave reviews, over phone, of the place, and minute directions. From one food lover to another, it was the best one can do. But what you did for me today is bring it all alive with your pictures and detailed prose. I am going there this Saturday, and will come back home with some Hungarian Sausages for sure. When I am finished with them sausages, I might come here and thank you guys again. Cheers!
- Jayanta Ray
The knife said…
thanks for writing in...comments like these inspire one to hit the keyboard once again :)
Anonymous said…
brief n nice
Anonymous said…
Nice. will make it a point of visiting Kalman shortly.
Anonymous said…
Kalman is quite a institution by itself. I have been hearing about this place since my school days in Shillong.
Smritilekha C said…
Wow! This is a great discovery. I'm definitely going there on my next visit to Kolkata.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this article
arijit dey said…
Thnx for d info. Wll have to visit soon.
Mmmmm....pork heaven in my city.
Unknown said…
Seems heaven.
Hungry Humpty said…
xxlnt post....xxlnt write up
DJ said…
Great Find Dost!
Himadri said…
Rushed to Kalman like a Madman after reading this last night. Got straight inside & banged into Sujoy (I immediately recognized him as he was wearing a black tee shirt, may be the same one that we see in the photograph!) He understood immediately the cause of my frenzied state and as a remedy stuffed some Hungarian Sausages into my mouth and I bit his finger before fainting .... but surviving! .... Now at home sitting here I am still licking my fingers and lamenting the fact that although I have been walking the face of that strip of The Earth for the last (52-17) 35 years once every fortnight and sometimes to fetch Pork items too from beneath the Clock Tower! My visual and olfactory organs have been betraying me........!!! Thank You! Kal-Man for maintaining another heritage/pride/tradition for Kal-Men like us.
Aditya sahoo said…
a truck load of thanks for getting us this drool worthy infos ,, loved it ,,and thanks a ton for the price chart pic especially ,, looking forward to some hidden gen charcuteries ,,
Andrew Alpin said…
nice to see this write up here. Kalman Kohary actually married my grand Aunt Clarice and yes they immigrated to Australia.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Andrew thank you so much for writing in and for helping us add a chapter to the story as we know it
Rakesh Mallick said…
My dad says that one of the son of the owner of Kalman food product Mr Fedrick Kalman was his friend back in the 1965, when he was a teenager. The he heard that Mr Fedrick , migrated to Australia.
Pranay Sundas said…
I read all the comments and was very excited & rushed to kalman but I found it quite contrast with the comments I followed. The preparation & storage disposal were very very dirty & seemingly it's unhygienic. The person's hand was gross /very dirty who sliced the hams. He sliced a small piece for me to taste but trust me which I obliged but within my heart I wasn't willing, because I don't want them to feel bad. Bought a kg of pork sausage & ham. trust me after I fried & had one piece of sausage I cannot muster to have another one, disgusting sort of smell. I suggest ppl to stay away from buying pork sausage, I don't want to comment on other stuffs like Hungarian sausage, beacon or other products available there. But In good spirit I would like to suggest that Kalman should improve hygiene & quality for its longevity in market after all everyone has to survive. So overall I am bit disappointed. Pranay Sundas
Anirban Halder said…
I heard about this place in a recent conversation between two blogger friends in a blogger meet. Wanted to check it out. And now, your post becomes the ready reckoner for the place.