Seven days and six nights in Kolkata

Doing the Probashi thing in New Market

We recently spent about a week in Kolkata. K and I had gone there for a holiday. 

I looked at these few days as a period of family downtime. Time to catch up with my mother, grandmother and aunt and her family who are in Kolkata. And to enjoy my time in Kolkata with K, who was coming to Kolkata with me after two years and wanted to visit her favourite haunts, specially Dolly's. I was not looking for stories to write about during the trip. This time I was just there to sit back and have a good time.

I didn’t blog while I was there. I rarely blog while travelling these days though I did keep updating about what I was eating on Twitter and on the Finely Chopped Facebook page.

With mom

With didu (grandmom)

There are things I want to do in Kolkata which I didn't in this trip. I want to explore North Kolkata and I have heard of a couple of folks who do walks there. I would love to go on walks with them. I also want to go back and revisit my old college food haunts and write about them. These will remain for another trip.

There is a certain strangeness when I go to Kolkata. This is the city I have grown up in. So much of the city is familiar to me. Yet, these memories are fading. I struggle when I am with a cabbie who doesn’t know the roads or with the new names of the Metro Stations (why Masterda and not Bansdroni?) and say Nobina when I mean Bunty to the rickshaw guy and wonder why he looks at me puzzled. It still takes time to get used to a hammer and sickle less city to a city where big sister is watching.

My trips to Kolkata are moulded by nostalgia as are my food choices here. I ensure that I get my fill of phuchkas, biryanis and rolls. Am not that much of a mishti (sweets) man, no pun intended. 

When in Kolkata I stick to places like Kewpies (disappointed this time with the ice cold shukto and icy luchi, saltless begun bhaja and the rubber chitol muthia though the crab curry was lovely), Jimmy’s Kitchen (which seems so oily and over the top after Ling’s but then this where I used to come to as a kid with my dad and is hence special). 

A trip to Nizam’s had to be made for the beef rolls which didn’t let me down though what was with the unheated chicken in the Bedwin Gachhtola egg chicken roll? I also managed a Joynangorer moa after ages, a winter speciality, as I was in Kolkata during the winter after a long time. I normally avoid the winter here as the smog gets time. This time the nip was pleasant though and made me forget my usually sweaty trips to Kolkata.

For the rare dinner at home, where the kitchen is not functional as my mom doesn’t live there, we got a green moong egg todka, from a Bengali dhaba in Gachhtola, which K loves. She wanted to have it again and I picked it up from the Gachhtola branch of Azad Hind Dhaba. That was dal makhni udad daal based though and too greasy and screwed up our digestion unlike the green moong todka of the first night of the trip.

green moong egg todka

Flurys breakfast. I have a standard order

The Kewpies thali
Chili chicken, sweet and sour pork, hakka noodles, fried rice, Jimmy's Kitchen, Beckbagan
Radha bollobi, khasta kochuri at Ganguram's Golpark

Joynagorer moa

Lemon tart at Kookie Jar, South City
Beef rolls at Nizam's

The Dakshinapan phuchka couple

My much look forwarded to breakfast in Flurys (baked beans on toast, coffee, strawberry cube) happened and we went back there for tea too. K loved the masala scrambled eggs that she discovered there this time.  I picked up a lemon tart in Kookie Jar, something I really miss in Mumbai. I managed a breakfast of khasta kochuri, radha bollobi and ice cold alur dom (no microwave here) at Ganguram, Golpark. 

The phuchkas at New Market, gachhtola, South City and Dakshinapan gave lots of pleasure….and one of the last two phuchka stops, food poisoning!

I hurled through my last night in Kolkata and had fever the day I left. But then I was 'home' which meant that my grandmother who was planning a special chicken curry lunch for me, made an alu shedho (mashed potato) and shukto (light stew) bhaat lunch for me and sent them through my mom while K put jol potti (cold compress) on my forehead and got to enjoy Didu’s chicken curry. Yes, I was the quintessential mollycoddled Bengali boy for one day with even the Parsi missus joining in for good measure. 

I didn't miss home food entirely as we had gone to my aunt's house one night where she had made a lovely kheema which would knock the socks off Olympia's.

Talking of family and friends, my recent trips to Kolkata have been a bit different from the ones a few years back. During that period I had lost contact with college mates, many of whom had moved out of the city. As had people I had grown up with in my neighbourhood. There were no new people I would get to meet. So it was social wilderness for me when I went to Kolkata then. No one to meet apart from immediate family. It would get pretty dreary after a while.

Things have changed now thanks to social media. This time we met with friends whom I have made through my blog and spent a few lovely meals with them. Caught up with a college friend with whom I have reconnected with thanks to Facebook. I bumped into a close chum from school whom I met after 24 years in my last trip too, once again connected with Facebook. In fact due to lack of time I had to decline meeting a few folks from twitter. 

Once again, thankfully, I am no longer lonely in Kolkata.

I picked up a book called Calcutta Exile by Bunny Suraiya from the Oxford Book Store. A book which, for a change, didn’t have people starving to death or being beaten by the police as characters in English books based in Kolkata that I have recently read have. 

My college mate, who coordinates one of the literary festivals in Kolkata and I discussed how most recent Kolkata based books seemed to be so full of despair and pathos. Or, in her words, are books by alienated, angst-ridden Kolkatans returning to find a city that doesn't seem like home’. She took particular umbrage of a columnist who has moved out of Kolkata after growing up here and writes sarcastic articles on Kolkata.

After spending 16 years in Mumbai, and in Bandra, I must confess that Mumbai seems more like home to me now than Kolkata. But Kolkata is where my roots lie. Visiting it is like catching up with a childhood friend. It’s all about happy reminisces. Yet, at the back of your mind you know that you have moved away. 

I don’t think I would ever be able to scornful and judgemental of Kolkata because that would be akin to mocking oneself and one’s roots. 

Coming back to food did I try anything new in terms of restaurants this time?

Well, a friend, Manishita, introduced us to Mrs Magpie, the cute, rather pink cafe with pleasantly moist cupcakes near Golpark. We liked it well enough to go back with my mom.

M also took us to Blue Poppy, the decade old joint at Sikkim House at Russel St where we had a lovely fiery Tibetan pork dish called shapta, a dreamy cheesy fondue-like Bhutanese dish called Q dashi and flavoursome though reheated and not fresh pork momos.      

After that we went to Au Bon Pain for a late night adda which they kept open for the three of us well after closing hours.

We also went to the new Bhojohori Manna outlet at Hindusthan Road where we were hosted by  proprietor and friend, Siddhartha Bose to a lovely dinner which started with egg devil and prawn cutlet. Rice, daal and alu posto which we were craving for followed by some plump begun bhaja. Tender deboned ilish in mustard where we could taste the sweetness of the fresh fish was next. Siddhartha told us that ilish is not had in Bengali houses after Nobomi but he has to keep it through the year in his restaurant. For desserts there was aam doi from Boloram Mallick which K just loved while I doted on the rosh molai which is made in house. We get such jamai khatir (get spoilt like a son in law) at Bhojohori that is difficult to write an objective review about it but to be honest we love the food there.

With Siddharthada

One afternoon, while close to home in Bansdroni, I nipped across to Aminia at Malancha for a quick biryani and rezala lunch. The food at this branch of the New Market based legend is cooked on location at the branch itself and tastes pretty good. Felt great to have food options from Central Calcutta closer home.

While K was returning to Kolkata after two years, I have been lucky enough to make more frequent trips. Was there earlier this year in fact. 

These short trips have kept me reasonably connected with the city so that I miss it but not unbearably so. And food-wise barring the phuchka we get almost everything that one loved in Kolkata in Mumbai these days.

Yet, I know I will dream of Kolkata till I go back.