Cooking a chicken curry for my granny at the ITC Sonar, Kolkata

With my granny and the chicken curry I cooked for her
At the table where she has fed me many chicken curries

Update: How unmindful of me. K had told me specify in the blog that ITC Sonar serves a lovely decaf cappuccino.

In my last post I had expressed my regret at not having cooked for my Granny till then. 

Well, I have some great news for you. I just did so during my last trip to Kolkata a couple of days back. All thanks to chef Rajat and the folks at ITC Sonar who lent me their kitchen and some chicken drumsticks, spices and finely chopped some onions for me too so that I could cook a murgir jhol or chicken curry for my didu.

It had been about two years since I had gone to Kolkata or visited my granny.  I was missing my granny.

Then a work trip came to Kolkata up for K. I decided to join her for a whirlwind trip of Kolkata at the last minute. ITC Hotels very kindly offered to host us. So on day one we stayed at the ITC Sonar Hotel and on the second night we stayed at the Oberoi Grand.

ITC Sonar is one of the younger generation of Kolkata hotels (compared to the Oberoi Grand) and Kolkata is the home of the ITC conglomerate.

We have had a couple of lovely staycations at ITC Maratha in Mumbai before and a very nice stay at the ITC Gardenia in Bangalore and always feel like we are with family when at an ITC hotel. Dum Pukht at ITC Maratha is also where K and I had one of our first 5 star meals as a young couple in the early 2000s when 5 stars were way beyond our reach. So we have lot of ITC Hotels memories.

I had wondered whether staying at the ITC Sonar in Kolkata made sense as it was far from my granny’s house. 

Then once I checked into our room and opened the curtains, I knew  that there was a 'problem'! The view of the lotus pond outside was so serene that I didn’t feel like stepping out of the hotel into the city. We had got a suite and the bathroom and loo (separate rooms) looked onto the open (with a private wall) which made the setting even more dreamy. And the sense of space for someone from Mumbai was so liberating. Reminded me of one of the earliest luxury places K and I had stayed in. Amari Orchid at Pattaya. Very resort like indeed.

View from the room.
Look at the lotus pond

I had mentioned about how the folks at ITC Hotels treat us like family. Well, this time they gave us a car to drive down to granny’s which was such a help as her house is in a remote area and getting an Uber/ Ola back would take a fair bit of time. After Mumbai the time on the road didn't faze us. Apart from on trip which was at 7 pm or peak office hours, the rest of the trips from ITC Sonar didn't take that much time to be honest.

Didu, or my granny, is 87 now. She uses a walker but insisted on cooking for me. I insisted she did not. 

When we reached her place, we saw that she had not listened to me. She had cooked a shoojir payesh (semolina pudding) for us and K said it tasted so much like the ravo that her late granny (mamma) made. My aunt and uncle had joined in too and we had a lovely family evening.

With my two favourite girls and some lovely food

With my aunt. K is fond of her cooking specially the tarka dal

And my uncle who just loves Banu's rotis and the green chillies of Mumbai

The payesh didu made

I shot an iPhone video of didu giving her shoojir payesh recipe and you can check that here:

Didu had also called for an evening snack of shingara and roshogolla. Just as the alu (potato) is the heart of the Kolkata biryani, the fried cheene badam (peanuts) are the soul of the Kolkata shingara (samosa). And the roshogolla is its girlfriend.

If I was in Kolkata now, this would be my evening snack.

Shingara roshogolla

Sitting in Mumbai I can just dream of the shingara mishti that my granny had called from the local mishtir dokan (sweet shop) when I visited her to go with the payesh she made.

The next day I cooked the chicken curry in the West View kitchen at the ITC Sonar. Both my girls, Didu and K, wanted it non spicy. So I didn’t add any chilli powder or garam masala to the curry. It's always disconcerting to cook in a kitchen which is not yours. However, chef Gaurav and his team made it really easy and I felt like a host in a TV show stretching my arms out and saying 'tej pata', 'jeera', 'chopped onions' and seeing things magically appear. Or like a doctor. We cooked the chicken in a pan and then shifted it to a pressure cooker to cook.

I shot a video while cooking the curry and you can see the recipe in real time.

After I cooked the curry we spent an hour relaxing and unwinding at the lovely the Kaya Kalp spa at ITC Sonar. We are spa buffs and the experience here matched up to that at the Kaya Kalp at Grand Maratha earlier.  Helped one get over a very strenuous first day in Kolkata, which the previous day was. Our dinner got over at midnight the previous night and we had woken up at 5 am. The masseurs from Bhutan gently kneaded out the tension from our weary bodies.

We then headed out to didu's feeling as excited as Red Riding Hood.

I reached Didu’s house and surprised her with the chicken curry and the smile on her face made me feel that the trip was complete.

The chicken curry I cooked for didu

The high point of my trip

Years back I had chosen ITC Sonar as the venue for my mom’s retirement day dinner a few years back. It was recommended to me then by the head of my local office then, Josh, who is quite the gourmand himself. He said that ITC Sonar led most hotels in Kolkata when it came to dining options
Our dinner that night at the Dum Pukht felt really special and mom was happy. We had the kakori and the dal Bukhara too, possibly commandeered from the Peshawari next door. Mom remembers having had a rice dish too and being garlanded by the folks at the reception. A fitting lavish dinner on retirement day for someone who really slogged as a college teacher and had led a tough life to bring the two of us up. Seems like I had chosen well thanks to Josh.

This time my mom was not in town which is why we were staying in a hotel. So I wanted some Bengali food. I have been a big advocate of posh five stars keeping local food so that guests can get a flavour of local food.

It is nice to see hotels take a step in this direction. I was quite impressed earlier by the Goan fare at the Marriott Goa buffet which came from aunty Jyacintha’s repertoire. Also the Maharashtrian breakfast dishes at the JW Marriott Juhu buffet. 

Turns out ITC Sonar has an extensive Bengali food selection available under the Local Favourites section of the Eden Pavilion.

An extensive thala at ITC Sonar
You can pre-book this for Rs 2,000 plus taxes

They make their mishti or sweets in house too at ITC Sonar

I had very nice shukto, alu posto, shorshe parshe fish and kosha mangsho for lunch and luchi chholar dal (just like my granny’s) and kochuri ghoogni for breakfast. The taste was pretty home food like and brought a big smile to my face. Perhaps the fact that the executive sous chef, Gaurav is married to a Bengali helps!

They have a concept of four square meals for lunchwhich includes a Bengali main, rice, dessert and a side dish. 

A full thali has to be ordered in advance. I did a Periscope video using one to and show people how to eat a Bengali meal, costs about Rs 2,000 plus taxes.

I did a breakfast video too from the Eden Pavilion where I introduced quintessential Bengali breakfast favourites. There was the Bengali savoury French toast that my mother used to make when I stayed with her in Kolkata. The luchi chholar dal (an excellent rendition) that my didu makes for me. The kochuri and ghoogni that I once really enjoyed at Maharani. And the Moghlai paratha (this didn't match the street version as it was not eggy enough and used shredded chicken instead of minced goat) made famous by Anadi. 

You can watch the video I did here.

My Favourite Kolkata breakfasts
at ITC Sonar

When in Kolkata you should explore the local food too. At ITC Sonar they have a Food Sherpa concept for those not familiar with the city. Folks from the hotel take you in a car to popular eateries in the city and guide you through the food. . 

Maybe I will try it someday for North Kolkata which I don’t know that well. 

Our next hotel, The Oberoi Grand offers some Bengali food as well and the koraishootir (peas) kochuri that I had for there breakfast was again very home food like.

On our first night at ITC Sonar, we had chef Sunayan staying up to prepare us a late dinner at the West View Grill. While the restaurant is like an international steak house, they use local ingredients which makes the grills so distinctive.

Chef Sunayan really pushed the flavour boundaries that night and some of the most memorable dishes were the panch phoron (Bengali 5 spice) tuna tataki and K loved her bhetki too. I had the betki carpaccio with olive oil dust which was a bit underwhelming compared to the seared version K had.

Brilliant tuna tataki with panch foron.
Bengal meets japan

Chef Sunayan at work

The pan seared pabda with crushed mustard and local veggies like potol and uchhe stuffed with posto and alu bhaja was sheer poetry on the plate.

It was late into the night but the food made us smile

The delightful pabda

Then there was country chicken from a village called Nishchintopur. The chicken had been sous vide for 8 hours to combat the toughness of game meat and cooked in tomato and local spices like aam aada and radhuni which offered a medley of flavours on the palate.

The country chicken

What won our hearts the most  that evening was the steak which was covered with sea salt and fresh rosemary and put on our table on a hot stone grill to cook. Reminded me my steak at Barcelona. Sunayan surprised me and said that the meat was local not imported. From Kidderpore market. Beef is not banned in Kolkata. “As long as Mamata (the chief minister) is there, beef is safe,” said the chef. And what epic meat it was. The marbling was just right. The fat embellished didn’t over shout and was so high on taste. I was so proud of the Kidderpore steak as was chef Sunayan.

Local boy proud of local produce
The very talented Chef Sunayan

Presenting the Kidderpore steak

Wiped it clean

The two gelatos of gondhoraj lebu/ lime and truffle with balsamic were a fitting finale to what K said was the best meal of the trip and I would agree, though my heart lies with biryani and roll at Nizam’s the day after.

The best of both worlds indeed.

Gondhoraj gelato

Truffle & balsamic gelato

Well, that’s a luxurious slice of my Kolkata for you. A city where you will always eat well.

Disclosure: The stay was hosted by ITC Hotels

Big thanks from both of us to the ITC Sonar team - especially Atul, Arundhati, Gaurav, Sunayan, Clinton, Bandana, and Bindu of course, for making our stay so special.


SC said…
Hello Kalyanda, your didun's recipe of sujir payesh is so loveable. That's exactly how my mum makes it and it is by far my biggest comfort food dessert. I had to laugh out loud when she said "chini to chamoche mepe dei na" :) I can bet that if you asked her how much rice you would need to make chaler payesh, she would answer "ei ek mutho"... Try it and let me know if I'm right.

My best wishes for your grandmother (and you and your family). Your didun is a star!