How well do you know the city you have grown up in? My report from Camp Kolkata.

Chilli pork & pork yam wonton at Tung Nam

I know that I have been missing in action here for a bit and I am sorry about that. I had been a bit caught up with my Times Kitchen Tales column, the four pieces that I did for the Street Food Super Star series that Conde Naste Traveller India ran in February and I have also just begun a column called Family Run for Vikhroli Cucina sharing my experiences at various family run restaurants across the country. On top of that, my back gave in last week and I took it easy till I got better though I managed to squeeze in a trip to Bengaluru to conduct the TKT Meet up there. I am off to Nasik this evening give my first TedX this weekend at Serene Meadows. Not before I conduct a Maharashtrian food walk at Dadar for HFI, the design agency. Yes, there has been a lot happening in my life and I could not be more grateful for that. And, I have not even spoken about our cat Baby Loaf, the cat formerly known as Maharani (till I found at the vet's yesterday that he is a he and not a she!) who has moved in with us and has adopted us.

Maharana Baby Loaf. The cat formerly known as Maharani:

Pic credit: Harshad Rajadhyaksha

There is a lot that I have been wanting to write about here. Our trip to Pune on my birthday for example. My thoughts on what's dominating the political headlines deadlines these days. The story of how we became unplanned cat parents. Our trip to Kolkata before we went to Pune. I had been to Bengaluru for the Times Lit Fest too, but that I had written about in the Times Kitchen Tales.

An important news to share with you. That of the first Eat Write food writing workshop
that we are conducting. It is in Chennai. 21,22 March. Do join us if you can.

So let us start with Kolkata then and the realisation that I had when there, that many of us do not fully know the places that we have grown up in. Especially if it is a megapolis like Kolkata.

Sunday morning and hence empty. The stretch near Lal Bazar I think. I have walked down
this road many times when in college and during B school and those memories can fill a book

For most of us, our worlds consisted of our neighbourhoods when we were kids. Places where our schools were located and later in life, college. You could expand it a bit to include where our friends lived. The places our parents took us to, which were a function of where our families and their friends lived. To this, you could add the the city centre back then which might have changed now. In the case of Kolkata, that would be New Market and Park Street at the most.

We lived in a cocoon you could say. One that is unique to each of us. As we grow older, work helps increase our stomping ground a bit. Marriage helped perhaps. Migration too in cases like mine.

The only way to really discover more about one's city is to occasionally be a tourist in one's own city and to explore parts of it that one has not to before.

I moved out of Kolkata two decades back and I am truly a tourist in a sense when I come back to Kolkata. Each time I return, I try to learn something new if I can.

Let me tell you about what it was this time around.

Rolling in memories

I went to Hot Kati Rolls at Park Street the evening I landed when I went to catch up with my friend Kaniska. It is not the most famous roll shop in the city. Hell, not even in Park Street for that matter. That would be Kusum Rolls opposite Flurys. I usually go to Kusum myself these days when at Park Street, but we went to Hot Kati Roll that evening as the owner/ cashier at Kusum looked rather flustered by the crowds and it seemed best to move on.

The gentleman sitting at Hot Kati Rolls on the other hand, welcomed everyone with a smile. Took individual orders ... one egg, three double egg, one double chicken single egg, single mutton, egg mutton, one liver with fried onions ... and ensured that everyone got what they wanted. While talking to him later, I learnt that his name is Samim. That he had come to Kolkata from Gaya in the 80s. That this rather literal hole in the wall roll shop was started in 1984 and that he has been here from the start.

The mutton roll that I had at Hat Kati Roll made me smile that evening. Crunchy paratha, reasonably juicy mutton boti, smeared with sauce the way the parar dokan rolls in the suburbs of Kolkata are...but there was more to it.

Are these the best rolls in Kolkata? Well, my favourites these days is the mutton roll at Badshah at New Market. The paratha smacks of finesse. As do the kebabs. Which is why they just add green chillies, sliced onions and a bit of their own salt mix. With meats so good, they do not need sauces.

While technically not as perfect as the Badshah roll, what the Hot Kati Roll came with, is the sauce of happy memories and that counts for something too.

Memories of my mother bringing me here when I was in school. For rolls after the Calcutta Book Fair which was held in the Maidan then. Later with my school friends after computer classes at St Xavier's which we took during the break after our tenth exams. Even later with my classmates at college. And then after I moved out and came back to Kolkata, married this time, when I had come to show K my city. I had taken her to Hot Kati for rolls. Possibly among her earliest roll experiences. She too is a fan of the street food of Kolkata since then. Phuchka being her other favourite.

A hard day's breakfast

Shriaz: galla, roti.
Dal gosht, kheema, paya soup

The morning after Hot Kati Roll was about new discoveries. At a place I was partly familiar with. This is when I headed out with my friend Indrajit Lahiri who is well known for the Foodka YouTube series that he co-hosts with Mir. We met for breakfast. At Shiraz at Mallick Bazar.

With Indrajit at Shiraz Golden Restaurant

I had not been to Shiraz when I lived in Kolkata. We used to go to Nizam's, Aminia and Zeeshan's for 'Mughlai'... essentially biryani or chaap or rezaala with roti back then. Arsalan was yet to be born.

I did have the Shiraz biryani at an office party just before I moved out and fell in love with its sheer etherealness. I went to Shiraz during a visit to Kolkata few years back and loved its biryani and rezala then. I have not been to it since. I did this time. Not for the biryani though.

This time we went for the breakfast at Shiraz which featured meat based dishes traditional to Muslim owned Mughal eateries in the city. Blogger Poorna Banerjee was the one who first praised it to me. Indrajit is a fan too. I wanted to try it out as I had not even heard of this when I lived in Kolkata and took the opportunity to go with Indrajit for this.

I was based at two city centre hotels this time. The Lalit on night 1 and The Oberoi Grand for the next 2. The latter of course is a dream hotel for everyone in my generation who has grown up in Kolkata. The location made these explorations easier.

There are two Golden Shiraz outlets at Mallick Bazar. The previous time I had gone to the posher (read air-conditioned) one. That opens from lunch while breakfast is served at the more spartan outlet of this 80 year old establishment. We reached at 8am as food is served till stocks last. I learnt that it was a particular favourite of Afghan traders in the city. Sitting among them were us two Bengali bhalo chheles (good boys) relishing the dal gosht (a symphonic mix of tender, slow cooked meat and channa dal), galla (goat cheek, no beef is served here, rendered more tender than a sonnet), kheema (excellent quality roughly minced goat meat with potatoes mashed into it and which had a certain endearing childish innocence to it), paya soup (trotters in a spicy broth), accompanied by freshly made maida rotis from the tandoor which stayed soften even after they became cold (which they do if you shoot YouTube videos like we did). It was a stellar breakfast indeed it.

The Kolkata I had no idea of

During Manjit's cultural kaleidoscope walk at Bow Barracks

The next morning I subscribed and went on a culture walk with Manjit Singh Hoonjan who runs Calcutta Photo Tours. I had heard great things about him for long from friends such as Sue Cope and decided to join in when another friend, Keka De, told me about the dal puri with nihari that she had had in his walk. The walk was at Bow Barracks. An Anglo Indian settlement near Central Avenue which has become famous after a film was made named after it. Local Anglo Indians are not happy with the way the community had been shown in the film I am told. Manjit has grown up here himself, a Sikh who speaks perfect Bangla as did many of my Sikh friends in school and college.

Funnily enough, K herself was at an ad film shoot at Bow Barracks at the same time. We didn't meet while at Bow Barracks though. She was at the shoot, me at the nihari shop. We compared notes over an excellent continental dinner at the Grand at the night.

I had not heard of Bow Barracks while growing up in Kolkata. Even though I had studied in schools run by Anglo Indians and had Anglo Indian friends. We knew Ripon Street back then as the Anglo Indian para.

I have just one word to describe the walk. Magnificent. I have attended many walks across the world but Manjit’s was one of the best. He showed my sides of my city that I had no idea of as he took us to the Anglo Indian settlement of Kolkata, an association of Buddhists from Bengal, a Parsi agiary/ fire temple (he knew more about the Parsi rituals than I do though I am the one married to one), a street where Bihari and UPite migrants labourers have found a home, a Chinese cultural centre with a temple inside and then to a most lavish Jewish synagogue, ironically maintained by a staff consisting of Muslims as there are hardly any Jews left in the city. This is where they should hold the Camp David sort of peace talks if you ask me.

And the dal puri that took me to the walk? Manjit took us to a shop called Zahury's at Weston Street. This is where the labourers who live nearby come to eat Manjit told us, before they set off to work. The food is cheap and served to pump them with energy for the hard work that follows.

The nihari was nice, the odd cuts of beef in it slow cooked till tender submission. The show stopper was the dal poori though. Deep fried maida pooris stuffed with chana dal. So elegant that they would be completely at home even at the house of a Zamindar (landlord) of yore. This was stellar cooking. The seasoning was just right. As was the texture.

This was followed by beautiful cha at a tea vendors next door who most meticulously brewed each cup of happiness that he served.

The walk ended at Tiretti Bazar where we had some freshly friend (the only way to enjoy them) shingara and mishti doi at the Banchharam outlet there. A shop that we reached after walking down a road soaked with memories of my college years in Kolkata. Memories which can fill up a book in itself.

Shingara mishti doi at Banchharam

The last emperor

Tiretti Bazar is where I had a desultory Chinese breakfast with Kaniska a few years back. This time I only saw Indians running the few Chinese breakfast stalls there. None of which looked appetising though the shop selling Chinese sausages looked worth cultivating as Lalmohon Babu (from Feluda) would say. On hearing that I am no longer enamoured with the Chinese food of Kolkata as it exists today, Manjit insisted that I try out Tung Nam and said that this might change my mind.

I heard him out and went back to Bow Baracks to have lunch at Tung Nam that afternoon. Joining me was chef Auroni Mukherjee who was with me at the walk too. An expat Bengali and an advertising professional turned chef, Auroni is really keen to spread the story of the food of Kolkata and is now back in the city working with Cafe and planning some exciting stuff.

Tung Nam I learnt is 20 years old. It stands where earlier was a shop run by the grandparents of the current owners. A couple who had come to Kolkata from China and from their shop sold curios used in Chinese burials. The restaurant is pretty basic and non-airconditioned. There is a big kitchen from which the food comes out. Going by the crowds there, it clearly seemed like a favourite with the remaining Chinese of Bow Baracks and its other residents too.

Sitting next to us was an Anglo Indian gentleman and a former hockey player named Fantom who is an example of what I just said. He sung many praises of the place to us. 'The only place to enjoy authentic Chinese in Kolkata,' he said. A group of young Chinese folks walked in while we spoke and took a table inside.

Mee foon at Tung Nam

We tried a number of dishes and what I liked the most would be yam pork wonton (beautifully steamed and very delicate casing) and the mixed meat mee foon rice noodles. What I also realised is that this genre of Kolkata Chinese food, with its rather heavy handed seasoning and spicing, is not something that I enjoy that much today and that's all I have to say about that as Forrest Gump would say.

With Auroni Mukherjee at Tung nam

Well that's the thing about growing up and moving out. You hold on to some memories. Wear out of some. Create fresh ones. What you never outgrow are the emotions that the city that you once called home evoke.

Thankfully for me, these are all happy ones but then for me the glass is always half full.

Till next time, Kolkata.

At Shiraz

Pictures from the Calcutta Photo Tours Cultural Kaleidoscope walk

Also of interest:

1. Video that we shot at Shiraz

2. Video that we shot at Tung Nam

3. An earlier breakfast visit to Sabir with Indrajit. Similar genre to Shiraz

Family moments:

With K & mom at the Grand.

With ma at home where we had lunch together

With didu

With Rukshana, Suneha, Kanishka, Manishita at Blue Poppy Thakali
With chef Pappu Singh and his team at the Oberoi Grand

1. My Tiretti Bazar and Tangra experience

Pics from the Finely Chopped Food Walk that I did at Dadar today for Human Factors International, helping people discover my adopted city of Mumbai. Stops included Mr Bhonsle’s Samarth Vada Pav, Kokan Bazar and Suryakant Sarjoshy’s Aaswad. Places that Manisha Talim of Sugar Snap Mumbai has introduced me to once.

And now off to Nasik for me first TedX Talk. Wish me luck.


Pushpanjana said…
Hi Kalyan. Wonderful article. There are some eateries in a narrow alley in Elgin Road, called Tibetan Delight and Momo Plaza. Not sure, whether you enjoy thukpa, but pork thukpa and momo are the highlights of these two places. Look forward to reading more.