Calcutta is arguably the culinary heaven of India, with Delhi and Hyderabad as close contenders. The mention of culinary heaven must take you to an olfactory, ocular and gustatory paradigm of experience. It should leave you with a phenomenon, not just an eating experience. Calcutta is pretty much capable of guiding you through an unforgettable culinary tour comprising of unimaginably varied food. You will find almost everything under the sun, especially with nuovo restaurants offering both world and local cuisine. But it is the heritage that still reigns the city’s food map. Allow me to introduce you to, and enlighten about five unique dishes quintessential to what we call ‘Calcutta cuisine.’ While you can still make/cook all of these at home, they are best tasted and tried at restaurants/street corners.
Kabiraji Cutlet – Most of us have been induced to believe that the wonderful, our own Kabiraji Cutlet has been derived from something called the British ‘Coverage Cutlet’. I’ve believed this blindly since time, but as I delved deep into the beloved Kabiraji Cutlet roots, it seemed Coverage Cutlet didn’t exist at all. To know more, read this wonderful article at Presented by P. I’d keep the discussion about the origin and etymology of Kabiraji Cutlet for later, and concentrate on the making and availability.
When you arrive in Calcutta, you’ll find a few people still reminiscing the Fish Kabiraji Cutlet of Anadi Cabin or Mitra Cabin, which was a necessary ingredient of their adda. My father belongs to one of those people, who has probably tasted all the famous Kabiraji varieties of Calcutta. Anadi Cabin still exists but it is on the verge of deterioration, while Mitra Cafe has opened two more branches, one of which is the lifeline for people in South Calcutta.
Kabiraji Cutlet consists of a minced fish or chicken/mutton patty, coated with breadcrumbs, deep-fried, and with a lace framework of egg batter on top. It looks heavenly and tastes so. A perfect cutlet will have the egg lace neatly covering the whole patty. Try it at Mitra Cafe and you won’t regret your visit to Calcutta.
Phuchka – Or Panipuri/Golgappe/Pani ke batashe/Gupchup/Ghopcha. You might say –‘What’s in a name?’, but each of these variants have different fillings, hence altering the taste. While Panipuri outside West Bengal has a filling of chickpea curry, most believe Phuchka is the authentic one with better taste in the mashed potato filling. The trick of eating a Phuchka is gulping it. Once you break the little fried and filled dough, the sour tamarind water and potato filling falls apart. When in Rome, be the Romans. Open your mouth to the biggest you can, grip the filled Phuchka with your thumb and two fingers, put it gently but firmly in, and – Kaboom! It will explode into your mouth with a myriad of flavours – the spicy potato, bits of coriander leaves, the heat of green chillies, and the tang of the tamarind. If you find the right vendor, you might be lucky enough to have the water flavoured with Gondhoraj lebu (a special lime found in Bengal only), which is the top notch in Phuchka heaven.
Try the Phuchkas at Dakshinapan, the Bisleri one at Vivekananda Park and keep trying for better ones around the city. They are priced roughly around Rs 10 per plate (with 5-6 pieces in each).
Egg Roll – Now that’s what you call comfort food, albeit slathered in oil and sin. It’s probably the first thing that I eat after landing in Calcutta. The taste and aroma of freshly cooked egg on a paratha, with a filling of cucumber, onion and chilli juliennes dipped in tomato and green chilli ketchups can soothe you even on a summer evening. The free-flowing sweat is all the more aggravated by the green chillies and ketchups while you slowly unwrap the oily white patch of papers from the roll. It may not be very appealing to visitors, but an egg roll, still (over)priced at Rs 20 can satiate anyone’s hunger for more than a few hours. Sometimes the rolls are filled with a very basic potato sabzi, making them more appealing to me.
Try the best egg rolls still at Campari (Dover lane), Bhojraj (Fern Road), Ratna Cabin (Hazra More).
Aloor Chop – Imagine a wintry evening in Calcutta when you bite into a spicy mashed potato patty dipped in a chickpea flour batter and deep fried. I bet no one would be able to describe the exact feeling when that bit of spicy chop fills the plateau of their mouth with warmth. I don’t know who or when invented this ambrosia, but the Calcuttans can’t do without it. True that chops are not so prevalent in South Calcutta as they are at every corner of the Northern part, but does it matter? When you can’t find the right Aloor Chop to cool down your temper, your family knows calamity will strike that night. Bengalis have been devouring their Aloor Chops since generations, more often at hideouts where their families wouldn’t reach with the Blood Cholesterol test reports.
Try Aloor Chops in North Calcutta, anywhere. Chances are, you’ll find hidden treasures that few people know of.
Calcutta Biriyani – This is a phenomenon that deserves a thesis, or at least a separate blog post that I commit to write after more research. When you’re served a plate of this aromatic biriyani, the waft of meetha ittar, keora essence and rice is overwhelming. Many don’t prefer this ‘dry’ and ‘sweet’ biriyani as they term it, but it is an acquired taste to people who like the spicy and gravied texture of Hyderabadi and North Indian biriyanis. Calcutta biriyani is an avatar of the primitive Awadhi biriyani, with addition of a boiled egg and a big chunk of aromatic potato. We eat half the rice with bits of potato immersed and the other half with the meat. Once you’re addicted to this one, even the Lucknowi biriyani fails sometimes. Most restaurants serve enough quantity to last you for half a day, but on good days, you might end up having more!
Do try Arsalan (Park Circus), Aminia and Zeeshan for the best biriyanis in Calcutta.
This entry is for the #BloggerDreamTeam Food & Travel Carnival on Blogmint.