Kolkata is incomplete without its food. From delicious Chinese to mouthwatering phuchka (others call it panipuri), Bengal has reinvented a range of culinary delights from across the country (and sometimes the globe). While new coffee shops and cool joints reinvent the culinary landscape, one cannot miss the ancient food landmarks of the city. Here’s discovering the City of Joy through its old (and oft-forgotten) tourist attractions – the food stops.
Let’s start with the obvious: Indian Coffee House
Manna Dey immortalized Calcutta’s Coffee House with his song, “Coffee House er shei adda ta aj ar nei” but the adda is very much alive and thriving. Drawing friends, acquaintances, tourists, intellectuals, bookworms and students from the two universities across the road, Coffee House remains a hub of rendezvous, debate, discussion, and reminiscing. One can walk in straight from the second-floor of the bookshop Chakraborty and Chatterjee into the famous joint. The spacious hall, the hanging balcony, the high ceiling, the menu written on a blue board, the waiters attired in white uniform and traditional headgear give the place an old-world charm that is hard to define. Ironically, the coffee is not spectacular. But crowd favourites include Chicken Kaviraji, Chicken Cutlet and Mutton Afghani. Expect no CCD or Barista, but a lively atmosphere of idea and exchange, much like the quintessential Bengali.
Sweet surprise: Putiram
The first time I heard of Putiram was when a professor fondly recalled her visits to the snack shop with her college friends. A mere 2-minute walk from Indian Coffee House brings you to a tiny sweet shop opposite College Square. Spic-and-span but with benches you have to share with fellow-customers, Putiram provides the most delicious kachori and chholar dal, roshogolla, gulabjamun and a variety of delicious sweets. Between 1 and 4 om, Putiram is at its busiest with mostly university students thronging the shop. One of the helpers, Mr. Kalipodo Jana mentions the crowd favourites – rajbhog (yellow roshogolla) , shor er naru (made out milk cream), Jolbhora sandesh, Chap sandesh ( a type of Bengali sweet) and radhaballabi dal (kachori and dal). For those born with a sweet tooth, this quaint joint is an absolute delight.
Juice haven: Paramount
Very similar to Putiram and very close by, is a small syrup shop that is easy to locate because of the queue that exists outside it during the summer months. Established in 1918 by Late Niharanjan Majumdar, Paramount is one of the heritage sites in Calcutta’s food map, serving scrumptious sherbets like Cream Banana, Almond Sherbet, Strawberry Syrup and so on. The summer months sees the highest customer rush as does the Puja season. The must-haves of the joint are Daab Sherbet (Coconut) and Coco Malai . The best part of the service? Sherbet takeaways in syrup bottles. Visit this place for the sherbets that are far superior to any other in the city.
Legendary confectionery: Nahoum and Sons
A tour of Kolkata is incomplete without a visit to New Market. And New Market is incomplete without Nahoum and Sons. Established in 1902, the Jewish bakery has no proper seating arrangements, but that does not disqualify it from being the city’s darling. It boasts the likes of Lemon Tarts, Cheesecakes, Brownies, Fruit Cakes, Black Forest Cake and so on. Always in demand and exceedingly delicious, the gastronomic wonders are to die for. Crowd favourites are the Fruit Cake and the Brownies, which are sold out very fast during Christmas. A foodie’s heaven, Nahoum and Sons is the icon of the erstwhile capital of British India.
Speaking of British India: Mocambo
Located at the heart of the city with its distinctly Continental delights, is “The Food Street”. While Peter Cat, Moulin Rouge, Trincas, Flurys all deserve praise, Mocambo epitomizes the typically European culinary experience. You might have to stand in queue in order to experience its magnificent sea food, grills, salads, Italian specialities and desserts. Its biggest draws are the Chicken Tetrazzini, Chicken Ala Kiev, Devilled Crab, Yorkshire Pork Chops, while the Meringue with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce and the Souffle steal the show.Pro-tip – Do not go by the Zomato scores as it serves as a reaction to the recent controversy Mocambo was shrouded in, but not the quality of its food.
Biriyani central: Make way for the Royals
Hyderabad and Lucknow may disagree, but Kolkata is home to the most delicious, mouth-watering, phenomenal Biryani. And the most iconic biryani joint ? Royal Indian Hotel in North Kolkata. The Biryani is delicious to say the least, but you haven’t tasted the Mughlai cuisine, if you haven’t tried Royal’s legendary Mutton Chaap and the delicious kababs. Warning – there’s no aloo in the Biryani, which can irk some, but the taste more than makes up for it. A newer and more accessible outlet has sprung up opposite Quest Mall, but a visit to the original is a must.
There are LOADS of restaurants that deserve mention but these few joints are part of Kolkata’s cultural landscape. Adored by locals and tourists alike, they provide a glimpse into the city’s romance with the past. So for your next trip, get ready to try some succulent flavours as you eat your way across Calcutta. Bon appétit !