Planning to visit Kolkata? So, did you book yourself a good hotel with a classy restaurant attached? Planning to have all your meals there? If so, drop the idea. The neighbors are going to laugh at you if you do. I mean, who eats in a restaurant in the cultural (and food) capital of India? Okay, sometimes you are allowed to. But if you come back from a visit there not having tasted all the street food, you will be an object of ridicule. And you would probably deserve it because you will have nothing awesome in your tummy to boast about.
Influenced by years of British rule and Mughal rule before that and from people living near the Bengal plain, the City of Joy has much and more to offer you. Of course, you can find the best restaurants here if you go looking for them. But the street food here are not to be missed. The diverse array of food on the streets is as much a treat to the eye as it is to your taste buds. You can literally live on the streets for days with the same money you would otherwise spend on one meal eating at some ‘classy restaurant’.
Let’s plan your meals for an average day in Kolkata. Make sure you start early. If you like sleeping late into the day, you are going to miss a meal or two. Believe me, you wouldn’t want that. Here is a list of food you can have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The morning food
Jalebis and Kachodi
You will never believe how good a breakfast this is until you have it yourself. After this, you will never want to have your boring morning cereal anymore. The hot, crispy kachodis will melt in your mouth and when dipped in the aloo tarkari (potato gravy) given with it, you will know how good life can be when you know what to do with it. Couple that with the occasional bite out of your jalebi, and you will start looking for god around you. Jalebis are ideally hot and crispy and are dipped in sugar syrup. Your taste buds will alternatively taste spices and sweetness from kachodis and jalebis and crave for more. Of course, you can choose to have jalebis which have saffron sprinkled on them and kachodis fried in ghee at a classy restaurant. Good luck finding some of those at 6.30 a.m. in the morning.
So, which tiny shop to go to? The one with the biggest crowd. The people daily commuting for work have their food there and they know which one serves the best kachodis and jalebis.
Rosogolla, Sandesh and Mishiti Doi
If you like sweets and do not care one bit about the eventual accumulation of milk products as layers of fat under your skin (which you can exercise and burn away anyway), I would suggest you find the nearest “Mishti” shop and try and decide which one to have from the dazzling array of shapes and colors in the counter. The number of sweets in any average Bengali sweet shop is enough to drive a statistician crazy. Of course, among the most famous ones are Rosogollas, Sandesh and Mishti Doi. Rosogolla and Sandesh are made from curdled milk or “chenna”. And mishiti doi literally means “Sweet Curd”. You can eat dozens of Rosogollas and Sandesh and some more after that and still have money left in your pocket for other things.
Luchi means ‘Poori’ – which is a traditional Indian fried bread and Aloor Dum is the normal Dum aloo most Indians are familiar with. Of course, you will not be familiar with the Bengali version of Dum Aloo. Again, these little bites from paradise leaves a taste that becomes the benchmark for all food you eat after your first poori.
The afternoon foods
Macher Jhol and rice
Macher Jhol is nothing but fish curry. The fish, mostly associated with the Bengalis, are presented in all its glory in the form of Macher Jhol. Macher Jhol is a traditional Bengali marinated fish in curry dish served with steamed rice. This delicately flavored spicy curry is cooked in mustard oil and spiced with salt and turmeric. This can be found in almost all stalls or food shops dotting the vibrant streets of Kolkata. The fish may be rui (Rohu) or ilish (Hilsa) or koi (climbing perch).
Biryani and mutton chap
The preferred type of meat in west Bengal is Pantha (goat meat). One of the most sought after delicacies for lunch is the Biryani and Mutton Chap. Biryani is made in the traditional way biryani should be made (without elachi (cardamom)!). Mutton Chap is a dry-ish, spicy gravy made with goat’s meat. The store owners will stake their life on it – you will feel like a king while having a plate of this. It won’t matter where you are eating then, or how many jet planes you can afford. Everybody is a king when they have mutton chap with biryani on their plate.
The evening meals
The evenings are when the food carnival actually begins. You won’t know where to go or what to eat. And if you are in a market or some generally crowded place, you will wish you had eight eyes, eight tongues and 17 stomachs so you can see, taste and eat it all at once. Esplanade, Sodepur, or other market areas are the places to be on a normal Kolkata evening.
Pani puris. But these are Pani Puris found in the City of Joy. Here, in their turf, Pani Puri becomes Phuchka, and also hundred times more awesome than any Pani Puri you would ever have tasted. Phucka stalls are found everywhere in the city. The best Phuchkas I know are near Esplanade. These monster Phuchkas are the nearly the size of golf balls and most people find it difficult to put a whole one into their mouth. Nobody wants to stop eating once they start and when they do stop it is because they become too tired from transferring phuchkas to their mouth and chewing.
Here, the Pani Puris are stuffed with a carefully spiced mashed potato and are dunked in a bowl of tamarind water before they are served, one at a time.
Rolls are found everywhere in Kolkata once the sun goes down. Egg rolls, chicken rolls, veg rolls, mutton rolls and the list goes on. Roll stalls also provide other evening snacks like Mughlai, cutlets and chops. These rolls are really tasty and you will soon wish you had roll stalls in your city if you are not from Calcutta (or other cities in West Bengal). To make a roll, Parathas are fried over a layer of egg and cucumber, carrots, lemon, chicken or mutton, tomato sauce etc. are added to it before it is rolled up and served for a fast on-the-go delicious food.
Other delicacies you wouldn’t wanna miss
There will probably be a thousand stalls. Each serving a variety of food. It will be a real pain to miss some of those. Chicken Kabiraji, Aloo poshto (dish made of potato and couscous), Mango chutney, Shukto (made with bitter gourd), Cholar Daal, Jhaal muri (spiced, puffed rice – usually served near trains), Pithe (traditional Bengali sweet, usually made during festivals), Rosho- Malai etc.
The complete listing of all the good food found in Kolkata would probably take three Harry Potter sized novels to finish. So I am going to stop here with a heavy heart for not being able to live through the other delicacies with you and with the hope that you are planning for a long stay at Kolkata to enjoy at least half the total number of delicacies offered by the city that is gives you so much joy with its food alone.