Savouring the City of Joy – Kolkata

Cities are like tattoos, they say. We merely live in them but they become our lifeblood; breathing and growing inside us. We only travel from city to city but they become little shards of glass for our enormous glass palace of memories. Of course, a city can be discovered and remembered in several ways – through photographs and picture postcards, through the words of a memoir or a souvenir bought from the city flea markets. But a traveler, who discovers a city through its cuisine, truly tastes it.

Not having traveled in ages, I decided to put my wanderlust to practice and resolved to take a tour of my own city, Kolkata. However, little did I realize that my wanderlust would soon turn into an insatiable lust for food and I would embark upon a maddening binge in the city? Kolkata is a paradise for people who live to eat and are absolutely obsessed with food. The city is known for its versatility in cuisine, and there is practically something for everyone – from street food to classy restaurants. And of course for the ones with a sweet tooth, there is a huge variety of mouthwatering sweets that Bengal boasts of.

The city has had its tryst with history when it comes to food, and no food-traveler’s journey is complete if he does not visit the heritage eateries such as Flurys on Park Street and the Indian Coffee House on College Street. Flurys is a legendary tearoom founded by Mr. and Mrs. Flurys in 1927 and serves the best European confections from exotic cakes and pastries to the most delicious Swiss chocolates. There is an old world charm to the ambience of Flurys that makes a food traveler relive its timelessness. Coffee House is the best alternative to your contemporary overpriced cafes that claim that ‘a lot can happen over coffee’ – it not only makes almost-perfect coffee, but it is also a great place for youngsters to hangout. Besides coffee, the coffee shop also makes one of the best chicken cutlets in the city.

Next up, there is Nahoum’s – an old Jewish bakery in New Market. It was started by confectioner Nahoum Israel Mordecai, and initially sold baclava, fista mulfoof and almond rings. Over the years, Nahoum’s has become Kolkata’s favourite bakery selling the city’s best plum cakes, brownies and biscuits. It is one that embodies tradition and has become a legend when it comes to confectionaries.

The city of joy also offers authentic Chinese and Tibetan cuisine. Firstly, there is unnamed street near Lal Bazaar Police Station which is the only place in Kolkata that offers a Chinese breakfast. Anyone who is game for an early morning snack comprising of momos, meatball or fishball soup and Pao (a Tibetan delicacy made from pork and wheat bread) is welcome. Kolkata also has its own Chinese bastion, Tangra, which is synonymous to the Chinatown in downtown Manhattan and the Chinatown in Singapore. Besides the authentic Chinese cuisine they serve there, a walk through the alleyways of Tangra seems like a stroll through a Chinese landscape with Chinese immigrants growing all the ingredients in their own backyard.

Light snacks are a must have in Kolkata. Phuchkas, the Bengali cousins of Golgappas and Panipuris, can be savoured at anytime along with Jhaalmuri and Kochuri-Alur Dom. What makes Kolkata the land of sweets is the astonishing variety of sweet shops in this city. You will find a sweet shop on every street. Be it rosogollas, payesh, mishti doi or natun gurer sondesh, everything is available in enormous amounts. Moreover, it is an absolute delight to visit the legendary sweet shops of K.C. Das and Sen Mahasay because even after so many years, they still cater to the Bengali sweet tooth with flawless gusto.

And what about the quintessential Bengali lunch of luchi and maangsho? To take care of that, there is Oh Calcutta! – A restaurant that was founded to make Bengalis fall in love with their own culture. Besides these places, there are always the posh restaurants around the city like Peter Cat, Arsalan, Mocambo, Bar-B-Q, Flavours of China and Flame-and-Grill. Each of them have their own way of ensuring their customers’ happiness, but of course, it would all be in vain if I do not mention that Peter Cat is the only place in the city that serves absolutely delightful chelo kebabs – mouthwatering chicken or mutton kebabs served on a bed of buttered rice and vegetables. I have seen people going crazy over this delicacy from Iran.

Every city has a way of enticing us – some by beautiful locales, some by their warmth and some by their cuisine. Kolkata is one that appeals to travelers for all three reasons. People think that one can discover a city, its history and its culture only by visiting old ruined monuments. But a city has more to itself than just old shrines and historical monuments. Sometimes visiting a city can mean tasting its rareness, smelling the aroma on every street and ending your journey with a beautiful aftertaste in your mouth.

Deya Bhattacharya

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