The Tung Eating House offers dishes made from recipies passed down the generations like chicken hamei (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@amitvelo).
Kolkata or Calcutta as it was known earlier is not just a City of Joy known for its hospitality and inclusivity but also a place where several styles of culinary arts have come together, including those belonging to Mughals, British, Chinese, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Parsis, Marwaris and Gujaratis among others. What is truly amazing about the city is that while retaining several features of the original dishes, it has provided a certain twist also to make them unique in the world.
Recognising this aspect of this city, a food website Eater’s has listed the capital of West Bengal as one of the best 11 culinary destinations in the world. The recommendation stresses that it is definitely one of the places that every foodie worth his or her name must try in 2023.
Interestingly, while India and its hundreds of its metros and cities boast of hundreds of food items, Kolkata was the only one to make it to the list.
While Eater has listed 31 essential Kolkata restaurants that gourmets must try, here are some which have caught the eye of India Narrative for their uniqueness.
India and China may be at loggerheads on several issues but food is something that managed to bring together the two nations. Today’s desi Chinese, as people call it, came into being in Kolkata. It was Hakka Chinese traders who came to the city in the 1700s and brought with them their food as did other immigrants who migrated to Bengal in the 1800s to work in sugar mills and tea plantations run by the British.
Adapting to the spices and the ingredients available in the city, the Chinese cuisine changed to suit the local palate. One such place is Tung Eating House. Tucked in Chinatown, here the Hsieh family serves food which is based on recipes passed down over generations. This includes shreds of pork simmered in an umami-rich broth with salt-cured Chinese greens, chicken hamei, silken wantons, kaptai mei fun or pig offal on rice noodles, and pork in hamei sauce.
Nearer home Rajasthan and the Marwari community – who migrated to Kolkata in the 18th Century — have contributed to the economy of the State, have also left their mark on food. Burra Bazar, the city’s busiest commercial place, has a large number of Marwaris and shops selling the community’s dishes. Badri Ki Kachori serves the khasta kachori topped with thick strands of fried gram flour or sev which is eaten with liberal helping of diced potatoes which is creamy and spiced.
Among the Mughals, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who was exiled by the British to Kolkata invented the Kolkata biryani in 1856. It is the one which includes potatoes and eggs and is less spicy and aromatic. It is eaten with or without raita or salan. Yet there are exceptions. The Royal Indian Restaurant established in the turn of 20th Century by Ahmed Hussain serves the native Lucknowi biryani with big chunks of meat and few tiny meatballs nestle.
The place is also known for khuska or a light dish of turmeric-tinged rice, lightly spiced qaliya made with chunks of goat meat, and mutton chaap or goat meat slices braised with a rich blend of alliums and spices and pan-roasted in clarified butter.
Jews who migrated to India in large numbers settled in different cities including Calcutta. In the late 19th Century, a large number of Baghdadi Jews made it their home. Nahoum Israel Mordecai was one such, who set up a confectionery outlet. Though a majority of Jews have moved to their Promised Land Israel, Mordecai’s outlet boasts macaroons, spicy rum balls, jam tarts, almond pastries, mincemeat pies and rich fruitcakes loved by the Kolkata people.
Talk of Kolkata and can the mouth-watering sweets like Sandesh, gulab jamun and rasgulla be far away. The 177-year-old Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy in the northern part of the city offers an amazing range of Sandesh – made with fresh chhana. The variety of flavours include mango, dark chocolate, mulberry, black currant, butterscotch, and many more.