Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Calcutta one

No trip to a parent’s home is ever long enough once you live overseas. And our 10 day trips to India are fraught with tension in the planning as our parents and siblings all live in different cities. I feel a bit like an elastic band pulled in different directions by obligation and love and a crazy combination of both.

In the four and something years since we came to London V and I have celebrated every diwali at our little home. This year we chose to spend it in India inspite of having just bought this home. I think the homesickness of missing festivals finally caught up with us. The images of diya’s, the puja, colourful clothes, firecrackers and most of all smiling families were too strong a pull to resist.

After a quick flying week in Delhi with my folks (of which V came for 2.5 days, after 2.5 days in Mumbai) we flew to Calcutta (no apologies - I’m going to say Calcutta instead of Kolkata) for our last 2.5 days at my in-laws home. Well planned to be able to celebrate diwali with them – for the first time ever for me. And what a wonderful few days it was….

We landed on my brother-in-law R’s birthday. It was all so well planned that he and his wife T had landed from Mumbai that very morning. And then the fun began.

For me Calcutta is the culinary capital of India. There I’ve said it and now I await the gazillion comments from people telling me how their city outshines Calcutta with examples of where I should have been eating etc…. People people, this is a blog and this is only my opinion. You have the right to yours and I have the right to mine.

Before I begin our Calcutta culinary journey I must thank J.A.P for his kind suggestions on where to eat and what to eat. Unfortunately we could not stick to them all as both boys had agenda’s of their own to follow. I hope you approve as much as we enjoyed it.

This is a long standing favourite in V’s family and no trip to Cal is complete for me without it. It’s a funny old place in very central Park Street with two different entrances both of which lead into a strangely imitation Swiss style décor interior. They serve Indian Chinese, Indian Indian and Tandoori food and even on a week day afternoon they were jam packed. We had a super Indian meal with the channa and paneer tikka coming up trumps. (point to note: I can’t think of anything I love more than a well made paneer tikka)
@ 43 Park Street, Calcutta. Tel: 2229-2870

Chinoiserie: To celebrate R’s birthday we went for dinner to this restaurant at the Taj Bengal. I make no bones about it - I love Indian Chinese food and miss it terribly in London (Dalchini is too far for frequent visits). The restaurant claims to be ‘authentic Cantonese and Szechwan cuisine.’ But at the end of the day it’s all to cater to an Indian palette and so whether what we ate is genuine or not nobody knows. They made up dishes as per our request even and without a doubt it was an excellent meal. The service was a bit over attentive for me (I think it’s because I’m used to a really appallingly low level of service in most places in London) but that is what most 5 star places are like and attentiveness is far more charming than rudeness.
@ Taj Bengal, 34B, Belvedere Road, Alipore, Calcutta - 700 027. Tel: 2223-3939

The Atrium Café: After dinner one night we met up with a classmate of V’s from his school days who took us to the Atrium Café at the Park Hotel. Let me start by saying that the Park Hotel is overflowing with people as it has numerous restaurants and two clubs within its walls. It was lovely to see, even in the middle of the night, a vibrant young crowd of people enjoying an evening out. We stuck to the coffee shop and sat around an enormous square table. There was a DJ and we kept sending them requests on little chits of paper. As a result a lot of 80s music was played, maybe too much as after a bit I think people started to leave. V’s friend is an absolute riot. He has the unique capability of making everything sound funny. Not just hehe funny, but belly aching laugh out loud funny. We were laughing so hard that one of us had cold coffee coming out their nose. The Atrium is not particularly lovely and the cold coffee (and I have an opinion on all cold coffee) was not much to write home about. As a setting for a reunion of friends though it was perfect.

Oh Calcutta!: We had a day of dashing around the many malls that have sprung up around Calcutta and to break the day (after a very hectic morning of book buying) in two we decided on lunch at Oh Calcutta! I cannot emphasize this more – IT WAS THE BEST MEAL I HAD IN A RESTAURANT IN CALCUTTA – EVER!! Now, Kewpie was a suggestion but we’ve already ‘been there, done that’ five years ago and it was lovely, but this was convenient in the short time we had and proximity from where we were. The interiors are soft and soothing with beautiful photographs and sketches of Calcutta dotted along it. But it was not the interiors that were anything out of the ordinary. How do I begin to describe this meal without drooling all over my keyboard? We had Kosha Mangsho (which I was assured is a delicacy and it certainly was), dom aloo, a fish fry and numerous other things the names of which escape me (the taste still does not). The thing that completed the meal for me was the world’s lightest luchi’s. This Bengali brother of the north Indian puri is the bread accompaniment to a main meal. These luchi’s were light and round and filled with air and the taste was outstanding. The meal was outstanding and although I imagine people saying that a fancy restaurant cannot possibly provide the authentic thing I beg to differ.

We had an unremarkable meal close to home but it’s not worth mentioning, other than for the company which was remarkable. Our other meals were at home and on Diwali day I cooked two of the main dishes. People seemed pleased with the results and that’s good enough for me. We did the pooja at home and spent time with V’s parents and extended family. It was a short but very full trip and we certainly made the most of every moment.

It’s all over and now all these weeks later I’m sitting here and remembering all this and feeling a tad bit homesick……C’est la vie


  1. I must laud your taste. Mainly because it coincides with mine.
    "Oh Calcutta" is definitely the best place in this city for a leisurely meal - ambience, service, food.


  2. I am hungry and there are still three hours to lunch - that too of the crappy office variety...

  3. I have never been to Calcutta, but Oh Calcutta in Bombay is my favourite fish restaurant...

  4. Im a true Calcuttan at heart now living in Delhi and I quite agree that calcutta is truly a foodie's paradise. Next time ur there u must try out Mocambos-its just around the crner from Barbq and has the best continental food one can dream of and to top it off with their chocolate crepes is another dream altogether. U should have tried the beef steaks at the Atrium-they are awesome

  5. Anonymous2:32 AM

    I love Oh Calcutta in Bombay too-make it a point to go there whenever I go home. Authentic and delicious.

  6. Anonymous2:04 AM

    Oh, how i miss not living in Europe anymore. I could dash down to Bombay for a quick visit (even did a long weekend once for a cousin's wedding).

    Living in the US during the winter makes the distance seem so much farther. Can't hop on a Jet Airways plane any time!

  7. You didn't go to Flury's? Tsk, tsk...but then you were visiting from London - so I guess you didn't miss much.

  8. Anonymous5:48 PM

    Hungry, hungry, hungry

  9. JAP: Completely agree - and definitely on my list AGAIN for next time.

    Rohini: We have no canteen here - so it's shop cr*p sandwiche's for lunch!

    Akkare and MumbaiGirl: My B-i-l had been to the one in Mumbai and thought Cal trumped it - I can imagine that it's really good though because this one was just superlative!

    Me: I've been to Mocambo many a time, on previous trips. No time in my 2.5 days this time. And Atrium was post-dinner and too late at night to contemplate steaks but will keep that in mind.

    Anjali: Yeah, it's my biggest reason for not moving off to the States. Even from here I barely manage one or two quick trips to India - can't imagine doing less!

    ...: I have been to Flury's almost every other trip to Cal. This time there was just no space in the stomach in the 2.5 day trip! And London's (or rather France's imported to London) Paul makes up for all the sweet eats I need!

    Beks: Me too!!!

  10. Anonymous3:57 AM

    miss Cal soooo much!! i haven't been back in 15 yrs (mostly coz i grew up in Delhi) but my favs are Flury's, jhal muri and kathi stalls and anything and everything from Tangra :D