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Calcutta Belly

Calcutta Belly

East, Food Thoughts, India, Kolkata Food, Travel Extras, West Bengal

#Kolkata #Travelbloggerindia #Travelblog #Kolkatatravelblog #WestBengaltourismRolls are true blue Calcutta snack and we could nearly patent it. Wholesome and delicious they are fried (nowadays baked) Indian bread stuffed with succulent spicy pieces of chicken/mutton/beef/potatoes/paneer (cottage cheese) and flavoured with chopped onion, chilies, sauces, salt, pepper and lime. Rolls can be coated with/without egg and for a moderate eater, is a meal in itself. Every Calcutta lane has at least 1 such seller (usually called snacks/snacks center) who dish out these succulent wraps from huge steaming girdles. Nawab in Gariahat is one such shop which sells baked rolls instead of traditional fried ones and they are absolutely heavenly.

An evening establishment, the rolls of Nawab fly off the counter and get exhausted by nearly 0730 pm, after which they have no choice but to shut shop and go home. Most of the snack shops also sell other fried Calcutta evening staples like fish finger, chicken/mutton/fish cutlet, chops, vegetable/chicken pakoras, kabiraji, mughlai parota etc. The cutlets are crumb coated, deep fried minced chicken/fish/vegetable and I remember them being served with chopped onions and dashes of tomato and pungent Bengali mustard sauces called kasundi. Fern Hotel in Gariahat is a celebrated eatery which specializes in these fried snacks and their kabiraji and waiters are city fixtures.

Most of the cutlets, fingers, chops (nothing but chicken/vegetable especially carrots and beetroots stuffed crumb coated patties) are seemingly British (read Anglo Indian) snacks, but the kabiraji is actually more of a meal. It is popularly believed that Kabiraji Cutlet is actually the colloquial version of ‘Coverage or Cover Egg’ Cutlet introduced by the British. Kabiraji is a minced chicken/fish/mutton patty, encased in a fluffy frothy egg coating and served with onions and sauces. Mughlai parotas are also a Bengali staple served especially for breakfast and are egg stuffed, fried Indian bread complimented with spicy potato/ mutton curry.

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Phuchka is so Calcutta

While a walk down the Calcutta lanes brings alive the architectural ghosts of the British rule, the boundless ‘hole in the wall joints’ as well as elite city clubs (some of which until 2013 were strictly old school all male clubs) fiercely keep the British food influence pulsating. Most of them, if not all still serve food which originated during the British Colonial era and while some of these dishes try to emulate what used to be served to the English officers then, most are still consumed in their original forms. They were specifically developed to entertain the British genteel by the erstwhile Bengali nobility and for that purpose the Mog Cooks from Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) used to be in great demand.

These food wizards created many indigenous dishes, the famous (and now mostly lost) being the ‘Pantheras’ (batter-fried minced meat rectangles) which struck a delicious balance between Bengali and European cuisines. Hardly any of the Mog cooks remain today in the city’s culinary scene, with only exceptions being the Barua and Son of Shyambazar area. They are perhaps the last remaining Mog cook descendants in Calcutta, striving hard to retain this culinary gem. Many of Mog Cook’s best creations were however improvised or stolen from recipes which were tossed up by boatmen aboard steamers/ barges plying down the Brahmaputra or Padma river in undivided Bengal (including Bangladesh). 19th century saw a lot of river traffic in both Hooghly (Padma) and Brahmaputra rivers and people traveled throughout Undivided Bengal, Assam, Burma and beyond on those steamers. Most of these journeys used to last for more than a day and meals served on board used to rustic preparations cooked by the Muslim boatmen on board. Those dishes used to heartily simple using basic spices and usually a fowl or fish and have gone down Bengal’s culinary history as sheer legends.

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Bengal’s fish love

The much in demand Mog Cooks during their journey to and fro to Calcutta from Chittagong, experienced those dishes on a regular basis and thus Goalondo Steamer Chicken, Smoked Hilsa/Bhekti fish, Country Captain etc got introduced to the city’s fine dining scene. Apart from the boatmen, the highly skilled Mog Cooks hijacked recipes of the British masters with equal expertise and zero guilt. Some British officers who were posted in different parts of the country loved cooking and improvised their favourite local dishes, making them uniquely Anglo Indian. Milder, flavourful and often a more tastier version of the original dish, it was no wonder that the Mog Cooks copied the sahibs’ dishes to perfection, thus thankfully making a few recipes still traceable. Captain Skinner’s chutney is one such dish which actually incorporates his food experiences through Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong, Burma and Calcutta and it is nothing short of history served on a plate.

The Dakbunglow cuisine, which is an important part of Calcutta food culture is another near forgotten and hardly documented colonial era culinary treasure and has some very interesting dishes with equally enchanting names. Dakbungalows used to be pit stops where the British officials rested for the night/nights and their chowkidars/caretakers were taught to rustle up dinner with whatever available ingredients they had with them. As most of these stops were unpredictable, the Dakbungalow cuisine evolved with mostly minced, wholesome, fried dishes using a hodgepodge of many tasty ingredients cleverly mixed. Thus British delicacies such as scotched eggs, breaded cutlets and puffy patties/pastries found their way to the Bengali kitchen (and his heart) and evolved into the very popular ‘Dim er Devil/Deviled Egg’, ‘BreastCutlet’ and Patties. While most of Dakbungalow meal recipes, along with the fading of the Mog Cook legacy, are lost forever a handful of dishes still remain intact and are being collated by food stalwarts of the city.

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Calcutta’s fresh produce markets

The telebhajas (vegetarian oil fritters) are the more humble, country cousin version of the Anglo Indian fried snacks and while they feature on a tad lower food rung, they are as popular as their British counterparts. Every evening, Calcutta streets see crowds gathering around telebhaja ladies (and sometimes their husbands) for freshly fried, piping hot onion/potato/egg plant/coriander fritters sold from wicker baskets on side walks. Thinly sliced/chopped these vegetables are coated in chick pea batter, deep fried and served in newspaper pockets with a sprinkling of sea salt and rice puffs.

Rice puffs or Muri are a popular Indian rice based snack and are healthy too. In fact, telebhaja, muri and ginger tea are monsoon specialties and nearly every evening I ended my Gariahat walk with them. Sometimes late Calcutta call for another humble city snack called ghati garam. These are very clever mixtures sold only by mobile peddlers who roam the streets jingling their signature bells. They too carry the paraphernalia on themselves, toss warm, toasty crunchy mix in front of you (as per your taste) and hand it out in newspaper cones. Light, with chopped onions, chilies and green mango slivers, ghati garam/ chana jor (it is bengal gram flakes mix) one of the most less mentioned Calcutta snack.

Street lights blazed, traffic, people and dogs played dangerously as I ambled daily between glistening mounds of rub red litchis, golden mangoes, blackberries and slobbery slices of sweet smelling jack fruits. Late summer or early monsoon is called “Aam Kathal er shomoy” meaning mangoes and jack fruit season in Bengal and both these fruits along with Taal (Asian Palmyra) wreck sweet havoc in the state kitchens. While mangoes (the ones from Malda are most famous) and jack fruits are consumed as fruits, Taal is used to make super delicious, carb loaded fritters, a very special monsoon favourite.

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Old Calcutta culinary stalwarts

Apart from them, a host of other fruits also make appearances in Calcutta markets during monsoon and some of my childhood favourites, like gaab (Velvet apple Mabolo) and golapjaams (Rose apple) are strangely no longer available. It was while shopping for juicy bellfruits (jamrul) and transparent taal shash (palm hearts/ice apple) one Gariahat evening, that my eyes fell on both being sold dicreetly from a wicker basket by a friendly gardener who grows them at home. He usually sells plants, bulbs and seeds from a basket and that evening I got more than I had bargained for as I tucked  a coral jasmine (shiuli) sapling, dewy fresh fish heads and wild mushrooms in my bag. Calcutta streets are sometimes very provincial and at most unexpected places, beautiful , lost mementos of childhood  can be still be found. All this and Durga Puja make the city’s childlike spirit and create a magical time warped aura for the grand dame of British Raj. Intimidating, unforgettable and very very endearing, Calcutta is all about my memories of a place called home.

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A Calcutta day is never easy…
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…Because of the bombardment…
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…Of life, grunge…
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…And crushing humanity…
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…Quiet moments…
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…Are difficult to find here…
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…Because of the way history…
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…Twists and turns at its every step…
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…But life is full of flavour here…
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…Decadent, glorious…
#Kolkata #Travelbloggerindia #Travelblog #Kolkatatravelblog #WestBengaltourism
…And quirky…
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…It is just the perfect…
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…Mix of all sensory highs…
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…A very potent city…
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…Calcutta at best and worst…
Unforgettable at best
…Is an unforgettable experience…

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About the author

Hi! I am Svetlana, a cloud gypsy, a story teller and a Maverickbird. A mother, writer, entrepreneur, traveler, foodie and an animal lover, I am a Super girl from India.

33 Comments

  1. shwetajoshi
    September 26, 2014 at 11:30 pm
    Reply

    Svetlana, I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am today! While reading all your posts on Calcutta (as we like to call it), I decided to show the images to mum & dad. It’s been two hours sine that they have been telling me about our lives in Calcutta. We lived in Central Calcutta, nearby Kalakar Street. Though my memories are all hazy, but they were telling me about the Puja rituals that threw the whole city into a crazy festive fit… the feriwallas, trams, my first school, and a tons of memories. I wish so much to live in Calcutta some day.
    Thank you so much! 😊

    • maverickbird
      September 27, 2014 at 12:21 am

      Hi Shweta I am very happy that my posts gave you and your parents joy. I hope that you visit (if not live) Calcutta soon. Please be my guest if you are here.

  2. jamoroki
    September 27, 2014 at 9:54 am
    Reply

    I am envious of the great compositions in your photos Svetlana. You are capturing some beautiful images. James

    • maverickbird
      September 27, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Thank you very much James. Glad that you liked the photos.

  3. nehasharmahere
    September 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm
    Reply

    Loved the pictures!!

    • maverickbird
      September 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Thank you very much

  4. Ravish Mani
    September 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm
    Reply

    Looking pretty dear 🙂 Howrah bridge is looking awesome in your pic. I think I’m understanding Kolkata psyche.

    • maverickbird
      September 27, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you very much.

  5. basubalaka
    September 27, 2014 at 2:06 pm
    Reply

    Am just spellbound….the images are too good….keep clicking

  6. basubalaka
    September 27, 2014 at 2:07 pm
    Reply

    Am spellbound….too good…the images are just awesome

  7. PotSoup
    September 27, 2014 at 11:41 pm
    Reply

    Nice Post, a friend of mine recently moved to Calcutta and was lamenting at the lack of things to do and the life in general. I shall point him to this post.

    • maverickbird
      September 28, 2014 at 1:41 am

      Ha Ha. Thank you. I hope it helps him.

  8. AMITABHA GUPTA
    September 28, 2014 at 12:52 am
    Reply

    Chicken Pantheras….Goalondo Steamer Chicken….hmmm….You indeed have a interest for Foods available at Kolkata. Very few of the present generations knows that Chicken Pantheras are still available at Kolkata. And it was amusing to see you putting the spelling as colloquial ‘breast cutlet’ instead of Braised cutlet.

    A.D. Cabin on Sukea Street (alias Mahendra Srimani Street) close to my home still makes smashing Braised cutlets, which we have on Sundays as our afternoon snack.

    • maverickbird
      September 28, 2014 at 1:42 am

      Wow. A.D.Cabin is on my must visit list now. Thank you for the tip. I love food and all that it entails. And if what can be better than history served on a place.

  9. abhiray59
    September 28, 2014 at 7:13 am
    Reply

    Through your images you make me fall in love with Kolkata. Your love for the city reflects in each shot. Simply beautiful.

    • maverickbird
      September 28, 2014 at 9:10 am

      Thank you very much. I am happy that you liked Calcutta through my eyes.

  10. xhobdo
    September 28, 2014 at 8:28 am
    Reply

    So nice post and awesome photos

    • maverickbird
      September 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Thank you very much.

  11. VJ SHARMA
    September 28, 2014 at 11:40 am
    Reply

    I feel like packing my bags and move to explore all this. Awesome 1

    • maverickbird
      September 28, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Thank you. Please be my guest.

  12. abhibishnu
    October 4, 2014 at 9:12 pm
    Reply

    Beautiful writing and evocative pictures. Keep the great work going.

    • maverickbird
      October 4, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Thank you very much.

  13. Antonio Renzo
    July 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm
    Reply

    Lovely article, stunning pictures…

    • maverickbird
      July 19, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you very much.

  14. Anindya Sundar Basu
    October 31, 2016 at 1:04 pm
    Reply

    Loved reading this and will do more research on the mog cooks. Nice round up of the city cuisine which although adopted and imbibed but now our own

    • maverickbird
      October 31, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      Thank you very much. I am sure you will do justice to the legacy of Mog Cooks. Looking forward to it. I was thinking of requesting you for a guest write up on Dakbungalow cuisine for this series, when got tied up with other activities. Do let me know if you would like that.

  15. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder
    November 8, 2016 at 11:05 pm
    Reply

    What a yummy post! 😀 LOVED it… the Anna Karenina and the ‘churmur’ combo was excellent… 🙂

    • maverickbird
      November 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      Thank you very much. Churmur and Anna Karenina are both so synonymous with Calcutta.

  16. Bindu Gopal Rao
    November 9, 2016 at 11:58 am
    Reply

    Such an extensive post, wow.

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