The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Food Kahini hits the bookstores

"Ritu-da (Rituparno Ghosh) used to call her by the name of a food"

"Shut up!"

Mir was going to spill the beans about the name as food was the theme of the conversation with the guests at the book launch and actor Sudiptaa Chakraborty tried to dissuade him in vain. Well, the pet name that Rituparno gave her in their very first meeting was ‘Gutke kochuri’ (A small version of kochuri or kachauri). Let’s be a bit fair to Sudiptaa and not get into what actually prompted him in giving that name.

It was the evening of the launch of Food Kahini, the food book that turned well-known Kolkata food blogger Indrajit Lahiri into author. And it happened in style. The starry April evening at Peerless Inn had composer-singer-lyricist Anupam Roy, actor Aparajita Auddy and singer Lagnajita Chakraborty apart from Sudiptaa as guests and as the cherry on the cake, Mir was the host. Mir, incidentally, plays the ‘Bhaipo’ (Nephew) in the food-based web series ‘Foodka’ with Indrajit in the titular role of the uncle who is a knowledgeable foodie. It is into its third season (Available on YouTube).

Anupam sharing about his weakness for sweets

Mir had already asked Anupam about his foodie side and shared with us his deep love for sweets. He also asked the famous composer in jest what all he keeps in his fridge since his romantic songs often have names of vegetables (Like dry spring onion). It was followed by Aparajita who confessed her obsession for khichudi (Khichdi). She shared a childhood incident, with an annual occurance, where her parents used to find her sitting on the road, right by an open drain, without a care, just to eat the ‘bhog’ (Prasad) along with many others, served in a local puja. The banter, peppered with Mir's wisecracks, made for a fun time.

Aparajita talks of her obsession for khichudi with her trademark laughter

When it was Lagnajita’s turn at the end, she offered a private story on Anupam’s sweet connection where the venue was her home. Though she kept on insisting that it was harmless, it was enough to embarrass Anupam, albeit in good spirit.

Lagnajita spilling the beans

Coming to the book, it’s every blogger’s secret dream have a book to his/ her name and Indrajit was no exception. Though his blog Moha Mushkil is primarily in English, it has a section of Bengali posts and I’ve often told this friend of mine to write more in Bengali since it’s the language that befits his humorous and free-flowing writing style. Good that Food Kahini is in Bengali and comprises of his writings on various segments of foods that Kolkata is collectively known for all over the world- from the Chinese breakfast of Tiretta Bazar to the famous born-in-Kolkata kati roll to momos. In different chapters, it talks of the food at Chinatown, the brunch at 'Office para' or Dalhousie area- the central business district, the heritage cabins of the city and a foodwalk at Burrabazar which is more known as one of Asia’s largest trading hubs. It has many other attractions in the other chapters and goes beyond Kolkata to other districts of Bengal. Needless to say, it promises to be a fun read.

And Food Kahini is born. Author Indrajit Lahiri is third from right.

#FoodKahini #KolkataFoodGuide

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

A take on 'Kia and Cosmos'

Language: English
Director: Sudipto Roy
Cast: Ritwika Pal, Swastika Mukherjee, Joy Sengupta, Sraman Chatterjee, Zahid Hussain, Mita Chatterjee
Length: 2 hours 6 minutes
Release date: 29th March 2019

Kia and Cosmos is a heart-warming story of a specially abled child's (Kia) quest to find out who killed her cat Cosmos who was pregnant and in the bargain, taking a leap in becoming independent. The story is from Kia's point of view, which makes for an interesting watch, and it's brilliantly crafted by director Sudipto Roy. Aditya Varma's cinematography helps create Kia's world with finesse and elevates the film. Ritwika is astonishingly good as she brings Kia to life. Kudos to the immense potential of this young debutante! Swastika is brilliant as Kia's mother- the vulnerable and loving Dia. Joy Sengupta is very good as her musician father Kabir and so are Sraman Chatterjee and Zahid Hussain (Kia's teacher). Neel Adhikari's music and minimal background score take the storytelling forward. I just thought there was a problem with pacing in places and it could be tighter. Overall, a memorable cinematic experience which explains why this film was an official selection in film festivals in Glasgow, Milan, Barcelona and Madrid.

#KiaAndCosmos #SwastikaMukherjee

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

A take on ‘Mahalaya'

Language: Bengali
Director: Soumik Sen
Cast: Jisshu Sengupta, Subhashis Mukherjee, Prosenjit, Saptarshi Roy, Subhomoy Chatterjee
Length: 1 hour 48 minutes
Release date: 1st February 2019

Mahalaya takes us back to the historical incident etched in Bengali’s cultural history when an iconic radio programme on the day of Mahalaya famous for the chants of Birendra Krishna Bhadra was audaciously replaced by Akashvani with another program with the biggest ever filmstar Uttam Kumar as the star attraction.

Mahalaya had an interesting premise but the execution left a lot to be desired. The first few minutes involving a senior and powerful All India Radio official who catalyses the change of the iconic Mahalaya programme set the tone and texture of the film which rules out finesse. Prosenjit who plays the official Shashi Sinha delivers an exceptionally weak performance thanks to an unconvincing diction of Hindi and over-the-top portrayal full of familiar mannerisms. The same loudness is noticed in a key character Banerjee (Kanchan) and partly in Kolkata station director Stevenson (Jayant Kripalni).

In terms of direction, the narrative ends up as more documentative and less drama as it talks too much through dialogue and shows too less going against a hallmark of good cinema. Apart from some melodramatic bits, what mars the watching experience is unnecessary or careless intrusions of celebrities like Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey and even Rabindranath Tagore who is shown in a scene. I seriously wonder, couldn't the makers find out an artist who
would at least sound like Kishore Kumar?

Thankfully, Subhashish shows his class bringing to life Birendra Krishna Bhadra in a nuanced and understated performance and Jisshu does a somewhat decent job as Uttam Kumar (though more care should have been taken by the director to bring alive the biggest star in Bengali cinema).  Subhomoy Chatterjee as Pankaj Kumar Mullick is a laudable act and Saptarshi Roy as Hemanta Mukherjee is good too. One however wonders if the director has taken a little too much of creative liberty in developing the character of Hemanta making him overconfident and setting a wrong precedence of a guru-shishya relationship (with Pankaj in this context).

#Mahalaya #BanglaCinema #BanglaCinema2019 #BengaliCinema #UttamKumar

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Saturday, January 05, 2019

Film review: Rosogolla

Language: Bengali
Director: Pavel
Cast: Ujaan Ganguly, Abantika Biswas, Bidipta Chakaraborty, Rajatava Dutta, Kharaj Mukherjee, Aparajita Adhya, Chiranjeet, Shantilal Mukherjee, Kaushik Sen
Length: 2 hours 18 minutes
Release date: 21st December 2018

Je somoy niye bhabena, taake niye toh bhabtei hoy" ( If someone is oblivious of the time lost (in creation), I better take him seriously).

A confectioner says this in the film in respect of his potential competitor Nobin Chandra Das who is lost in the pursuit of invention of his dream dessert for years. This is what makes Rosogolla more than a sweet love story where the boy fights all odds to invent his girl’s dessert of desire and it simultaneously becomes an inspiring saga of perseverance of a creator. And that makes it a story that very much needed to be told.

Rosogolla is the real life story of the nineteenth century invention of Bengal's globally famed dessert (Rosogolla) by confectioner Nobin Chandra Das who took up the challenge in his early twenties to make a sweet of his lover's desire, nothing like which anyone had ever seen. He married Khirodmoni, his love, through the course of this and fulfilled her desire amid all kinds of misfortune, insult and unending failures that came their way.

Ujaan Ganguly as Nobin Chandra Das

The charm of the film is that it’s a simple story of Bengali’s favourite dessert that’s simply told. The story is penned well by Pavel and Smaranjit Chakaraborty, a well-known author. Pavel spins his yarn on screen with a main thread in a pleasingly unhurried pace and does not digress with sub-plots and unnecessary characters which is not unusual in a period piece. Though the storytelling approach is modelled on mainstream and lacks nuances in places and in some characters, it is thoroughly watchable. It is adorably garnished with dollops of old world charm of the nineteenth century Kolkata. The trivia of invention of Aam Sandesh and Baikuntho Bhog is also one of the attractions.

Having said that, the chemistry between Nobin and Khirodmoni needed better crafting. Many moments between them could be developed better. Also, the character of Baikuntho (Nobin’s partner) is over-the-top and Amritalal Banik (The patents man) is not well-etched.

Abantika delivers a fine and convincing portrayal of Khirodmoni in her debut. She brings out well the chirpy, tomboyish, yet level-headed girl who is the perfect foil to the unmaterialistic genius Nobin Chandra Das and his strongest pillar of support. Ujaan as Nobin shows promise in some scenes with measured delivery but surprisingly goes over the top in quite a few scenes. The story being centred on his character, the performance called for thoughtful handling and the director shares responsibility for this too. Rajatava as Kalidas Indra (The confectioner who was Nobin’s first employer and subsequent competitor), Kharaj as Mahesh, Nobin’s assistant, Aparajita as the golden-hearted zamindar wife and Bidipta as Nobin’s mother are well cast and play their parts well. Lew Hilt is a pleasant surprise as Paolo, the British gentleman who was a patron of the native culture. It has the historical character of confectioner Bhim Chandra Nag (played well by Tamal Roy Chowdhury) and another confectioner Ganguram also appears in a flash. However, Kaushik Sen doesn’t shine as Amritlal Banik with a stylization that doesn’t quite fall in place and Shantilal, with an awful wig, isn’t impressive as Chandu Babu/ Baikuntho except for the end appearance. Subhashree’s Hindi in the character of Malkhaan jaan, the tawaif  needed more attention.

Abantika Biswas as Khirodmoni

Music is a strength of the film and the earthy score of Kalikaprasad aid the storytelling brilliantly. Khodar Banda breaks out amid virgin rural landscape within a few minutes of the film, giving it a zesty start. Tapur Tupur, brilliantly written, composed and sung by Arnab Dutta is an immensely endearing love ballad. Supriyo Dutta’s camerawork brings out the era nicely. It was obvious that the production design had a woefully limited budget for a period piece and despite best efforts, outdoor shots of Kolkata stuck out unflatteringly which computer graphics couldn’t make good. Though it is not desirable in a period film, I would still like to overlook this blemish as it is a satisfying watch on overall consideration.

At the end, it suffices to say that every Bengali across the world should watch this film as it’s a story of our roots that is worthy of it.

#Rosogolla #BanglaCinema #NobinChandraDas

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A porky evening with friends at Tung Nam

As the year is drawing to a close, the tired mind itching to take a break from work and unwind. And catching up with friends over food is one of the best ways to go about it.

Anirban Acharya comes to hometown Kolkata every winter from London where he works. He’s ‘fishy’ like me, with an undying Bengali love for all things fish. We met virtually, in a Facebook food group (Easy guess!). For Bengalis, if food comes, can cinema be far behind? After all that's one of the hot topics in a Bengali adda and my namesake can be considered part of discerning audience. So our virtual friendship soon extended to my Facebook cinema group We the Audience. The group likes to share quality content on cinema, post audience reviews of current and past movies (Bengali, Hindi and English) and engage in discussions. If you are interested, you are welcome to join here.

Coming back to food, our virtual friendship had the first physical meeting in January this year, near the end of his last winter vacation. I took my fishy friend to a pice hotel Sidheshwari Ashram (If you wish to know what the term means, read this post on this blog) followed by a visit to the iconic Coffee House. And we knew we would meet again. Our next food destination options kept getting ticked over Facebook interactions.  

Anirban, just after arriving at Kolkata, created a WhatsApp group to coordinate our first meet-up. A dinner meet in Tung Nam- one of the best yet lesser known Chinese restaurants in the city, located in old Chinatown (in Tiretta Bazar, which happens to be India's oldest Chinatown). Our common friend, food blogger Indrajit Lahiri was part of the Tung Nam plan from day zero. Another common friend, food blogger Abhimanyu Chakaraborty, who blogs in Bengali, joined in. Tung Nam is run by a Chinese family from the same locality and is popular in the city pork lover circuit.

When we met in the restaurant in the evening, I found that not much has changed from years back when I came last. They still blissfully ignore what is called ‘ambience’. In fact, they don’t even call it a restaurant but an eating house. Got the drift? Only the walls of which the paint was old and coming off are now tiled. The colour of the table tops is wearing off and a scooter is parked right inside. An unpretentious set-up like this suits me perfectly fine and if you care for good food and little else, should suit you too. What makes it a more homely experience is, the owner may come to you, take your order, serve you, give you the bill and collect cash. Thus you shall get the best guide for what to order as per your palate. That's what happened in our case- a short, fair, middle aged lady came to collect our order. She didn’t allow me to take her picture, but you can spot her in the next photo.

We went off the mark with Steamed Pork Wonton and Pork Wonton Soup followed by Chilli Garlic Pepper Pork, Roast Chilli Pork and Mushroom Baby Corn Pork. The wontons were moist, had the right amount of fat and tasted finger-licking good, as usual! As Abhimanyu pointed out, even the skin of the wonton was yummy! The soup was basically a clear soup but distinctly flavourful, the kind one can call the perfect comfort food. The use of ham choy in the wonton and the soup, typical of this eatery, gives a fine tweak of flavour to these dishes.

Steamed Pork Wonton

Pork Wonton Soup

The Chilli Garlic Pepper Pork had a scary red colour, yet spicy and tasteful. The Chilli Pork was dry and good in taste but I found it to be rather oily. Also it had a lot of fat which spoilt the pleasure to an extent. 

Chilli Garlic Pepper Pork

Roast Chilli Pork

I was bowled over by the delicately flavoured Mushroom Baby Corn Pork. It was a pleasant break from the sharp Chinese flavours. I love mushroom and it added to the taste. It can especially be good for those who like light flavours, like children. It easily earned a place on my list of favourites from Tung Nam. I liked the meat-to-fat ratio of the dishes which is an important parameter of eating pork. Here it seemed to be within 70:30 except the Roast Chilli Pork. After polishing off two plates each of the wonton and the soup and one plate of the other three, Indrajit and Abhimanyu, two Tung Nam loyals, thought of what to order in main course. We were relishing every bit of our piggy indulgence.

Mushroom Baby Corn Pork

The mains arrived- Rice with Pork Ham Choy, Pork with Hamei Sauce and Pork Chou Sui (One portion each). The first dish was spicy and pungent, small chunks of pork on a generous bed of steamed rice. Abhimanyu shared that it used to be sticky rice but has possibly been changed to align to the average customer’s palate. The Chou Sui had rice wine sauce in it. Indrajit shared that as far as his knowledge of Hamei Sauce was concerned, a paste of shrimp and chilli was used to make it. I found a hit of red chilli flakes in all the three dishes. Pork with Hamei Sauce and Pork Chou Sui scored better on taste.

Rice with Pork Ham Choy

Pork Chou Sui

We felt full and decided to call it a day. Our bill, surprisingly, was just Rs 1900 including four bottles of 300 ml cold drink. It’s a pointer to how affordable good food is in Kolkata.

#ChineseCuisine #ChineseFood #Pork #KolkataChineseFood #ChinaTown #OldChinatown

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

2019: A year of thrillers in Bangla cinema

One genre that never goes out of favour with Bengali audience is thriller. And standing now, 2019 looks like a bonanza for the audience with a possible release of five thrillers made by two big names, one young and successful director and two promising filmmakers. Here you go.

A long cherished script of Pratim D Gupta who treated the audience with a delectable Maacher Jhol in 2017. The script of Ink was selected in the coveted Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2014. Starring Pratim’s favourites Ritwick and Paoli, it’s about a superstar and a reporter with a mundane job (played by Paoli and Ritwick respectively) and the strange relationship between them. Director-actor Gautam Ghose is playing the editor of the newspaper where Ritwick works and it also has the talented Chitrangada Chakaraborty (who played a cancer patient obsessed by a superstar in Pratim's Ahare Mon). Pratim shot major parts of the film even before his unusual love story Ahare Mon released last year. The credentials of the script will be a major reason for me to look forward to Ink.

Vinci Da
Srijit Mukherji has recently finished shooting his new thriller centred around a make-up artist and a serial killer and looks set for a Nawbobawrsho date (April). The director is back to the genre which brought him fame and recognition with two films. Baishe Srabon, his second film starring Prosenjit and Parambrata, catapulted him to the big league and Chotushkone, which had some experimental treatment and an ensemble of Aparna Sen, Chiranjeet, Parambrata and Gautam Ghose, gave him two national awards, a first for him, besides box office success. Vinci Da boasts of a powerful cast- Rudraneel Ghosh and Ritwick Chakaraborty in the lead, Sohini Sarkar and Anirban Bhattacharya playing a cop.

Rawkto Rahoshyo
After making Pendulum and this year's critically acclaimed food fantasy Rainbow Jelly, Soukarya Ghosal just finished shooting his next, reported to be a medical thriller, in one demanding schedule. Starring Koel, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Rwitobroto Mukherjee and Basabdatta Chatterjee (of Asha Jaoar Majhe by Aditya Bikram Sengupta), it has Koel playing a headstrong and brutally honest RJ.

Khela Jokhon
The name and cast of this dark thriller by Arindam Sil, whose expertise in the genre is well established, was announced last week. It's about the journey of a woman who comes out of the coma and gradually turns violent because of situations contradicting her beliefs. As the director said, film will start on a calm note and gradually turn violent. The eclectic cast has Sayani Gupta (You saw this Bengali actress from Kolkata in Fan), Abir, Adil Hussain, Jayant Kripalni, Indrashish Roy and June Maliah among others. Interestingly, Arijit Biswas, the co-writer of one of this year’s most acclaimed films Andhadhun (a thriller with a dark comedy streak), Badlapur and Agent Vinod, is writing the script in collaboration with the director. To be shot in Odisha, which is less explored in Bangla cinema, and Kurseong, it goes on floors coming February.

Finally, Indrashis Acharya, noticed for his debut directorial Bilu Rakkhosh  in 2017 and Pupa this year, both liked by discerning audience, has turned his attention to this thriller starring Rituparna which seems to be about facing the dark past of a character. Indrashis is known for his treatment of the intricacies of the human mind. So the film, a new genre for the talented new director, will be worth looking forward to.

#Thriller #BengaliCinema #BengaliCinema2019 #VinciDa #SrijitMukherji #ArindamSil #SundanceLab

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Friday, December 14, 2018

The humble street sweet shop in Sealdah

In an abandoned entrance of an old building, just ahead of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, a middle-aged man dressed in white dhoti-punjabi and tilak on forehead sets up a stall early morning selling sweets. He sells still stocks last, which is early or mid-afternoon. The sweets are from Krishnanagar, which sounded new to my ears (though the said town is famous for certain sweets) as I am familiar with street shops procuring sweets coming from Chandannagar and Howrah. I have also heard of sweets from Katwa (of Bardhaman district) selling on the city streets. So, in this shop, you shall get to sample the famous 'Sorpuriya' of Krishnanagar as part of a decent range on offer (given the small space).

I have been noticing the shop, named 'Amrit Keli', for many years now as I have been going to Loreto to fetch or drop my daughter(s). The name is another unique aspect of it as street shops are nameless. The sweets look tempting and are testimony to the amazing range of street food Kolkata offers in desserts which has no match in India.

I finally tasted the fare today. Firstly a kheer-covered syrupy sweet (My second favourite category). The thick, kheer-enveloped sweet was so tender, it broke and fell off my finger. The sweetness was moderate, just as I like it. Next was a large lyangcha. It's not often that you get a good quality of this fried sweet on the street. I still went for it as the one I had before was impressive. The lyangcha tasted good! It didn't feel maida (refined flour) much as is the case often.

I got chhanar payesh (Kheer made with tiny chhena balls) packed for my post-lunch dessert in office. It was thickly creamy and good in taste! My personal preference would be a bit less sweet though.

The prices are much reasonable given the quality. My bill was Rs 47.

This calls for more visits to check out the other goodies.

#Sweets #BengaliSweets #KolkataSweets #Sorpuriya #StreetFood

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

A beefy lunch at Shim Shim

I first read about this new kid on the block in a social media post by food blogger friend Indrajit Lahiri as the only known place serving beef momo in the city. Beef momo! That's interesting, I thought. To me, momo equals steamed pork momo. So another kind of it with red meat should be good.

An opportunity came up to have it and many more beefy delights when Indrajit arranged for a meet-up with friend and well-known food blogger Yummraj (with his rani) and another friend and noted food blogger Sabyasachi Raychaudhuri over lunch last Saturday. I knew Sabyasachida through social media and met him for the first time. And man, what a fabulous beef fest it was over endless food talk!

It's a moderate-sized, tastefully decorated restaurant on Tibetan theme with contrasting brick-coloured and white walls with functional, iron chairs and wall-side sofa seating. It serves Tibetan and Chinese Cuisine with a bit of Mongolian and Nepali thrown in. The staff is young and soft-spoken.

We started off with Beef Kothay (Momo with a roasted bottom). Juicy and delicately spicy mincemeat inside a soft skin got it a thumbs up!

Beef Kothay

Yummraj ordered the Oxtail Clear Soup after he curiously found it on the menu. But it didn't impress us. The only disappointment in our memorable lunch.

Oxtail Clear Soup

Up next was the Beef Thukpa. The flavourful broth with strips of beef, noodles and veggies set the palate right. In fact one of the reasons why we didn't like the Oxtail soup was that it tasted like the thukpa. The last starter was Beef Phalay which is like a kachori stuffed with mincemeat. Crunchy outside, moist inside, it  scored with us effortlessly.

Beef Phalay

Moving on to main course, we ordered Chilli Beef and Mongolian Beef to go with steamed Gobindobhog rice. The Chilli Beef was cooked to perfection. It was dry with the heat of a generous amount of slit chilli and the goodness of spices. There were various shapes of beef. Before you have it, squeeze a bit of lime on it and it will be irresistible!

Chilli Beef 

We loved the Mongolian beef too which was low on hotness. The hint of sweetness made it stand out.

Mongolian Beef

An interesting thing came up in our food talk. The habit of people to mean 'Hot' by the word 'Spicy'. As it is, 'Spicy' means it will give the feel of being well-cooked with spices and may not actually be hot at all. In fact, a lightly-cooked dish can also be spicy (Shukto, the Bengali appetizer, is one).

We finished the main course with the scrumptious Beef Kofta. The crunchy exterior loaded with juicy mince beef inside won us over! It can be a damn good starter as well.

Beef Kofta

We were feeling full and content and rounded it off with Crispy Pancake with Banana and Nutella. The look was inviting and Nutella oozed out of it as I held a piece. A fitting end of a thoroughly pleasing meal!

Crispy Pancake with Banana and Nutella

The prices are pocket-friendly. Our bill came to around Rs 2200 after eating to our heart's content and repeating a few dishes. A great afternoon spent over delectable food and good company.

I have to come back, especially if I have a beef craving.

#Beef #BeefDishes #Tibetan #KolkataFood

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