The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Goddess Durga idol in the making at Kumartuli for Puja coming up in October 2016. Photograph by Subhadip Mukherjee.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Tour Diary- Indore

Yahan ke logon ko khana bahot pasand hain. Subhe se raat ko ek baaje tak khaate rehte hain.” The friendly driver Tiwari informed me and my colleague as we had asked him what people of Indore like doing.

There are many other shades of Indore too, which I liked or found highly worthy of mention on my business tour.

The night we drove into Indore from the railway station (coming from Udaipur in the inter-city express), we stopped at a food zone at Chhappan Market, Palasia, to pick up our dinner. We were surprised to see all the eateries serving customers past 11 o’ clock and young girls and boys in smart casuals roaming around. That’s an average night here, as we were told later by Tiwari. There are places in the city which stay up late. A boon for business travellers like us, I thought!

 Chhappan Market during the day

Later, we took away this veg toasted sandwich (See picture below) from Chhappan Market and quickly polished it off on way back to airport. It was finger-licking good! My ex-deputy told me today that Chhappan Market (alias Chhappan Dukan) is one place where hardcore non-vegetarians may find the vegetarian food tempting. She enquired if I had checked out the jalebi and rabri here.

Vegetable grilled sandwich being made in Chhappan Market which we picked up on way back

The reason why Chhappan Market is also known as Chhappan Dukan (which means fifty six shops) is because it started with fifty six shops.

It is indeed a foodie city. There is another food zone called Sarafa which is an old shopping area selling silver jewellery, silverware and books where people eat snacks like kachori, samosa, jalebi till 1o’ clock in the night. Many of the famous pan-India food chains have presence in the city (KFC, Domino’s to name just a few).

Poha and sabudana khichdi are popular among snacks. I like poha as it is healthy unlike most Indian snacks. Thanks to Tiwari’s prodding I sampled the sabudana khichdi from street side. I think it is better called sabudana chaat as the vendor who I had it from took few tablespoons of boiled sago and put bhujia, arum chips, chopped onion, coriander leaves, boiled chilli, salt, spices and a squeeze of lime in it and made it taste yummy. We ordered in poha for breakfast in the client’s guest house in the last morning. They eat poha like a chaat too, much like the sabudana khichdi. Indore is also known for its range of namkeen.

Sabudana khichdi being prepared in the roadside stall

 Sabudana khichdi 

The vendor serving sabudana khichdi 

Poha (Right) and its accompaniment (left)

The city impressed me in our seven-city business tour which started in phases last month, covering Ranchi, Patna, New Delhi, Lucknow, Udaipur, Jaipur and Indore. Primarily because I found Indore clean, its people well-behaved and its blend of modernity and old-world charm. In the behaviour bit, it stands in a contrast with our experience in Jaipur. The railway station is large and clean too.

Though I am not a religious person, I went to this temple known as Shri Khajrana Ganesh Mandir to accompany my team member in the evening, and I was impressed with the degree of cleanliness of the large temple complex spread over a few acres including a huge free parking area. Tiwari attributed the credit of it to the corporator. It was 15th September, one of the days of Ganpati visarjan (immersion of idol post-Ganesh Chaturthi), yet it fetched a crowd and there was a long queue for the puja.

The free parking area in Shri Khajrana Ganesh Mandir 

The well laid out shops on way to the temple

The architecture of the temple building was beautiful. I won't be surprised if it inspires a Puja pandal in Kolkata someday or or has already inspired one.

 Shri Khajrana Ganesh Mandir- the temple building

Devotees offering Puja (in a well-managed, neat queue)

The idol of lord Ganesh

The entry of the temple building (from inside)

It is one place where people of this city come for puja when they buy a two-wheeler or a car. We saw a few vehicles with the puja already performed on them.

Indore also has the distinction of being the only Indian city having an IIT and an IIM, Sunil Sharma, a Sales head of Birla Corp, our client, informed us. Our business tour was for training the sales and service teams of the organization for a CRM programme we were doing for their cement dealers.

Kota, the town in Rajasthan, is famous for its coaching classes for competitive exams and known as India’s coaching hub. But it has lost some of its sheen to Indore in recent years as some of the leading coaching institutes have opened centres in Indore (Allen Career Institute, for instance). What works in favour of Indore are better connectivity (as Sunil informed us) and better weather (as Tiwari told us) than Kota. IIT entrance classes are the hottest in demand, I was told. This phenomenon has resulted in an influx of students from various parts of India who enrol in the coaching classes.

Tiwari also shared with us that the people in the city, both men and women,  have an inclination to work hard for a better life. Many women from the lower-income group work part-time and it shouldn't be a surprise to find LED televisions in slum homes.

It was interesting to come across i-bus (indicating intelligent bus) and its stand, which was the landmark of our guest house. It is part of a state-of-the-art bus rapid transport system of the state government for Indore city in operation since 2013. The low-floor buses are air-conditioned, fitted with GPS device, offer on-board free Wi-Fi and run on advance signal systems based on data-centric algorithms. The bus stand looked futuristic and the first-of-its-kind I had seen in any city! It was air-conditioned and I spotted a vending machine of soft drink.

Indore, I would like to come back and explore you! An i-bus ride will definitely be on the wishlist.

#TourDiary #Indore #IndianStreetFood #IndoreFood #Poha #IITCoachingClasses #IIT #IIM #iBus

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Saturday, September 24, 2016


Boy cut.

Micro-check shirt tucked into black trousers on the lean frame.

Hands in pocket.

A gait which is not known as 'feminine'.

Colleague (a lady): "I just thought it was Ajit (the office peon) as I saw you from behind."

Boss ( a lady): "This is the last time I am seeing you in such clothes. Dress like a girl before coming to office. You really look like the office peon."

She is at ease hitting the ball at the nets in the morning but feels lost when it comes to 'girly' dressing.

The city is watching Pink and cheering to it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A visit to Botanical Garden

The only time I visited Botanical Garden was in my childhood. It was my father’s office picnic. So, a visit to this place so near Kolkata was long due.

The garden, commonly known as Indian Botanic Garden and formally known as Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, located in Shibpur in the city of Howrah, is one of its kind in India. Spread over 109 hectres, it has a collection of 12,000 specimens of plants and trees from all over India.

After I stepped into this heritage garden with my family last month, it didn’t take me long to connect with nature. Maybe because we entered from the second and relatively new gate, I didn’t spot too many people around. This urban forest offers complete tranquility and the only sound that breaks the silence is chirp of birds. Such a welcome break from the daily grind!

The main gate, adjacent to the bus stand

The second gate

If you like nature, and the stress at work becomes too much to for your nerves, a day trip to this place is what the doctor ordered. Nothing soothes the frayed nerves as much as nature and you shall come back rejuvenated. If you have some creative work to do, a place like this can aid the thinking process by a great deal. You can just be with yourself at the lap of nature with nothing to distract your mind (other than your mobile phone, of course).

I came across various types of trees and creepers as well as blooming flowers and fruits I have never seen in my life.

One of the many species of bamboo tree

The garden was set up by Colonel Robert Kyd in 1787. It was known as ‘Company Bagan’ then (after the name of East India Company). Kyd also served as the Honorary Superintendent of the garden from the beginning till 1793. The primary objective of the garden was identifying new plants of commercial value, such as teak, and growing spices for trade. According to Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of the greatest British botanists and explorers of the 19th century, the introduction of the tea plant from China may be considered one of the greatest accomplishments of this botanic garden. This led to another significant contribution- according to Sir Hooker, the establishment of the tea trade in the Himalaya and Assam is almost entirely the work of the superintendents of the botanic garden of Kolkata and Saharanpur.

The garden has a rare variety of water lily (Scientific name Victoria amazonica). Its leaves are so large and robust that it is said that a leaf can hold an infant.

Came across a palm house but unfortunately it was closed. Here’s a peek from the gate.

There are battery-operated cars of various sizes that can take visitors to a paid guided tour of the garden. They can be booked at the main gate.

Despite housing a mammoth collection of plants and trees, including countless rare species, the garden is pretty ill-maintained. Many of the trees are not labelled with name, scientific name and other details and road directions to visitors like which sections are located where are poorly maintained. The roads are kept clean but.

The faulty tap that throws water in all directions

The garden is by the river Hooghly (also known as Ganga or The Ganges).  There is a promenade by the river and sitting there can add to the experience.


The garden is a no-plastic zone. So, don't carry plastic bags. Also, bring your own food if you wish to eat, as, unfortunately, there is no food kiosk/ eatery inside. Even outside the main gate there is a sole low-end restaurant which is the only decent place to have a meal.  

#BotanicalGarden #NaturePark #KolkataTravel #TouristAttraction #StressBuster

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Review: Eagoler Chokh

Language- Bengali
Cast- Saswata Chatterjee, Payel Sarkar, Anirban Bhattacharya, Jaya Ahsan, Subhrajit Dutta, Ushoshi Sengupta, June Maliah, Arunima Ghosh, Arjun Chakraborty
Director- Arindam Sil

I remember having read only two stories in Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Shabor series and Eagoler Chokh was one of them. So far I recall, the style was conversational, and not narrative-based. Such a piece of literary work is difficult to translate on screen. So I was eager to see how Arindam had taken up the challenge to adapt his second Shabor story for cinema.

Shabor (Saswata) with his assistant Nando (Subhrajit) picks up a case where young and successful businessman Bishan Ray (Anirban) returns home in the morning and finds his wife’s friend-cum-business-partner (Payel), who lived with his family, murdered and his wife Shibangi (Jaya) fatally injured. Shabor’s intervention is earnestly sought by the third officer of the local police station (Arjun). The investigation leads Shabor to study Bishan who has a fatal attraction for women of all ages. The cues are strewn around various women in Bishan’s life in different times. It becomes an interesting study of sexual attraction from the women’s point of view. How Shabor picks up the cues and reaches the culprit forms the crux.

The first thing to mention is the discovery of this film- Anirban Bhattacharya. The confidence (both in vocal and physical acting) with which this gifted and well-known stage actor has portrayed a character as unique as Bishan Ray deserves kudos and elevates the film. We have seen him in a character role in Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar (2015) and a bit role in Khawto (2016) among other screen outings. Thanks to Arindam for offering him a role worth his acumen. He can easily be considered in the same bracket as the Fab Five of Tollygunge- Parambrata-Jisshu-Abir-Saswata-Ritwik and has a bright future if the right opportunities come his way.

Anirban Bhattacharya in Eagoler Chokh. Picture source: Shree Venkatesh Films YouTube account.

The suspense-building in the film is competent, like the last Shabor film (Ebar Shabor. You can read the review on this blog here). Till near the end one keeps guessing who contracted the killers and the motive. The director shows Shabor’s detection like an open book, unlike other screen detectives where it mostly happens in their mind. As a result, the audience feels involved in the detection. The audience has a fair idea of Shabor now, so the story demanded a bit of novelty in his characterization, like new facets of Shabor’s persona or life. Shabor is not your average larger-than life fictional detective possessing flawless persona. He can be vulnerable and it comes out effectively in his consulting a psychologist (June) for the hallucination of seeing himself in the criminal.

Saswata has internalized Shabor and he becomes the character with élan. It is difficult to think of anyone else in his shoes. Good to see that the director had noted the feedback that poured in after Ebar Shabor including that from some senior police officers of Lalbazar. So, Shabor mostly travels in his official car (unlike public transport in the first film). There is a scene where he is travelling in an AC bus but.

Saswata in Eagoler Chokh. Picture source: Shree Venkatesh Films Facebook page

What I particularly like about Shabor is that the director has built his detective, who, despite being an Asst Commissioner, is much like a common man with down-to-earth tastes. He prefers speaking in Bengali and avoids unnecessary sprinkle of English. Shabor seems to be in his forties, is a bachelor, lives in a modest accommodation and relishes an odd meal of rice and fish in a ‘pice hotel’ (Eatery in Bengal serving rice meals) with his assistant. His dig at ‘Basa’ fish in comparison with beckti (Bhetki) will be particularly appealing to the fish-loving Bengali.

Jaya Ahsan is shown mostly in the hospital and she excels in bringing out Shibangi who is far from the average wife who has fallen out with her husband. She excels in the last few scenes where Shibangi’s deepest emotions and desires come forth upon the probe of Shabor. She is here to stay and hopefully suitable opportunities will come her way. It’s again to Arindam’s credit for introducing this talent from Bangladesh in his directorial debut Aborto.

Arindam has a keen eye for casting as his filmography shows and this is no exception. Payel, Arunima (the prostitute who slept with Bishan), June and the other actors including débutante Riya Banik (who assists Shibangi and drives the car) fit their roles perfectly. Ushoshi is a well-known model in the city but the director has used her intelligently in Shibangi’s NRI sister’s character. The scenes of recreating the crime scenario help the audience getting involved with the detection.

Shot mostly indoors, Soumik’s camera gives the film the right degree and mix of sleekness and realistic look (The ‘pice hotel’ scene, for instance). The film doesn’t show much of Kolkata unlike Ebar Shabor, but the scenes of Belur were a visual relief.

Sujoy Datta Ray’s editing holds a uniform pace throughout the film, which is neither fast nor slow. The shots of crime scenario-building that goes in Shabor’s mind are weaved seamlessly into the sequences.

Bickram Ghosh’s background score is fresh and helps build the mood. Between the two songs, Dil mehfil (shot on Arunima Ghosh in a nightclub scene) doesn’t impress but Bickram is in his elements in Armeen Musa’s sensuous rendition of Raater majhar, the theme song.

One weak link is the comic angles, though that’s not an essential part of a thriller. It’s mostly around Nando’s faulty English and not funny at all. It looked repetitive after the first Shabor film and the lines called for witty writing. Shabor has a sharp sense of humour and I wonder why it was left unexplored compared to the first film.

The long opening chase sequence, a repeat of what we saw in Ebar Shabor, looked redundant to me. It’s not kick ass enough to impress and other than rolling out the opening credits, which is stylish alright, does little. It’s a style carried over from Ebar Shabor and I had mentioned this in the said film’s review and expected a better job in the next film in the franchise. I sincerely wish, in the next Shabor film, the chase is replaced by something some other sequence to show the detective at work.

There are gaps in detailing which must be avoided to make a first-rate thriller. How did the other policemen emerge in the background as soon as the criminals were cornered in the opening chase while we saw only Shabor and Nando running after them? The husband-cum-pimp is shown drunk too soon. And the gaping hole in the narrative is- How was Shibangi so confident that she could gun down the contract killers? Was she a shooting champ? If this was in the story, it needed re-working before filming.

However, despite the flaws, Eagoler Chokh is an engaging watch and makes one to look forward to the next film in this new franchise.

#EagolerChokh #Shabor #Detective #BanglaCinema #BengaliThriller #BengaliCinema

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The music of Shaheb Bibi Golaam

The 26th August release directed by film critic-turned-director Pratim D Gupta is pegged as a musical thriller. Music plays a big role and helps tell the story is what Pratim has let out. The songs have been releasing on social media one by one, starting with Mon bhalo nei by Anupam who has also scored the film and written the lyrics. Here is my take on the music album on the new label Amara Muzik (which has also released the music of Bastushaap and Praktan).

The sound is very urban and western with a techno feel- something very fresh from Anupam in my experience. The orchestration has generous use of keyboard, guitar and drums.

Mon bhalo nei is a romantic number sung in Anupam’s inimitable style. If you know his writing, you shall note his signature right from the beginning- Kothay chhile saat shawkale/ Tomaay khujchhe kawler jawl. The song didn’t make a mark on me the first time but slowly grew on me. Anupam’s satin smooth voice brings out the melancholy in the right degree. The orchestration is pacy, giving the song a fresh feel as a sad romantic number.

Tomar ki naam is an unadulterated romantic track sung by Shreya. The deep-rooted emotion in her voice hardly fails to charm and it has done complete justice to this number. The track has some captivating drum beats.

Ghorir kantar moto has the enamoring voice of Tanya Sen. It echoes the monotony, loneliness and frustration of the character on whom it is picturised. There is an impressive verve and an unmistakable urbanity in Tanya’s voice and I think she merits being heard more on playback. The orchestration gets edgy keeping with the mood.

Tomar shawhorey is a musical coup achieved where Anjan Dutt has sung for another composer (Anupam) for the first time. The lyric and singing of this song of optimism remind of vintage Anjan in the nineties. It ends with zippy drum beats.

The album also features two instrumental pieces- Jimmy’s theme and Jaya’s theme- composed, arranged and programmed by noted musician Neel Adhikari. The former is simple and pacy and suits the character. Anjan Dutt plays Jimmy, one of the three protagonists (denoting Shaheb) in the film and Swastika plays Jaya (Biwi)- another of the trio.

The album is priced Rs 100 and available in music stores.

#ShahebBibiGolaamMusic #SBG #ShahebBibiGolaam #AnupamRay #AnjanDutt #ShreyaGhosal #BanglaCinema

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Friday, August 19, 2016

A classy oriental food experience at Tak Heng

I first read about this new kid on the block in Chinese cuisine on Poorna’s blog. She had visited it with friends and wrote a review. Later, I read about it in Times of India and a few other places. Like many, I knew it made good food and had a tie-up with the popular and modest eatery from old Chinatown of Kolkata- Tung Nam. So the perception was that all the popular dishes of Tung Nam and more were being served in a better ambiance in south Kolkata (near Southern Avenue).

I was later clarified by Prithvish Chakravarti, the owner of Tak Heng, on Facebook. He was on my friend list for some time and I was chatting with him about the place one evening. He informed that Tak Heng had no association with Tung Nam. It never had. It only so happened that he had requested his good friend Michael who hails from the family that runs Tung Nam to operate the kitchen of Tak Heng in the initial days and train the kitchen staff, which Michael did. As a result, some of the best dishes of Tung Nam is available here as part of a menu which serves a wide range of Oriental food.

He also informed that in Tak Heng, no MSG and not much of additives and colours were used as well, unlike most Chinese eateries in the city. So, the taste of food in Tak Heng was not sharp, rather subtle. I am much interested in Chinese food where MSG (Monosodium Glutamate, popularly known as ajino moto) is not used as there is a lot of negative reports about its harmful effects. It is what makes you thirsty after a hearty Chinese meal if not used in moderation. Many will argue that MSG enhances the flavour of food and getting rid of it makes it less palatable, but that’s actually a myth.

That chat ended with an invitation to Tak Heng. So, sometime back, I I turned up one evening with blogger friend Indrajit Lahiri. It is located on Raja Basanta Roy Road, near Thyagaraj Hall. I found it by walking down Lake View Road from the end of Jugal’s sweet shop on Rasbehari Avenue and taking the last left hand turn before Vivekananda Park

Blogger Indrajit Lahiri in front of Tak Heng

We were welcomed by Prithvish who is an entrepreneur and into manufacturing machines and a foodie by passion. It’s the common interest of food that he shares with his wife that resulted in Tak Heng last year.

Like it is a trend in south Kolkata, a part of the ground floor of a house has been converted into the restaurant. The erstwhile leaving room is now the dining area which seats about twenty six persons. The décor is minimalistic with Chinese motifs and the seating is casual.

Our sojourn kicked off with chimney soup. Now, this is a rare delicacy in the Chinese foodscape of the city. I had known only one restaurant serving it- Eau Chew. It’s a flavourful clear soup that can have a variety of chicken/fish/ seafood and vegetables served in a large Mongolian hotpot. Ours was Chef’s Special Chimney Soup containing prawn, crab, squid, fish, mushroom, veggies and chicken as well. The natural flavours of all the ingredients blended beautifully to create a sublime broth that brought a rare pep before a meal. A sure recommendation for those who love seafood and appreciate natural flavours. This comes in a portion for four persons at Rs 900 plus taxes. Paying the steep price won’t be a regret. 

Chef’s Special Chimney Soup

Next came Oriental Mango Salad. And I was bowled over by this tangy delight with a dash of sweetness, made with cubes of mango, cabbage leaf and coriander leaf bathed in a transparent broth. This was just what the palate longs for in a hot and humid weather and a perfect starter for a hearty, relaxed meal.

Oriental Mango Salad

The Fried Chiken Wonton was not bad but couldn’t do much for me thanks to the relish of the mango salad. When it comes to wonton, I am all for steamed varieties and pan fried/ fried versions have never impressed me. This crispy dish had a thin filling of chicken and I thought it would have been a more enjoyable with a thicker filling.

Fried Chiken Wonton

The King Crab in Chilli Oyster Sauce came next and the size of the crab was large enough to draw attention. A rare find in Kolkata eateries, Prithvish revealed that he owes the credit of sourcing such large crabs to his supplier who mainly services export orders. The crab had already been broken to facilitate our going ahead with it. The flesh was tender and delicious in a thin, spicy gravy full with vegetables. Easily the dish of the evening and wins a recommendation. The picture shows a standard portion that comes at Rs 650 plus taxes.

 King Crab in Chilli Oyster Sauce 

Prithvish told us that all the sauces- served on the table and used in the cooking- are made in-house. They also keep the saltiness (which also comes from soy sauce in Chinese cooking) on the lower side in their dishes. These two combined is one of the reasons behind the signature old school Chinese taste of Tak Heng which feels quite different from the Chinese eateries in the city, including the old and the new Chinatown.

Sweet Vineagar (left) and Nam Jim, a Thai dipping sauce (Right)

Tak Heng serves whole fish apart from the familiar fish dishes and one such landed at our table. It was fish in a special sauce- a whole beckti in a thin, tangy sauce served with rice and broccoli. Tak Heng uses only beckti and Prthvish believes the basa fish, common to most of the restaurants now, doesn’t even compare with beckti on the taste front.

The fish is served with some rice and broccoli. It was fresh and tasteful, but the tang paired with a dash of sweetness overpowering the spicing was the reason it didn’t appeal to my palate as much as I expected it to. It was not tart but. My humble suggestion for the chef was to tone down the sourness and enhance the spiciness. That said, a customer can feel free to customize it to his/her palate by placing a request at the time of placing order.

The main course was Burnt Ginger Fried Rice and Singagpore Meifoon (chicken). On the side was Chicken Mushroom Babycorn and Prawn in Hot Garlic Sauce. The slight smoky flavour of the chicken fried rice complimented the side dishes. Frankly speaking, after the fabulous crab, these two didn’t impress, though I must say they were decent. I liked the chicken preparation. At the cost of repeating myself on this blog let me say that that I love mushroom and I find Kolkata not offering enough choices for mushroom-lovers. Juicy, boneless chicken, mushroom and babycorn cooked in a thin, light-coloured gravy brought out a subtle flavour which won over my palate. The ideal dish if you would like something not spicy (for a change) yet flavourful on the side. It earns a recommendation! I realize the number of recommendations is looking higher than usual but this place merits it.

Burnt Ginger Fried Rice

 Singagpore Meifoon (chicken)

Chicken Mushroom Babycorn

The Prawn in Hot Garlic Sauce, with jumbo prawns in a thick, spicy gravy, to be fair, was not bad, but I didn’t feel any subtle difference. I was probably too full for that. It is made of authentic Cantonese hamei sauce and much less spicy than its Tung Nam version.

Prawn in Hot Garlic Sauce

We sincerely wished to skip the dessert as we couldn’t take anything else, but Prithvish earnestly requested us to try the dessert and asked us to guess what it was made of. I am not good at guessing food ingredients, but Indrajit, who has studied hotel management, gave up too. Pritvish revealed that it was called Sankaya- a Thai custard pudding made of pumpkin, jaggery, coconut and duck egg. I don’t like pumpkin, but couldn’t help finishing it, it was so delicious! It paired well with the scoop of vanilla ice cream served with it. Can’t help, this deserves a recommendation too.


The chef (Left) and Prithvish Chakravarti

The prices are premium (Pocket pinch Rs 900 for two) but I was told that all the portions suffice two persons. It is full on weekends leading to a queue outside, so reservation would be wise.

Address: P524 Raja Basanta Roy Road, near Thyagaraj Hall and Southern Avenue
Phone: 033 40647400/ 40608400

#TakHeng #ChineseCuisine #OrientalFood #KolkataChineseFood #TungNam

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