The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Early morning Chitpur. Shot by Abhishek Chamaria on Chitpur Local photowalk in March, 2015.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Prosenjit's Ananda Plus interview and a counterview

Read up Prosenjit's interview in Ananda Plus (of Anandabazar Patrika) yesterday which came after a pretty long gap (Read it here). The Bangla film industry is going through one of its worst crises ever as mainstream movies, including those by the biggest of stars are regularly failing at the box office. He came up with a few recommendations, which I could not be in agreement with. I posted it in response to the Facebook post by Indranil Roy who took the interview (where he shared the link to it and solicited feedback). Here it is:

At the outset, I salute his concern (he's always showed it), intention and spirit for Bangla film industry. No doubt, we need successful mainstream movies for the industry to survive. Multiplex successes can contribute little as the majority of roughly 250+ theatres are single screen.

I couldn’t make sense of his main recommendation. He wants Dev and Jeet to do 2-3 movies a year for the industry to survive. But they’re doing exactly that! Each of them has had 2 mainstream releases every year at least for the last two years (I’m not counting Buno Hansh and Royal Bengal Tiger). This year Dev has already had one. Isn’t Prosenjit keeping tabs? The point is: the movies have to run at the box office for the industry to survive. Dev’s movies are bombing one after another (the last one being this year’s Herogiri) and Jeet is not much better off either. Bachchan grossed well, but it did not happen as smoothly as Boss. And Game (2014) had bombed before that. He isn’t doing a single movie now and the apparent reason is that he doesn't have a worthwhile offer.

Also a statement that an actor’s stardom suffers heavily due to wide exposure through commercial appearances merits a debate. Abir (Chatterjee) is the one of the most exposed stars today. Every other day he is seen in some brand promotion/ inauguration or the other. Rather than his stardom taking a dip dive, it has risen notches after his Feluda and Byomkesh movies released simultaneously last December. Stardom is largely determined by box office success and if it’s in order, commercial exposure probably does little damage to it.

Would like to come back and add to this post if there's an interesting exchange of notes on the Facebook post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Station Café- the continental stop at Sealdah

Honestly speaking, Sealdah is too downmarket a place to even think of a continental cuisine restaurant. So when I came across this restaurant opening up few months back beside the flyover on my way home through Sealdah station, I was pleasantly surprised. In fact it was no short of a culture shock. The place is known for a variety of cheap food available on the street and in some no-frills eateries. There is no good restaurant around, even a small and decent dine-in place for Bengali’s favourite cuisines- Mughlai and Chinese.

Soon after the opening, they put up a board with white paper pasted on it showing hand-written combos and standalone dishes- like soup & sandwich, grilled fish, roast chicken with capsicum rice. The prices did not look like ‘made to suit the area’. So it felt that quality continental food without compromise on cost was being served.

I looked up Zomato and the surprise went up as I saw a handful of reviews appreciating the food. So I ended up on way home last evening. 

The modern interiors give it s proper café look with casual wooden chairs. Apart from ground floor, it has a low first floor carved out of the ground floor height, which gives a view of the flyover at the same level. It is located on the narrow walkway beside the flyover to the station from the Jagat Cinema end, on the same side of the road, in the middle of old shops.

Ordered a grilled fish without looking at the menu as I was in the mood for the dish for some time. The menu is neatly divided between soup, entrée, salad & cold dishes, round the hour, main course and beverages & desserts with plenty of non-vegetarian and vegetarian options. The prices fall between budget and premium. For instance a cup of coffee comes at Rs 45 and cream of chicken soup at Rs 65. As summer is approaching, I like the fact that that they have cold dishes like chicken mayonnaise (Rs 175) and fish mayonnaise (Rs 210) on the menu.

The grilled fish arrived within fifteen minutes, served with sautéed vegetables and potato chips. A thick fillet topped with a milky white cream-based sauce and mustard sauce. The fish was of good quality. Inside the crisp exterior was succulent fish, with mustard sauce in every bite. The sharpness of the sauce enhanced the taste.  The veggies in between the bites balanced the taste and helped relish the fish all the more. A good evening snacking experience! The menu price was Rs 220 but I got it at Rs 180 as part of an ongoing offer.

Wish to go back to the café to explore more and come back here to share it.

(Photos sourced from the Facebook page of the restaurant)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The IPL 8 opener in the city- random thoughts

After the glitzy, uber-glam opening ceremony last evening the city filled out Eden Gardens to the brim to watch the home team play in the opening match against the biggie Mumbai Indians. And they were happy going back at short of midnight having seen KKR defeating Mumbai Indians by 7 wickets. Here are some random thought pieces on the match telecast. 
  1. How much cricket it is remains debatable, but IPL definitely remains a well marketed property and still secures a good chance to get big audience. A match can be caught at leisure post work. One doesn't even need to make an effort. I caught the last part (KKR batting) sitting at the dinner table. Compare it to the recently concluded World Cup matches. Who would watch morning cricket?
  2. Surya Kumar Yadav, the young new recruit showed class and great promise in his fiery, match-winning 46 off 20 balls which included six sixes! He will be watched.
  3. Shah Rukh, thanks to an injury is off work and made it to the field with his self-proclaimed cheerleader gang of children including the tiny AbRam. This man can still embarrass the smartest of people having the gift of the gab with his wisecracks. On being asked by Navjot Singh Sidhu (the commentator) what the secret to his growing glow at this age was, he remarked, “ Bas Siddhu ji, bachche paida karte jao”. It was more indefensible as it referred to himself.
  4. May be commentators will one day learn how to pronounce Kolkata, that it is NOT pronounced ‘Kolkaw-ta” (T as in target) or ‘Kawlkata’.
  5. Last year Nokia and Rose Valley adorned the front of the KKR jersey. Rose Valley secured an enviable position for any brand- at the upper part. This year Nokia has become history and Rose Valley’s head's present address is Enforcement Directorate lock-up. So none of them have retained the positions. The front has gone to the rising smartphone brand Gionee.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Grand Easter offerings at The Lalit Great Eastern

As Easter is knocking on the doors, The Lalit Great Eastern, the heritage star hotel in downtown Kolkata, is all geared up to usher it in. Its legendary bakery has lined up a delectable range of cakes to appeal to the platter of the gastronomes and a specially curated brunch is going to be served at Alfresco on day Easter (5th April).

The celebration at The Bakery started 30th March and will go on till Easter day, 7 am to 10 pm. It is extended to its New Market outlet to cater to a wider range of cake lovers from 10 am to 8 pm. The offerings include a gourmet selection of Simnel Cake, Pistachio and Orange Cake, Corn Cake, Carrot and Mascarpone Cake, Easter Chocolate Bunny, Easter Egg Chocolate, Caramel Royal, Italian Gabuna, Mango Silk Cake, Profit Roll, Chocolate Blondies and more. The highlight of the décor is a gigantic classic Easter Egg. Here’s a look at the mouth-watering spread.

The giant Easter Classic egg

The Easter special Red Velvet Cake

Simnel Cake

Pistachio and Orange Cake

Corn Cake

Carrot and Mascarpone Cake

Easter Chocolate Bunny

A look at the bakery shelves

The brunch at Alfresco is all of Easter specials- a roasted turkey in carving station, live egg and waffle stations, bacon, asparagus tart and more. The star attraction is Mimosa (a champagne cocktail) which is optional. The restaurant is pleasantly decorated Easter style with coloured egg shells in nests placed at the centre of the tables. The sumptuous brunch will be available 12 noon to 3.30 pm and the pocket pinch is Rs. 1300 per head and Rs. 2200 per head (with Mimosa) plus taxes. So here’s an opportunity to make the coming Sunday afternoon truly special!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Easter at Yauatcha

Yauatcha, the oriental cuisine restaurant at Quest, has the distinction of city’s first Michelin-starred restaurant. The young player in Kolkata’s oriental cuisine scene has also won the Best Oriental Cuisine restaurant award in fine dine category at Times Food Guide Awards 2015. The Easter plans at this fine dining stop are in full swing. It will be laying out a set Easter day lunch and there will be Easter eggs to choose from. Here’s a sneak peek.

Starting with the Easter eggs. There are two- Medium Egg with 5 chocolate inserts and Large Egg with 8 chocolate inserts (at Rs 175 and 300 plus taxes respectively).

Medium Egg with 5 chocolate inserts 

Large Egg with 8 chocolate inserts 

The Easter lunch menu is a compact five course gourmet affair with handpicked dishes to make it a really special experience. Spread out over soup, dim sum, staple, main course and dessert, evenly for the vegetarian and non-vegetarian, it’s a choice of one option in each leg. It’s flagged off with soup with a choice of one from Shredded Lamb Soup and Asian Green soup. Soup over, move on to dim sum where you can choose one from Prawn Chive, Prawn Toast, Veg Chive and Veg Crystal Dumpling. The staple offers you Egg Fried Rice, Spicy Veg Fried Rice and Udon Noodle with main course options Kung Pao Chicken, Chicken Szechwan Peppercorn, Stir Fry Bean and Kung Pao Tofu for company. You shall be served a full portion in soup and dim sum and a half portion of staple and main. Round it off with one sorbet or ice cream. To help you navigate skillfully here’s the chef’s pick: Asian Green Soup, Prawn Chive, Veg Crystal Dumpling and Kung Pao Tofu. It comes at Rs 1500 plus taxes and will be served on the Easter day, 5th April, from 12 noon to 4 pm.

Yauatcha has just launched a high tea menu as well. It’s a set menu for one person with choice of one dim sum or dessert along with a pot of Jasmine green tea which is a specialty here. It’s a good idea to try the dim sum as it happens to be their forte and the range is endless. In dim sum on the menu its one choice from Vegetable Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf, Baked Vegetarian Chicken Puff, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf, Chicken Char Sui Bun and Baked Chicken Puff. For those who would like to go for the dessert, pick one from Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse, Assorted Macaroons, Raspberry Delice and Religieuse Jaffa Cake. At Rs 495 all inclusive and served 4 pm to 7 pm everyday.

Apart from the high tea, there’s a set five course lunch menu for one person that has been started recently. It comes at Rs 850 all inclusive. But let’s park it for another day, as it’s already a little too much for the gastronome.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The shawarma roll at Royal Lebanese

I had my first taste of shawarma roll at Bakers’ World on Loudon Street (which later became Cakes).  Later I tried it at Kookie Jar too (close to the Bakers’ World outlet). Didn’t like it on both occasions. A colleague told me many years later that a confectionery shop was a wrong place to have it. Shawarma roll is a middle eastern delicacy and should be had from a place like a Lebanese joint. Well, back then (when I tried it) Kolkata hadn’t opened up to Lebanese, so I didn’t have a choice either.

Thanks to the proliferation of Lebanese joints these days, two of them have come up at Hatibagan which was perceived to be a conservative market. So it was a bit of surprise to me to see one of them right at the Hatibagan junction- named Lebanese Junction. I tried its shawarma roll one evening. Well, it was enjoyable in the beginning, thanks to the finger licking good white sauce they put in it, but in the middle it started feeling dry with the sauce and the raw vegetables missing. It was pretty filling indeed. So much so that I skipped dinner. And yes, it was healthy food, something I always vote for. But the taste wasn’t inviting enough to come back. The other outlet at Hatibagan was Royal Lebanese, city’s largest Lebanese take away chain, at Shyampukur (opposite Arsalan). So I wished to try it at Royal Lebanese one day.

Meanwhile thanks to Royal and other standalone Lebanese joints and other places serving shawarma roll, backed by some media coverage, it became one of the healthy snacking choices of the city foodies. But at Rs 100 it was super premium considering the prices of popular snack foods.

I was looking for some light snacking after a bit of shopping today at City Centre Salt Lake in the evening and came across the Royal Lebanese outlet outside the mall. To my delight I found that they have started a shawarma roll at half the market price- Rs 50. Assuming it would be lighter I wasted no time to order one. And the experience was satisfactory enough for this blog post to happen. Yes, lighter it was, and tastier than the past experience too. A smaller pita bread and smaller portion of shaved chicken with chopped tomato and onion and that yummy white sauce generously put inside did the trick. That it was a healthy option was an added gratification.

Apart from the soft, flat pita bread that looks like an uncooked tandoori roti, the chicken is grilled, and not fried at all. So are the vegetables, which are served fresh and raw. All this makes it healthy. Lebanese food per se is being promoted to be a healthy food choice going against the tide of unhealthy snacks available everywhere. The other common dishes are shawarma salad (served with pita bread, it is a complete food experience in its chicken variety), various kebabs (chicken, fish and mutton, including Iranian varieties), grilled chicken items and a special one being the Arbi biriyani (cooked with olive oil).

There was one realization. At Rs 50 shawarma becomes quite competitive for chicken roll, the big brother of popular snacks, which is available at more or less Rs 30, especially for people who don’t mind paying a few bucks extra for a healthier food that can also rival on the taste front.

So making it available (along with few other popular items like shawarma salad without pita and  chicken Arbi biriyani) at an attractive price point of Rs 50 is indeed an aggressive move by Royal Lebanese, who seems to be targeting the (medium-priced) popular snacks market dominated by the likes of chicken and mutton rolls, fries & cutlets and noodles. Hoping to see more people trying it out. Next on my Royal Lebanese wishlist is Arbi biriyani.

For those interested, especially locals, they are doing free home and office delivery. Here go the contact details.

Royal Lebanese
DC 22, Sector I
Salt Lake
(Near City Centre, close to Sugarr & Spice and opposite the petrol pump and Vasan Eye Care)
Phone: 033 4064 4555/ 6460 0248, 9830611153

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The food map of Chandni Chowk I: Crystal Chimney

Here's starting a series on the food map of my office place- Chandni Chowk. This series has been long on my wishlist. Well, Chandni Chowk is part of the central business district of the city, and it's a big food fair going on here everyday, parts of which I shall try to capture. Off the mark with Crystal Chimney, while this recent post on the roadside singara muri is the precursor.

A small, economy Chinese and Tibetan joint, located on CR Avenue (near metro station). The ground floor is kitchen and cash counter. A narrow spiral staircase takes you to the small and cramped first floor which has seven to eight tables set up back to back, literally. The space is so cramped that if you and your partner are generously endowed, you'll be better advised sitting opposite one another and never otherwise. It works better as a takeaway joint. However it's our favourite dining joint whenever we wish to enjoy a decent Chinese meal with colleagues with time constraint, being just across the road from office. That it's pocket friendly also counts (though prices have been rising steadily over the last few years). It doesn't matter if we have to wait a while. It enjoys significant patronage of the employees of ABP (Anandabazar group) who have offices all around (including one in the same building).

I like their hakka noodles, fried rice and momo (not much the sweet n sour sauce served with it) among mains. In noodles and rice the quantity is good for one and a half persons with modest appetite. In sides it is the spicy and pungent Devil's Fish that I've liked best so far . The thuppa is also good. Chicken side dishes are decent. Prawn dishes are notches above ordinary. The menu is a wide range of options in starters, mains and sides in rice, noodles, vegetables, chicken, fish and prawn.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

And the fate of New Market's and other traders

So the fate of the New Market shop owners and others in the fraternity was sealed by the CM in the all Bengal hawkers' conference at Nazrul Mancha yesterday. Exactly as speculated in my preceding blog post on the New Market shutdown that also ended yesterday, hawkers have been given the immunity by the CM. Officially every hawker hawking till 13th March, 2015 will now have license to hawk (other than life insurance and annual medical reimbursement). Everybody will have 'registered with government' status. Those who are not registered yet, can do so by paying a fee of Rs 30. So we pedestrians will now walk on the footpath or road if and where space is left for that by the hawkers. And shop owners paying all kinds of taxes to government and corporation will be left to bleed. Wonderful! Would like to ask "Are we closer to London now?"