The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Roll-loving South Kolkatans

A common thread among South Kolkatans is their fixation for roll. Every typical South Kolkatan has a yearn for this. Teenagers to elderly people, young housewives to grandmothers, students to corporate executives and businessmen to labourers- everybody just swear by this wonder snack of Kolkata. Roll is popular across Kolkata, but in South Kolkata it is a supreme dominating force while it comes to snacking options.

Roll, as many would know, was invented in Kolkata at Nizam's, a central Kolkata Mughlai restaurant, quite a few decades back. That was mutton roll. And then, after a couple of decades, egg roll was born and won over all. Roll is now synonymous with egg roll. If you just order a 'roll' in any roll shop you will be served an egg roll.

In South Kolkata (Also Kolkata per se) non-veg varieties rule the roost, starting from the basic egg roll to the super specialities like chicken saslik roll (Made with chicken saslik kebab). Veg variants were never favourite with Bengalis who dominate the roll consumer population. But of late veg roll (With meshed potatoes, beet, carrot etc) and paneer roll are quite visible everywhere. Every non-veg variety is yummy (Telling from experience) and the trendsetters in South Kolkata roll joints are dishing out yummier, innovative varieties with times. Basic and bestselling varieties are egg roll and chicken roll.

South Kolkata has it's own variants- like Tikia roll and chicken saslik roll. You won't possibly find tikia roll much in North or Central Kolkata. It's a non-veg category. There are fish tikia roll, chicken tikia roll and mutton tikia roll. Even it has got fish kebab rolls for the fish-crazy Bengali. I won't recommend a fish variant though from , as I think the result of experimentation with fish in the roll arena is not palatable. Even leading joints can't get it right.

Also here the chicken and mutton rolls are made with kebabs (Similar to posh parts of Central Kolkata), unlike North Kolkata where kosha mangsho (Gravy chiecken/ mutton) is used instead.

One leading joint is Bedwin, without which Gariahat, the heart of South Kolkata would be incomplete. It has a huge hardcore loyal customer base and as huge a range of rolls. I heard from such a loyalist that in the beginning of the month she orders chicken roll, but towards the end her orders change to egg roll, for the cash crunch. Bawarchi, which is a snack bar chain, is another hot joint. It has successfully introduced innovations like Roll No. 1 and Y2K. In Roll No. 1, they use a boiled egg.

The prices range from Rs 8 (Egg roll) to Rs 25 (Chicken saslik roll). So there is a roll for every pocket. Enjoy !!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Chittababu's Shop

A small shop on Dacres Lane has been serving for decades the taste buds of office-going Kolkata Babus (White collar staff) in the Dalhousie area with its range of offerings and top class milk tea. The eatery has no formal name and hence is referred by the name of its founder Chitta as Chittababur Dokan (Chittababu's Shop in English).

Since the core of its customers is officegoers from Dalhousie area who come for their evening munch after work, the menu is a mix of healthy food and traditional tasty bites. Its staple menu is basically stew (Chicken, mutton and vegetable), ghughni (A preparation with peas, similar to chana masala), veg curry (Typical Indian curry with mixed vegetables and chicken liver), fish fry, chicken pakora, fish finger, fried rice and chilli chicken (Recent additions on popular demand) and its USP- butter toast. The menu is very reasonably priced vis a vis middle class affordability.

Chittababu is no more. His brother is in charge now. A tall, well built, dark gentleman with thin hair and a well-grown moustache. One will see him sitting on a high stool with a gamchha ( A piece of cotton cloth used by the Bengalis in place of a towel) tied around his waist and taking cash from customers after they are through with food/ tea.

My dad referred me to this place- a favourite with him when he would go to office. I am grateful to him for this. I wish to introduce this place to my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter when she grows up. Long live Chittababu's Shop.


Friday, May 19, 2006

That's the spirit, Mr Minister


Bengal saw a refreshing change when Left Front (LF) reclaimed power last time, in assembly elections 2001. An IT ministry was created by a progressive and changing top brass of LF. A younger MLA Manabendra Mukherjee who was an MBA, took charge......and changed the face of the IT scenario in Kolkata (For details, refer to my earlier post 'Bengal turns Buddhist). In three-four years Kolkata rose to the third position among Indian cities in terms of IT exports revenue (According to NASSCOM). Starting so late this was indeed a tall feat for Bengal achieved by the enterprising minister.

Everybody thought, after winning again in the just concluded assembly elections, Mukherjee would be retained to take IT to greater heights. But that was not to be. IT has a new minister- Debesh Das, an electronic engineer, a professor and researcher in Jadavpur University. Mukherjee has been given the Ministries of Tourism and Small Scale & Cottage Industries. Many people must have been disappointed. After all, shifting a minister from a department in the consecutive term so far has meant the minister was a failure.

On being contacted by the media for his take, the man has said he would take tourism to where he has already taken IT. Kudos, Mr Mukherjee. That's the spirit. After all, you have been an unquestionably efficient minister and Department of Tourism required one like you (The last tourism minister was a non-performer). West Bengal has immense tourism potential and we all will look forward to experience how it blooms in the hands of this promising minister. Best wishes, Mr Mukherjee.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The new face of public transport

Since I can remember Kolkata has never been known as a city with decent buses. It has two kinds of buses, govt. and private, which is unlike any of the top four metros. Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have only govt. buses plying and they are good to board indeed. Private buses in Kolkata are regular bus and mini bus. Mini bus looks decent. But the regular ones look just like a tin box and they have uncomforable sitting design for ages. And the crowd in the buses in rush hours are comparable to Kolkata's and Mumbai's local trains in the same time. Govt. buses, thanks to a transport minister who just doesn't show the interest to do his job sincerely, are even worse- many of them look like discarded tin boxes that make intolerable noise on board with out of order parts.

About one year back the city witnessed a refreshing change. a public-private partnership happened between West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation and a private transport co. and two types of executive buses started plying- a luxury bus called Whiteliner and a mini bus called Starbus. Standing is not allowed in any of them and hence the fare is much higher than standard. Whiteliners are AC or non-AC and Starbuses are non-AC. An increasing group of executives and small businessmen who prefer to pay a premium to reach their destinations faster and comfortably are lapping them up. Whiteliners are now plying at two routes- Airport-Santragachhi and Airport-Tollygunge and an expansion is in the offing.

It's apparently the CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who has made this possible fighting with the stubborn transport minister. Kolkata is cheering to the move. At least we can show friends and colleagues from outside that we have high-quality transport besides the dreaded ones.

My Dosar review

Watched Dosar, a Bengali movie (With English subtitles) By Rituparno Ghosh- the most celebrated among contemporay Bengali filmmakers, quite a few days back but my laziness lead to completing the review so late. Posted it just today on Mouthshut.com. Here's the link http://www.mouthshut.com/review/Dosar:_The_Companion-99521-1.html.

By the way, I like to write film reviews but write only if I am excited by a film. Those of you who read it, I would love to read your comments right here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Aquatica, Dosar

Had a leisure outing by our company on May 7, a day before our annual conference. It was at Aquatica, the only water park in the city. I visited here long back, in 2000. One scene hasn't changed. While the guys get into the water rides in shorts, the girls still seem to be shy of wearing swimsuit. They are in synthetic close-fitting t-shirts and tights. Don't know if it's any different in Water Kingdom Mumbai. If you who's reading this are from Mumbai, may be you are able to tell what it is like there. Please post comments.


Dosar, the latest film by Rituoparno Ghosh, Kolkata's globally reputed filmmaker, just premiered in Mumbai while its successful run in Kolkata is on. It's about contemporary extra-marital relationship and its outcome. The film is refreshingly different as it has been shot in black & white. But believe me, the treatment, storytelling, characterization, the taut script and the master cinematography won't let you feel colour is missing. A review is available on www.rediff.com. Don't forget to read my comments for a fuller view.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Kolkata turning Buddhist

Today's post has no options in subject. Because one subject is far too overpowering for any other possible option. Anybody who checked today's papers in Kolkata (Incl. online versions) will know. It's Bengal Polls, whose results were out yesterday afternoon. The Left Front, ruling the state for the last 29 years, a record in any democracy across the world, has been voted back to power once again with a mammoth majority that beat almost all exit poll predictions all of who anyway projected Left as the winner.

What's interesting is, while entire Kolkata has traditionally not been known as pro-left, the Left Front slightly bettered results this time by winning in a few new constituencies and giving away some to it's erstwhile opponent AITC (All India Trinamool Congress) led by Mamata Banerjee. But the silver lining was that Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya won by a record 58000+ votes. A record by any Bengal CM to date.

Since Buddhadeb took charge as the CM a couple of months before 2001 polls, he has been continuously winning hearts of the middle class educated Bengali in and the youth (A major force in the electorate) in Kolkata. The reasons have been his unquestionable honesty, an incredibly low-profile lifestyle (Can you believe he refuses to shift to a CM's residence leaving his old small govt flat in South Kolkata?), level-headedness, sincerity, reformist nature, vision for the state and above all admitting mistakes (Past and present) and failures. His sincere and professional drive for industrialization in the state earlier known as the deathbed of industry has won accolades not only from people but from the whose who of industrialists- the likes of Azim Premji and Ratan Tata. The progress in IT is particularly bright. Kolkata is now third-ranked in software exports in India leaving the emerging Pune behind. Come to think of it the govt truly pursued IT since 2001 only, with an IT ministry being created. Now the IT zone in Kolkata, popularly known as Sector V (In Salt Lake, the satellite township at it's outskirts) is a hotbed of IT professionals with big players like Wipro, TCS, Cognizant, Satyam and Tech Mahindra (Formerly Mahindra British Telecom).

Hence for valid reasons, Kolkata, and I believe the best of Bengal is turning Buddhist for valid reasons, with the CM's fan base shooting up.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The street food heaven

When it comes to street food Kokata is a sure winner for the awesome range and incredibly affordable prices. You get Indian (North, South and of course East Indian cuisine), Mughlai, Chinese, Tibetan on the street. Interestingly there are food for dieters and the health conscious and then there are stuff for the incorrigible junk food freak. There are proper meal options and perfect snacking options.

Right now in the scorching and killingly humid summer one will find a local summer food like doi-chire (Besides dahi vada). It's dahi ( Plain yoghurt) mixed with chire which is a flat variety of muri or puffed rice. Just today I found chicken stew being served at a roadside stall. To go with plain toast. The range is growing with time and possibly on consumer demand.

There are popular street food zones, like BBD Bag, Camac Street, Dacres Lane. Talking meal options, among North Indian cuisine the favourite is chana- batora, among South Indian it's masala dosa, sambhar vada and uttapam, among mughlai it's biriyani, among Chinese it's chowmein, fried rice and chilli chicken and among Tibetan it's momo. The prices start at Rs 10 for chana- batura , Rs 7-8 for masala dosa and sambhar vada , Rs 12 for chicken biriani, Rs 10 for vegetable chowmein, Rs 4 for a piece of chilli chicken and Rs 10 for a plate of momos. Can you believe it?

These are just the basic varieties. Snacks have a huge range, so will talk about it later. Also they are more hygienic than the standard and govt medical institutes vouch for that. In fact street hawkers' own association vows for making their yummy stuff more hygienic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kolkata, Kolkater, Kolkatest

I couldn't find a better title for my first ever post in my first ever blog which will present everything Kolkata through an insider's eye. For the last few years the city is changing rapidly for the better and outsiders including non-resident Kolkatans will vouch for that.

I intend to write regularly on things about Kolkata-the changing and the old-fashioned, the hip and the traditional. On things that add new feathers to its hat. It will talk on the widely reported stuff and the lesser known. It will give insights to the informed and food for thought for the uninitiated and curious.

Not everything here will be extremely interesting, but they will qualify for one reason or the other.

Watch this space !!