The flavour of Kolkata

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Magnum Masterclass in the city

Chocolate or ice cream? The answer would be either of the options or even both in one, like, a chocolate cone or a choc-o-bar. As it is, in the latter choice, chocolate, at least in this city, plays second fiddle to ice cream. But that’s going to change now, and your choice of ice cream will be driven by the chocolate used in it to take it to another level of pure experience. That’s what the Kolkata edition of the masterclass at Taj Bengal showed on 21st February.

Celebrity chef Kunal Kapoor, who has been a judge in Masterchef India, came to the city to teach an audience of mediapersons a thing or two about chocolate and Belgian chocolate in particular and introduce it to the Magnum experience that drives home the point made above. Giving him company was actress Soha Ali Khan, a self-confessed Magnum lover. The audience was overflowing in attendance (perhaps for the pull of the chef). It was an honour for this blogger to be invited to the coveted event by Magnum, one of the world’s leading ice cream brands from Unilever. It was another pleasure to meet other familiar bloggers connected to the Kolkata Bloggers Facebook page in the event.

The masterclass started with the emcee asking to recall fond chocolate memories. Kunal told how gifting imported chocolates to girlfriends was fun and the fact that they were ‘imported’ did its bit to impress.  Kolkata being a city that knows its desserts, the talk shifted to what their favourite Kolkata dessert was. While Soha’s answer was a typical celeb type “I am torn between rosogolla and mishti doi”, Kunal mentioned patisapta as his favourite. Why, asked the emcee. Because “it’s easy, doable and full of flavour.” Full marks to the chef for being able to win the hearts of Bengali foodies. Kunal was fun and down to earth, cracking jokes every now and then (including at the expense of Soha) and slipping into Hindi often. His easygoing charm hooked the audience and stood in contrast to very starry Soha.

The discussion came back to chocolate and turned to Belgian chocolate, and the chef gave a short, enlightening lesson here. He asked the audience to try the chocolate pieces kept on the table- dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. He told to break a piece of dark chocolate in the mouth and push it against the palette. That it melted away, and didn’t stick at all, showed it was good quality dark chocolate. He also reinstated what chocoholics know- White  chocolate is not really chocolate, as chocolate has to have cocoa in decent proportion and white chocolate doesn’t have it. The cocoa butter gives the chocolate its distinctive flavour, and dark chocolate has it in abundance, but milk chocolate, the kind that is popular among masses, has a good amount of milk fat that makes the taste different. Percentage of cocoa varies in chocolate. While in milk chocolate available in the market it is as low as 15%, it can go upto 70-75% in niche dark chocolates. Belgian  chocolate, which is legendary, contains a minimum of 35% cocoa, which is amongst the highest in the world. It gives the chocolate a rich and indulgent flavour and a high grade, and it makes it premium too.  Another interesting fact is that white chocolate will mellow you, while dark chocolate will keep you awake.

Magnum uses Belgian chocolate only, and the chocolate that goes into it is even more special, being patented for the brand by the biggest chocolate maker of Belgium. It comes in three variants (only in stick or bar)- Classic (which is your good old choc-o-bar), Almond (almond studded chocolate crust covering rich vanilla) and Chocolate Truffle (Chocolate sauce running into chocolate coated vanilla). It will be available in the leading outlets in the city from 1st March and costs quite a premium- Rs 90 each bar (90 ml).

The chef, the star and all of us bit into Magnum together, and the first bite gave a distinctive crack that the product is known for. I had chosen the Classic. The chocolate was definitely distinct and its slight bitter, rich taste left a mark. The vanilla inside was top grade too!

Now, what’s a masterclass without some cooking? So Kunal made his special, Kolkata dish with Magnum, which was a spin to his local favourite- patisapta. It turned out a cone made with the pancake of patisapta (held up by a paper cone), and cut out Magnum pieces, along with khoya (milk solids), nuts, cranberry etc making the filling.

Photo by Anirban Saha
Kunal's fusion patisapta with Magnum

It ended with the chef opening the floor and getting his audience members in various round tables make their own versions of sundae using a Magnum bar and other dry ingredients provided at each table. And some tables did a good job that the chef found interesting.

The press kit was innovative. It included the soft copy of the press release and other support material in a chocolate bar shaped pen drive!

Fellow bloggers from Kolkata Bloggers group.
Group admin Anirban Saha third from right  

Looking forward to Kolkata loving its Magnum experience! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The life and times of Miss Shephali

To those of us born before eighties the mention of Miss Shephali is synonymous with the died art of cabaret. It wouldn’t be wrong to call her ‘Queen of cabaret’. We know that she would perform the hot and sensuous dance form in numerous plays in the golden era of professional theatre as a crowd-puller and did so in many movies too. Those who have watched Ray’s Seemabaddha have seen her in performance in a hotel scene, and his Pratidwandi had her play a small character unlike her real self with Dhritiman Chatterjee, the protagonist. Her name had high recall value among the youth of sixties and seventies- the period of her reign in first in city nightlife and later on in Bengali theatre.

But much of her life is lesser known and does evoke curiosity still now. I wish Gulbahar Singh made his planned biopic of hers with Paoli. It could have been our answer (at least content-wise) to The Dirty Picture.

The current issue of Anandalok, path-breaking indeed, satiates the curiosity to some extent. It coincides with the publishing of her official autobiography Sandhya Raater Shephali from Ananda Publishers.

It is full of trivia like the Seemabaddha scene was shot in the same restaurant in the hotel where she would perform every night, and she had to dance before camera with zero preparation as Ray had never briefed her about shooting her, or the abrupt beauty tip she got from Suchitra Sen who used to keep tabs on her, to extremely sensational ones like how she literally ragged Uttam Kumar at Firpo’s Hotel- her own domain, just for fun (She would perform in this elite hotel where the superstar was a frequent ‘front table’ customer) and the subsequent affection of his that lasted many years, and her chance witnessing a private world of the great Amitabh Bachchan.

The youngest of three sisters in a struggling refugee family from east Bengal, originally known as Arati Das, she started her career in mid sixties at just twelve to earn bread for her family, as the first Bengali cabaret dancer in Lido Room of Firpo’s Hotel. She never had to look back.

For more, go grab the collector’s issue from the stands.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Mitra Café on VIP Road

We were terribly hungry after a long client meeting in DLF (New Town) that got us exhausted, followed by an airport drop of a senior executive from HO. Our car was on VIP Rd moving towards Baguiati and boss suggested KFC (on VIP Rd), which we agreed to. But as we were about to get in to KFC, we noticed that Mitra Café, the famous snack joint of Sovabazar, has opened a muticuisine restaurant in the same building. It’s the Metro Bazar building near Bazaar Kolkata on VIP Rd (on way to airport from Joramandir). K popped the question- KFC or Mitra Café, and I changed direction to the latter (on the fourth floor) as I find it a better option.

The restaurant looks decent. It’s spacious and the décor is minimal and nice. Only eight wrought iron tables (four-seater) and chairs and four sets of two off-white three-seater sofas and a table are laid out. Many more tables can be fitted in, given the open space left out. The colour palette is warm and sober shade of yellow with matching light coloured floor tiles. Press articles about the famous chain (with branches at Shyambazar and Golpark) are framed to adorn one wall. Three of us made ourselves comfortable on a sofa set.

Unless one has made up his/ her mind, he/ she will be spoilt for choice to order from the expansive ranges of fried items in fish, chicken and mutton. I had pre-selected fish. K and I ordered Fish Diamond Kabiraji.

The kabiraji didn’t take long to arrive. Its length covered the plate. I love the bird’s nest look of the crust of kabiraji they make at Mitra Café. For a change, the sauce served was the good old mustard, and not the off-white bland sauce they serve at Sovabazar. But disappointingly chopped onion was far outnumbered by cucumber pieces.

The kabiraji was well made as usual. The egg crust felt pure, having been made from quality ingredients with no compromise. It cost Rs 100 apiece, which is not expensive given current fish prices. It was finished soon. Boss was not hungry, so didn’t eat anything. He and K rued the fact that this dish was made with a whole lot of oil. K pointed out that the because of the egg crust, it absorbs more oil.  I don’t feel like joining such talk while one has willingly chosen to snack on such stuff. I just gently pointed out that had we gone for KFC, it wouldn’t have been a healthy option either.

One thing that puts me slightly off about Mitra Café is the use of vanaspati as the cooking medium. I don’t expect it in such a place of high repute. Besides being unhealthier than white oils, it gives a sticky feeling on the tongue while the food is not so hot.

Overall, a good snacking experience. What elevated it was having the Mitra Café experience at a comfortable ambiance at a new location.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The singara muri at Chandni Chowk

I am gastronomically in a happy space at work since I joined my current office at Chandni Chowk nearly five years back. The area is a foodie's delight to put it mildly. Almost everything that comes to one's mind (and more) when one looks for food on the go is served.

I don't remember when I came across this wonderful snack. Must be in the first year in this area. It's called 'Singara muri'. Yes, they have married the ubiquitous jhal muri with singara in an innovation and created magic! Basically a singara (doesn't matter if not hot) is first beaten in the pot of jhal muri, then the ingredients of jhal muri are poured in and mixed. And it's ready. It's unbeatable taste is helped by three chutneys- one with chilly, a sour one and a sweet one. Needless to say it makes the best of the taste of singara and jhal muri. Costs just Rs 15. Used to cost Rs 10 when I started.

It's not as healthy as jhal muri. But if you are watching your waistline, yet can't help a bit of indulgent snacking, you can go for it and get away with a little guilt, unlike gorging two singaras.

It used to be one of the options for my evening snacking. My trusted vendor sits at Princep Street, at the crossing of Bentinck Street, bang opposite erstwhile Orient cinema. He's a regular jhal muri-wala but. I know one more who sits at Bentinck Street, a few metres away towards GC Avenue crossing. But haven't tried him yet.

Wish to come back with a full-fledged post on the food map of Chandni Chowk soon.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Review: Ebar Shabor

One genre where Tollygunge had a void for long is adult detective thriller set in contemporary times. Ebar Shabor finally addresses it and clears the test, and that is its highest accomplishment.

Shirshenu’s Shabor Dasgupta, a senior police officer in detective department, is not celebrated like Feluda. Little wonder the author stopped writing the stories after a handful as they were not lapped up by the readers over time. Nevertheless Arindam was right in his decision to pick up Shabor for adaptation on big screen in addressing the void mentioned earlier. Also Rwin, the story on which Ebar Shabor is based, is a verbose one set mostly indoors. It does go to Arindam’s credit to have intelligently translated it on big screen by taking the story outdoors exploring various locations of Kolkata that give it its character. The scenes in Pondicherry also add freshness to the frames.

I have a hunch that the seed of the film was sown during the filming of Kahaani, where Arindam was the executive producer. Kahaani had a Bengali soul and many like me must have thought something like this could have well been made in Bengali. It showed the potential of making such smart urban thrillers sitting in Tollygunge that blends the old world charm and heritage of Kolkata beautifully with storytelling.

Mitali (Swastika), a rich heiress gets mysteriously killed by stabbing in her bedroom one night after a party hosted by her at her place. Shabor takes up the case. He draws up the list of suspects all of who are found to have reasonable motive to kill. The audience is kept guessing till the end and here lies the success of a murder mystery. Through his interrogation we come across an ensemble of characters that give the story its rich tapestry- Mithu Mitra (Abir), a banker and Mitali’s ex-husband, Pantu Halder (Ritwik Chackraborty), a motor mechanic and Mitali’s neighbour, Samiran (Rahul), her close friend who is a spoilt son of a rich businessman (Santu Mukherjee), Khonika (Debleena Dutt), Samiran’s live-in girlfriend, Joyita (Payel), Mitali’s cousin and a shady woman Julekha (June). Mitali had fallen for Pantu in college and later left home for a whimsical marriage that lasted six months.

Ebar Shabor’s strength lies in its story, slick making, casting and performances. Shirsha Roy’s camera aids Arindam’s storytelling in an outstanding manner. Shirsha’s use of close-up shots help build the emotional map of the characters in a story that delves deep into their mindscape. Bickram Ghosh’s background score helps create the thriller tempo and his signature notes lend it a freshness. The director has preferred on-location shooting over studio floor and he is spot on in choosing his locations.

Good casting is director’s job half done and the performances are well delivered as expected from a well cast film with well-written characters. Despite someone of Saswata’s calibre playing the lead, I found Ritwik outshining everyone with his Pantu Halder, a motor mechanic who has a past of sound academic record. It was a treat to watch him bring edge to the uncouth character with nuanced diction among other things. Saswata has shown controlled emotions as Shabor, a hard-boiled cop who never lets his emotions out. He carries himself right, avoiding unnecessary flamboyance. He has worked hard on the action scenes, lost weight through workout and diet to look believable as the character. However I feel the characterization held him back from shining bright. He’s hardly shown thinking. It would be wise on the director’s part to spend some time showing his detection. Swastika, Abir, June, Payel and Dipankar (Mitali’s father) are apt in their roles. Rahul is typecast in such characters, though his comic timing is good as usual. Debleena has potential but she’s portrayed such character traits before. She underscores the glam quotient shared by Swastika and June.

Padmanava Dasgupta and Arindam’s  script is decent, but could be tighter in the first half. The dialogue written by them is the weak link of the film. While the comic bits are good (Mostly with Rahul), it lacks the much-needed punch.

I expected the chase scenes to be racy, like we saw in Kahaani, but honestly speaking they didn’t really match up to it and looked repetitive as they continued. I also can’t help but wonder how realistic it is for Pantu to run that fast and long with an injured leg.

The songs are good and well-written (by adman Sugata Guha), and well used too, but not spaced out. One follows the other a little too soon.

But all these glitches are covered by the story with special mention to the high emotional note of the climax.

Overall, a good, entertaining watch. A new franchisee is established. Looking forward to the next instalment which is already being planned.

Photos sourced from Ebar Shabor Facebook group.