The flavour of Kolkata

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

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Evening of Eminence at Yauatcha's first anniversary

As the brightest kid on the oriental cuisine map of the city turned a year old recently, it celebrated the occasion, among other things, by meeting a bunch of foodies from diverse fields in what it calls the ‘Evening of Eminence’. This is the name of all such evenings where Yauatcha, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Quest, hosts accomplished people from various fields over dinner. It was an honour to be invited to this edition of Evening of Eminence as a blogger.
As I turned up, I was welcomed by Rana Basu Thakur of JLT Solutions (a creative hotshop that handles the advertising and promotions of Yauatcha Kolkata). The long table outside the restaurant on the top floor of the mall was getting filled with guests. Food blogger was one chosen category this time, and there were friends Poorna Banerjee of PresentedbyP  and Indrajit Lahiri of A Bong Petuk’s Diary. Anirban Saha of Kolkata Bloggers  (A platform to unite all bloggers who are connected with Kolkata) joined later.  During the course, I met Karo Kumar who is a senior journalist in The Telegraph. It was pleasing to talk about this blog to her over sips of virgin Lalu (The actual cocktail has vodka. I wanted a non-alcoholic drink for health reasons). The lychee juice along with lemongrass set the palate ready for the variety of dim sums/ dumplings (a forte of Yauatcha), that followed.

 My virgin Lalu

There was a special menu for the evening. In the starters (n0n-veg), arrived Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun, Chicken Dumpling with Celery and Carrot, Xo Dumpling and Crispy Lamb with Raw Mango. I also took Fried Turnip Cake from the veg section. The Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun is my favourite in Yauatcha's dim sums- a soft steamed wrap (like in a dim sum/ momo) of chicken encased prawn, shaped like a thin roll and is served drenched in soy sauce. The wrap melts in the mouth bringing forth the crunchy chicken casing, followed by the juicy and soft, steamed prawn at the core. The chicken and the prawn play the perfect contrast to each other. In the last one year, it has become a signature dish of Yauatcha that reflects its stature of one of the best oriental cuisine destinations in town.

Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun (Photo courtesy: Yauatcha)

 Fried Turnip Cake & Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun

I liked the savory turnip cake. The dumplings at this restaurant are fine dishes, thus they call for an acquired taste. I liked the Xo Dumpling more, made with prawn and topped with mashed egg white. It tasted better with the chili oil (with ginger, garlic etc) and the special chili sauce. The purple hue of the chicken dumpling comes from beetroot. The Crispy Lamb with Raw Mango was good too, with a subtle interplay of the tanginess of raw mango and a dash of sweetness.

Xo Dumpling

 Chicken Dumpling with Celery and Carrot (Centre)

Chili Oil and Chili Sauce

 Crispy Lamb with Raw Mango

The guests were striking conversations among each other. I met Ravi Ranjan of NASSCOM who is part of their start-up incubator called Start-up Warehouse and works in its Kolkata chapter. I am always curious about the start-up scene in the city and it was pleasing to note that so many youngsters are starting up with fresh ideas and also generating both white collar and blue collar jobs. There was Priyanka Bajaj, co-founder of Mera Tiffin (I knew about it when I had met another co-founder Vinay Menon in a blogging workshop of a Facebook food group earlier this year). The start-up on one hand delivers food cooked by home cooks/ chefs and on the other hand, runs a food ordering business, through a website and an app. The core customers of the first service are the students who live in PG/ rented accommodations and miss home food. There also was Rukshana Kapadia who is in a senior position in Switz Foods (owner of the Mio Amore cake shop chain, erstwhile known as Monginis) and actively reviews eateries on Zomato and Facebook under the name ‘The Culinary Commentor’. Rahul Arora, retauranteur, with two ventures- Bon Appetit and Café Prana (on health food theme), introduced himself and was fun to talk to. So did Rohit Arora, who is the Business Head- Kolkata of the food ordering start-up Swiggy which came to Kolkata few months ago.

(From left) Rahul, Poorna and Anirban Saha
 (from left) Rahul, Indrajit and Rukshana

Rana Basu Thakur at the centre

The main course arrived. My pick was Braised Chicken with Mushroom in Claypot, Steamed Red Snapper in Asam Sauce, Ho Fan Noodles and Spicy Vegetable Fried Rice with taro and spring onion. Simply loved the Braised Chicken. The succulent chicken pieces teamed with mushroom in the light gravy with a hint of sweetness worked wonders for my palate. It easily became my other favourite in Yauatcha. Being a ‘fishy’ Bengali I liked the spicy snapper fish dish too. The Ho Fan Noodles was a nice vegetable preparation with flat and wide rice noodles (Ho fan) and soya chunks. I took more of the fried rice which had a balanced spiciness and worked fine for me.

 Braised Chicken with Mushroom in Claypot

Steamed Red Snapper in Asam Sauce

Ho Fan Noodles

Dessert, just like dim sums, happens to be a specialty in Yauatcha and the well-designed dessert platter showed why. It proved enough distraction for almost everyone to stop talking and take a glance at it. It had six varieties of macaroons (a chewy cookie which Yauatcha is especially known for), three types of petite gateaux (cakes, including Raspberry Delice) and three ice-creams. I have known the Raspberry Delice for so long, thanks to Rana da’s posts on Facebook, that I had to try it. The mushy chocolate mousse inside the velvety bright red crust was sublime! The vanilla-black currant ice cream was a superior treat too. And the macaroons, not extremely sweet, were fun bites. They came in strawberry, pistachio, and chocolate flavours among others.

To sum up, an evening to remember! Meeting an eclectic mix of folks over great food, interesting discussions peppered with banter in a relaxed setting.  Wish Yauatcha a great year ahead!

#Yauatcha #YauatchaKolkata #Dimsums #Gateaux #Macaroon #OrientalcuisineKolkata #Foodbloggers #StartupKolkata #NASSCOM #Startupincubator

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Monday, November 16, 2015

X: Past is Present- An intriguing experimental film

“X is going to be a genre-bending, one-of-its-kind cinema experience because we have at least eleven different styles of storytelling in one film.” –Sudhish Kamath

We are familiar with many-in-one films or what the cine buffs call anthology films where several interconnected short films, sometimes made by different directors, are packed into one cohesive film. A recent instance is Bombay Talkies (Hindi).

X: Past is Present, releasing this month, is a film with a single story, but made by not just a handful, but eleven directors, each doing one segment. And so far I’m aware, it is the first time in Indian cinema that such an experiment has been done. Helmed by eleven varied cinematic talents possessing strikingly diverse filmmaking styles, this cinematic treat is about a single man who recalls his passionate journey with various women spanning 25 years. And it happens all in a night at a film festival after he meets a mysterious girl who intriguingly seems to have something to do with every woman in his life.

Each segment, which is like one short film, deals with one of the ten ex-girlfriends with one or two of the twelve female leads acting in it. The male protagonist, K- the filmmaker, is played by Rajat Kapoor. His younger age is played by Anshuman Jha (of Love Sex Aur Dhokha).

The female leads include Huma Qureshi (Looking stunningly beautiful and sensuous), Radhika Apte and Swara Bhaskar.

It is pleasing to note that two filmmakers from Kolkata, Pratim D Gupta (better known as the film critic of The Telegraph, who debuted with Paanch Adhyay in 2012) and Q have directed two segments. Pratim’s film has Parno Mittra in the lead opposite Ronodeep Bose (playing the young K only in this segment), with Usha Uthup playing a character role. Q’s film has Rii in the lead (No prizes for guessing). Howrah girl Bidita Bag (of Ichchhe) has played another lead in one of the other tracks.

Parno in a still from '8 to 8'- Pratim's track in the film

The other filmmakers are Abhinav Shiv Tiwari (of Oass), Anu Menon (of London, Paris, New York), Hemant Gaba (of Shuttlecock Boys), Nalan Kumarasamy (of Soodhu Kavvum), film critic Raja Sen (whose reviews one has read on, Rajshree Ojha (of Chaurahein, Aisha), Sandeep Mohan (Love Wrinkle Free, Hola Venky), Sudhish Kamath (Good Night Good Morning) and Suparn Verma (Aatma).

The story behind the film goes as: The idea came from film critic Sudhish Kamath when he was at The Goa Project held in March 2013. He wanted to shoot a film during the event itself but as he could not because of lack of funds and time he "decided to take the idea forward and make it bigger in scope".  The project got backing from Manish Mundra of Drishyam Films and Shiladitya Bora (who jointly produced the critically acclaimed Masaan along with others) Sudhish was the driving force and he was instrumental in getting the other ten directors together.

The eleven tracks are varied in nature. As Sudhish puts it, “Someone's a light rom-com, someone's a twisted drama; someone soothes, while someone thrills."

The film had its world premiere on November 16, 2014, at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York, where it was selected to open the festival.

One of the reasons why it was indeed a risky experiment was eleven directors interpreting a single character. But this is what Christopher Bourne of Meniscus magazine, New York has said on the film- “The most remarkable aspect of X is the fact that in spite of the quite disparate cinematic styles and narrative modes employed by these 11 directors, the film feels quite coherent and cohesive. If one didn't know many directors were involved in this piece, he or she could easily conceive of a single filmmaker attempting different styles in order to tell the story."

A Sreekar Prasad is the lead editor of the film whose segments have been edited by individual editors. Prasad is largely responsible in giving the film the final shape taking up possibly one of his most challenging assignments.

X: Past is Present is releasing nationwide on November 20 by PVR Pictures. It has already generated curiosity on social media with many celebrities sharing the intriguing trailer which has generated more than 9.51 lakh hits on YouTube.

If you are inquisitive about the story of its making in further detail, read this interview of Sudhish Kamath.

(The digital posters are sourced form the film's Facebook page)

#XPastisPresent #RajatKapoor #SudhishKamath #HumaQureshi #PratimDGupta #Q #ParnoMittra

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kalkatta by Kunal Basu

When about two years back I read, probably in Anandabazar Patrika, that renowned author Kunal Basu had shifted his base to his city of origin- Kolkata, and henceforth would divide his time between UK (where he teaches in Oxford University) and this city, I was elated as a Kolkatan to see one of the city's brightest minds back home. At that time he just started research on his next novel set in Kolkata and centred around a gigolo. The novelty of the subject fanned my curiosity about the book and finally now it is coming out from Pan Macmillan India as Kalkatta (The way non-Bengalis pronounce the name of the city).

The book title has an engaging tagline- Every city has its secrets.

This video about the book, that I came across from a Facebook post by blogger friend Anindya S Basu, got me more hooked to it. It is a monologue of the author shot largely outdoor in various locations in Kolkata and his home, and a charming preface of the story. 

When I started writing this novel, the question that was foremost on my mind was how do I bridge the gap between me, the author, and Jamshed, the gigolo. And I thought the best way would be to write the novel in first person. To try to see Kolkata through the eyes of Jamshed rather than through the eyes of me.”- Kunal Basu says in the video.

Watch it here.

Looking forward to reading the book. It is quintessentially Kolkata and brings out lives from a part of the city I guess hardly dealt with in contemporary English fiction.

#Kalkatta #KunalBasu #KunakBasuBooks #KolkataEnglishfiction

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

The new menu introduction at Cha Bar, Oxford Bookstore

I was curious about this place inside the Oxford Bookstore at Park Street for a long time but never happened to be here. So when Indrajit, a blogger friend, said they were launching a new menu and asked whether I would be interested to join as they would like to meet some bloggers in this regard, I had no reason to think over it.

So we met up at this Sunday afternoon last month. Apart from Indrajit there were Soumya, Manikuntala, Sammya Brata and Preeti (Met all the latter three for the first time, though the first two among these are Facebook friends for some time). This is a spacious L-shaped café on the mezzanine floor overlooking the bookstore, tastefully decorated with innovative wall art which has a lot of tea trivia. The longest wall is  intricately done up with art decor and it clearly sets it apart from other cafes. There are stools and chairs (two and four-seater) to sit, and wooden seats attached to the wall. It is a nice place for a relaxed chat with friends/ colleagues/ business contacts. One can carry a book from the shelves and browse it here over tea and snacks instead of standing near the bookshelves. 

We were soon joined by Nitin Warikoo, the national Head of Cha Bar and Business Development. He shared with us how he sees Cha Bar going forward. It was a free-flowing, interactive discussion.

Cha Bar has seven outlets across India, all inside Oxford Bookstore. After tasting success under the umbrella of the famous bookstore, it wishes to expand and go solo in small steps. Right now the menu is going through a change in phases to enhance the customer experience. Nitin told about their Delhi outlet which is more of a restaurant, offering a wide range of food, including thin crust pizza- a specialty. Menu engineering has been done to optimize the offering. The response to this outlet has prompted the management to think of expansion.

 Nitin (extreme left) with the bloggers (Soumya, Indrajit, Manikuntala- second from left to right)

I asked Nitin about the tea trivia on the wall, and he said they chose the form as they wanted to educate customers about tea in a fun way.

The menu is dominated by a wide range of tea, as expected, including Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri. The Darjeeling and Assam varieties come from their (Apeejay group’s) own tea estates. The menu covers practically all conceivable varieties of tea over thirteen pages, including organic, decaf, herbal, green, fruit fusion, Ayurvedic, Chinese teas and an uncommon Indian variety like oolong tea which has a small production).

A special one page menu was made for our meet and presented to each one of us, comprising seventeen handpicked varieties of tea, some veg and non-veg snacks, cakes and muffins.

Nitin strongly recommended the hot new entrant in the menu- Fish n Chips- and claimed that they’ve taken enough care to ensure that it is the best in town. Apart from that we ordered Bollywood Mix Masala Cha, Arabic Spice tea, Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich, Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich and Cheese and Tomato Sandwich. I ordered an iced tea as I wasn’t feeling like having a hot beverage. The waiter was smartly dressed in their black t-shirt and white brimless cap.

The sugar pouch case

Food arrived in a while as we kept chatting with Nitin. The food comes from The Park, which is in the Apeejay group that owns Oxford Bookstore. I loved the Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich. The chicken was tender and the mayo was generous. At Rs 110, it’s not expensive given the quality. I am fond of the chicken and egg sandwich at Just Baked which has mustard in it. Mustard, mixed with boiled egg in the right measure, can bring out a different taste of the bland egg. The Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich was good too though I felt it could be better if the egg was uniformly cut into tiny pieces.

Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich

Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich

Enter the Fish n Chips, piping hot. Succulent, flaky fish encased in a thin crust. It was delicious and surely compares with the best in town, I felt. It vanished from the plate in no time and we asked for a repeat. Two longer and one short piece of fried fish with tartar sauce and finger chips at just Rs 130 is a killer deal! They use basa fish (which has become a common substitute for bekti in the Kolkata F&B circuit) as for them it is easy to get a consistent quality compared to bekti.

A word on Bollywood Mix Masala Cha- it is your regular masala tea served in a kettle decorated with Pakistani-style truck art of Hindi film stars. The tea is poured in glass (as it is with cutting chai of Mumbai). Indrajit is the virtual brand ambassador of masala tea and he liked it.

If you like the kettle, you can even buy one off the shelves near the counter. 

 The kettle up for grabs

Indrajit pouring Arabic Spice tea

As I understood, they offer tea and good food at a reasonably cheaper price than comparable joints so that it compliments the bookstore experience well. The tea starts at just Rs 34! It should also appeal to those who just look for good food in a good ambience. The value seekers may like this place more than Flury’s and Au Bon Pain which are good but definitely overpriced. Cha Bar is also very particular about how a beverage or a food item is served and love to innovate on it. Learnt that they are going to introduce pasta this winter. Pasta lovers may note.

The muffins on the upper rack

Out chat and banter and food photography went on for some time before we bid adieu. The kettle of the masala tea got great attention form those among us with a passion for photography (Sammya, Preeti and Soumya).  It was a Sunday afternoon well spent in a relaxed way. Would like to come back especially for the Fish n Chips.

The kettle photo session in progress

View of bookstore from Cha Bar

#ChaBar #ChaBarKolkata #OxfordBookstore #FishnChips

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