The flavour of Kolkata

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chinese New Year celebration at Yauatcha

Chinese New Year is one of the most important and auspicious festivals in the Chinese calendar. This year marks the Year of the Monkey, occupying the ninth position on the Chinese zodiac. The combination of the monkey sign with fire heralds an adventurous year full of confidence, decisiveness and innovation.

Yauatcha, the fine dining oriental dining stop at Quest, is celebrating this festival with a limited edition signature menu featuring dim sum, mains, desserts and cocktail.

The menu comprises of newly introduced dishes ranging from Truffle and English Carrot Dumpling to Kiwi and Black Olive Dumpling in starters, mains such as and Braised Pork Belly in Spicy Yellow Bean Sauce with Cigar Mantao Roll and Stir-fry Mock Chicken in Hunan Style Spicy Sauce, and desserts like the Crunchy Caramel with Honeycomb Ice Cream and the Cocktail Cherry Chaser.

 Lobster Ho Fun Roll with Black Pepper Sauce
Seafood Shui Mai

Braised Pork Belly in Spicy Yellow Bean Sauce with Cigar Mantao Roll
Vegetable Mahlak Udon Noodle 

 Crunchy Caramel with Honeycomb Ice Cream

In addition, the restaurant will be transformed with unique red origami monkeys.

#Yauatcha #ChineneseNewYearMenu

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Monday, January 25, 2016

An afternoon with Christine Manfield in AKLF

It was the closing day of the well-organised Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) which took place at various venues including Oxford Bookstore, Victoria Memorial, Town Hall steps and Tolly Club, covering a wide range of subjects in standalone or book release-linked discussions over 14th to 17th January.

The first session of the event was the release of the new book ‘A Personal Guide to India and Bhutan’ written by Australian Masterchef, food and travel writer Christine Manfield, by veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi, followed by a conversation between the Masterchef,  him, musician and food writer Nondon Bagchi and chef Sharad Dewan of The Park, which was the venue. It was succeeded by showcasing Christine’s book ‘Dessert Divas’ with Meera Syal and a demo of one of the desserts from the book.

Before proceeding further, a few facts about Christine Manfield:
  1. She is deep into food tourism and has been conducting food trips to India for years. She has been travelling to the country by its length and breadth for the last 20 years. Her coffee table book ‘Tasting India’, which is said to be a delectable cross between a coffee table book and a travelogue, is an outcome of this.
  2. Use of spices is her forte. Her favourite spices include chilli (first in order), turmeric, saffron and mustard seed. No wonder she is known as Mistress of Spices.
  3. She can’t live without rice and chilli. So much so that she carries chilli to places that don’t grow them.
  4. When she’s at home, she shops daily and doesn’t like stocking up for days. Sounds like a quintessential Bengali habit? There’s more to relate for Bengalis. Her Bengali favourites include luchi, shukto (she finds it really light and cleansing) and kochuri on the streets.
  5. Though she’s been a guest chef on the Masterchef Australia, she doesn’t think such ‘game shows’ are the right platform to learn to be a good cook or chef.

Reference: Her interview in t2 by Samhita Chakraborty in 2011.

Back to AKLF. I regret turning up late at the well-attended first session. But the short while I witnessed, was thoroughly enjoyable. Christine is good to listen to. She is well-spoken and articulate and has a good sense of humour. Because of her long experience of India, she knows Indian food by heart.

(Left to right) Christine Manfield, Nondon Bagchi, Vir Sanghvi and Sharad Dewan

The Q&A session that followed was interesting too. An old gentleman asked why a nation’s cuisine changes when it crosses the nation’s borders. The reference was to Chinese food which as he had experienced and heard, was bland in China and very unlike what is available by its name in India, even if Chinese cooks make it. Vir said he didn’t agree to the blandness thing completely because food in China has a wide variation in taste. While food in Peiking is bland, Hunan or Szechwan food are spicy. Nevertheless, the question was addressed.

The beginning of the Q&A session

Sharad said the similarity in taste depends a lot on the water. One of the things a dish derives its taste from is water and as that varies with a change in geography. So the taste of food changes too, no matter how authentically it is attempted to prepare.

Christine’s view was that a cuisine in the first place has to appeal to the people having it. So the taste of a cuisine can change in different corners of the world to some extent to adjust to local taste.

Nondon shared an anecdote of his younger days. He was in Chennai on a trip and became broke towards the end of the trip. So they had to survive on cheap local food. He still remembers the sambhar he had there. Back to Kolkata, he has had sambhar at many places cooked by south Indian chefs, but it has never been the same. It is impossible to replicate the original taste far away from an area.

 Interaction with audience

In this context, here is a word on the ‘Kolkata Chinese cuisine’. The early Chinese cuisine of Kolkata, served in restaurants like Nanking in the 20s’ was subtly flavoured, close to what it is in China. But with time, the taste evolved to suit local taste more. Thus green chilli sauce was born, marrying Chinese and Indian flavours, in the hands of a Chinese gentleman living in the city. It was followed by other sauces like chilli garlic and hot garlic which have nothing to do with China but everything to do with Kolkata’s palate.

There was a supposedly short tea break between the sessions. But given the wide array of items served- finger food and dessert, and the large attendance, the queue was slow to move and seemed never to end. There were chicken breast (mini) cutlet (with tartar sauce), small mangsher shingara with tentuler chutney (tamarind chutney), Joynagarer moa, sandesh and mini lemon tart among other things. Not surprisingly, with such a delectable spread the short break was getting longer and the moderator lady had to make repeated calls to the audience to be back on seats.

 Mangsher Shingara (left), chicken breast cutlet (centre down), Joynagarer Moa (Centre up), ), sandesh (right up)
and mini lemon tart (right down)

In the next session, where Christine’s new book ‘Dessert Divas’ was showcased, she was introduced as ‘The queen of decadent desserts’. In Christine’s words, a dessert is ‘seduction through the eyes’. The book is divided into six chapters and four seasonal sections including summer desserts, winter desserts and spring desserts. This session saw a full house.

Over the next half an hour or so, we saw the title pages of the desserts in the book projected on the screen at the right and Christine described one by one. I must mention, the names are imaginatively and wittily given.

(Left to right) Christine, Meera Syal and Sharad Dewan

The Summer Desserts section has desserts like ‘I go to Rio’, a banana-based dessert- ‘Bananarama’, named after a popular rock band, ‘Bite the Pillow’ (The pillow is of marshmallow with lemon tart at the centre). There is one called ‘Sticky Fingers’ made with pomegranate, fig and organic honey. The pomegranate seeds are soaked in the honey and the longer they are in the honey, the better they taste. There was another one called ‘F.I.G. J.A.M.’, which seemed it meant the obvious, but the audience had a good laugh when she expanded the name. It was …..'F**k, I’m good, just ask me'.

“Apples are good in winter”, she said. So the Winter Desserts section had many apple-based preparations. ‘Bithday Suit’ was one of the desserts and the demo that followed was of this. ‘Queen Bee’ and ‘Adam’s Downfall’ were two others.

Spring Desserts had names like Rock the Kasbah, Strawberry Fields Forever, Menage a Trois and Mocha Bomb (A chocolate mousse on the bed of espresso ice cream).

She moved on to the table at the left for the demo of ‘Birthday Suit’. The printed recipe had been circulated to every audience member before the session. She explained every step in great detail and much of her interaction with Meera happened at this stage. It was made of meringue puff, white chocolate mousse, lemon curd (made of egg yolk, castor sugar, lemon juice and cold, unsalted butter), raspberry and raspberry sauce.

Session over, the audience was privileged to taste it. I liked it because of the tangy raspberry sauce.

#AKLF #ChristineManfield #DessertDivas

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Friday, January 22, 2016

The derby beckons

I-League 2016, India’s biggest football league, began on 8th January. And the first derby of Kolkata (for the uninitiated, the face-off between the biggest names of Bengal club football Mohun Bagan and East Bengal) is scheduled on 23rd January. Here are some thoughts crossing the mind of a Mohun Bagan supporter.

  • This I-League is different for Mohun Bagan. They are the title defenders for the first time. So expectations of the lakhs of supporters and the club management are at a peak for a dream encore. And nobody knows that better than Sanjay Sen, the coach and architect of last year’s league win. So I was not surprised when he said before every match in the ongoing league, “All I want from the match is three points’. He has proved himself in Mohun Bagan with the last I-League and has a tough task at hand to deliver a satisfactory performance again. He has a good squad at his disposal. So the cold calculations in his mind are understandable and it seems all he is looking for is three points from this match again. The margin of victory won't matter to him.
  • Mohun Bagan’s winning streak should be long like the I-League 2015. It will help retain a high position on the league table in the long term. The club has started off well by winning both the matches played (3-1 against Aizawl FC and 4-2 against Salgaocar FC). East Bengal, on the other hand, has won the first (3-1 against Sporting Club de Goa) but drew goalless in the second against Mumbai FC.
  • I-League and Calcutta Football League (CFL) are two different worlds. Still, a derby is a derby in Kolkata. So though it was not the same Mohun Bagan of I-League 2015 in the last derby (September 2015 in CFL, thanks to Sony Norde and other key players not playing),  a fitting reply to East Bengal for the humiliating 0-4 loss is high on the wishlist.  
  • Debjit Majumdar is set to guard the goal instead of skipper Shilton Paul. Can he become a superman again, thanks to his amazing flying saves which we saw in I-League 2015? It will be a delight to see him frustrate the Dongs and the Rantys.
  • The problem of plenty for Sanjay Sen- Who all to bench and who all to field? For example, he has four key, in-form strikers to pick from- Cornell Glen, Balwant Singh, Jeje and Sony Norde. Right now, it seems Balwant may not make it to the final XI due to his injury in the practice and Jeje will replace him. Jeje is in top form and it will be great to see him back after his successful stints in ISL 2015 and the recently concluded SAFF Cup. Cornell Glen and Balwant are on fire (The duo have scored in both the matches in the league).
  • Sony Norde- Hope he delivers, as his first match in this year's league is going to be the derby. “When will he join?”  “Won’t he join?” Mohun Bagan’s biggest star of I-League 2015 kept the fans guessing from December ’15 and finally joined the squad when the team has had played two matches. He is now the most expensive player in India, commanding approximately Rs 1.7 crore ($ 258 thousand)) apart from perks. He is match fit and every fan is looking forward to his sparkling performance in the league. 
A dash of trivia: Five of the first XI players of Mohun Bagan are Bengali- Debjit Majumdar (Goalkeeper), Pritam Kotal (Right back), Kingshuk Debnath (Stopper), Pranay Halder (Midfielder) and Azharuddin Mullick (Striker). Those who lament the exodus of the Bengali from Kolkata football can take heart. By the way, 5-6 players in the recent SAFF Cup champion Indian team were Bengali too.

#MohunBagan #KolkataDerby #KolkataFootball #ILeague2016

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The first Instagram exhibition in India

Yes, you saw that right. Instagram held its first exhibition in India in this city earlier this month. It featured the work of 20 Instagrammers.

As it was, photography professional Soumya Shankar Ghosal from the city got a surprise call from Facebook (which owns Instagram) in December ’15 and he was told that they were intending to hold their first Instagram exhibition of India in Kolkata, coinciding with Global Business Summit in January ’15 (for the best exposure). His role would be curating a part of the exhibition as part of the curator team and the theme would be ‘Diversity of Bengal’. One of the photographs which had already been selected by the team was his click of Nakhoda Masjid during Ramadan.

So Soumya and his team in his photography initiative Streets of Calcutta (Said to be the world’s largest street photography archive) and another popular Facebook group Calcutta Instagrammers collaborated and got down to business poring over hundreds of photographs on Instagram and zeroed in on seventeen. Instagram kept the work of three commissioned shoots- Bandna Festival of Purulia district, Durga Puja at Sonagachhi (A red light area in Kolkata) and the Christian community in Kolkata.

The exhibition was held at ICCR, 9A Ho Chi Minh Sarani on 7th to 9th January not with great fanfare but it did make a mark with the visitors. Soumya and his friends, yours truly included, did their bit in spreading the word on social media.

A team from Facebook inaugurated the exhibition the traditional way- lighting a diya (traditional Indian lamp). Ritesh Mehta, Head- Economic Growth Initiatives, Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director of Facebook and Katie Harbath were present along with the participants. The exhibition was inaugurated by Derek O’Brien, Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from West Bengal and an eminent quizmaster from the city. The photographs truly reflect diverse aspects of Bengal and Kolkata. Here’s a look at it.

Katie Harbath lighting the diya on inauguration as Derek O'Brien (extreme left) and Ankhi Das (second from left) look on

Chhau dance, Purulia
Moi-Charan (Bull race) Festival at Herobhanga village near Canning

 Cham, a Tibetan mask dance performed by monks in Kalimpong, north Bengal

 Soumya Shankar Ghosal with his Nakhoda Masjid click

Derek in awe of Arpita Pramanick's (right) shot of Mullick Ghat, Howrah with the famous Howrah Bridge
 in the background

A silent prayer saying thanks before the meal in a Christian home in the city

The fervour of Holi celebration in Burrabazar, Kolkata

 The popular 'Dhunuchi dance' in Durga Puja in Sonagachhi  

 Cattle are decorated with stamps and worshipped in the Bandna Festival in Purulia district

An artist making Pata Chitro, the famous folk art of Bengal. A large part of his body was burnt in a fire at
his home that claimed his family members. Shot by Sammya Brata Mullick.

Ritesh Mehta sharing a light moment with Soumya

I was very happy to see blogger and photographer friend Indrajit Lahiri’s photo of Chitpur, which I made the cover of this blog during Ramadan last year (Find it in the Cover Photo Archive section of this blog).

 To know further details, take a look at Soumya's blog post here. It busts a myth about Instagram photos.

#InstagramExhibition #PhotographyKolkata #PhotographyExhibitionKolkata

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kolkata Photo-trip- Post 1: Public transport

Tram- The leisurely, non-polluting public transport since the British era surviving in today's fast-paced age.

Kolkata is the only Indian city and one of the few cities in the world to have tram.

Ferry service (launch) on the Ganga. Shot near Bagbazar.

Ferry service is one of the transport options in the city and effective in travelling between two places on the two sides of the Ganga. It is very inexpensive too, perfectly suiting the common man.

#Tram #KolkataTram #KolkataRiverTransport

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Friday, January 15, 2016

The curtain raiser of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2016, 14th-17th January

January is the season of book fair and literary meets in Kolkata. And AKLF is the first literary meet to roll. Organized by Apeejay Surendra Group and Oxford Bookstore, it had a curtain raiser with a heritage walk on College Street, the city’s book and academic hub, on the last Sunday morning (10th January). The walk was organized by Streets of Calcutta. Rangan Dutta, a well-known travel blogger and writer, led the walk. I joined it at College Square and continued till the end at Swami Vivekananda’s residence. About seventy heads met and took the walk.

The famous swimming club at College Square, named College Square Swimming Club, was founded in 1917 by a group of seventeen people headed by Pramotho Nath Ghosh with the objective of imparting scientific training of swimming and development and promotion art of life-saving in water for the society.

College Square

Calcutta University was the first institution in Asia to be established as a multidisciplinary and secular Western-style university, was established in 1857.

Calcutta University

We were walking along College Street which is the largest book market in the country and also the largest second-hand book market in the world.

The building at the crossing of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee Street where the legendary Indian Coffee House, the heritage coffee shop, is located

The college which was founded as Hindoo College in 1817 was rechristened Presidency College in 1855 and turned into Presidency University by the state government in 2010.

Rangan Datta (in blue) with the participants in Presidency University

There is this plaque near the main gate in the memory of its gate-keeper Ram Eqbal Singh (a harmonious name!) who died chivalrously defending his college in the riots of 1926.

There is this statue, hardly noticed, at the College Street-MG Road junction (diagonally opposite erstwhile College Street market). It is of Rai Kristodas Pal Bahadur who was a renowned journalist (1838-1884) and a legislator. He was awarded the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (CIE). It was an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1878.

The statue of Rai Kristodas Pal Bahadur

The old College Street market was demolished to make India’s first book mall by the state government. The showpiece mall named Barnaparichay (The name of the first book in Bengali), perfectly fitting this book-loving city, was conceived in 2007 to be built under PPP. Due to some reasons, the construction is still not complete and only a part of it is operational now. Its main entrance has been kept intact due to the heritage status.

College Street market

The famous  Laha Bari- a house aged more than 200 years, belongs to the Laha family who bought it from another Bengali family. Well known for its Durga Puja and numerous Bengali and Hindi film shoots.

Laha Bari

Thanthania Kalibari, one of the famous temples of goddess Kali, was founded by Shankar Ghosh in 1803, a mentioned in the temple building itself. However, according to another inscription in the temple, its foundation was laid in 1703. The deity is called Siddheshwari and it is made of clay.

Thanthania Kalibari

We stopped by this old sign of a tram stop which has surprisingly withstood eras. An old man in his late seventies sitting in a shop near it was telling us his experience of it seeing our enthusiasm. He said it was already built while he was a small kid. Rangan and Shaikh Sohail, a heritage enthusiast in the group tried to second-guess its age and agreed that it must be more than a hundred years.

 An old tram stop sign from the British era

The Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was formed in a public meeting of Brahmos held in the Town Hall of Calcutta on 15th May 1878. ‘Brahmo Samaj’ means a community of men who worship only Brahma or the Supreme Spirit of the universe.

 Sadharon Brahmo Samaj

The culmination of the walk turned out to be the biggest highlight. We visited the home of Swami Vivekananda which has been turned into a museum by Ramakrishna Mission. The entry ticket costs Rs 10 and you need to leave your shoes in the racks outside. This tranquil place on the busy Bidhan Sarani was Swami Vivekananda's home throughout his childhood and early youth. The large house was built by his great-grandfather Rammohan Dutta. All the furniture and accessories used by him and his family are tastefully preserved and displayed. The anecdotes of his childhood are illustrated through life-size statues.

The condition of the house deteriorated terribly over time. Finally, in 1999, it was acquired along with an adjacent plot by Ramakrishna Mission. It was painstakingly restored through great preparation and research and monstrous efforts with the help of Archeological Society of India over 1999-2004 and made into a museum and cultural centre. It was thrown open for public visit in 2004. There is a short audio-visual played inside which depicts the truly historic restoration. A large auditorium is being built at the backyard now.

The residence of Swami Vivekananda

The adjacent building, now an education centre run by the mission

There was an unofficial sweet ending at Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy, the legendary sweet shop at Hedua that specialises in sandesh, not far from the said museum. Indrajit Lahiri and Soumya Shankar Ghosal of Streets of Calcutta treated us with a sandesh each. The naram paak (soft made) nolen gur sandesh handpicked by Indrajit, a food blogger by passion, was sublime to put it in short.

To know more about AKLF, visit its website (Link given in the first line), its Facebook page and Twitter handle.

#AKLF #AKLF2016 #HeritageWalk #CollegeStreet #KolkataHeritage #Kolkata
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