Street Eats by Ifte in The Telegraph Food Guide 201311th September, 2013
Street Food of Calcutta
I’ve always been in love with the streets of this city and a major part of that love emanates from the plethora of food options available here. You get to experience some of the best food in the world at a fraction of the cost that you’d pay anywhere else. While some food items developed indigenously most have been brought it by the many settlers who came in attracted by the prosperity of this colonial city. Without further ado let’s plunge in and find out the best available street food in the city and the many locations and outlets that will leave you craving for more.
Jalebi – Kaali Godaam, not many know, is the place where the Birla empire was started by Mr Ghanshyam Das back in the early 1900’s and just underneath that is sold Calcutta’s best crunchy Kesaria jalebi along with hot and spicy sev. They pride themselves in the purity of asli ghee and real kesar without resorting to any artificial food colouring or flavours .
And if you venture further into the same lane you will meet a dying breed of sharbat shops selling wonderful badaam and khas sharbats. For the devout Shiva followers there’s also bhaang on offer in the same shops.
Soota Kabab – In Choona Gali aka Phears Lane next to the famous Alaudin Halwai shop is a tiny hole in the wall called Adam’s Kabab. This fellow, like many many others, owes his ancestral migration from Lucknow to Wajid Ali Shah’s exile. Little bits of spiced beef mincemeat are put around a seekh (skewers) and tied with a soota or thread and hence the name. Once he’s done barbecuing them to perfection you remove the thread and partake of the dynamite that this explosion of flavours brings to your tongue. Available every day from 3 to 10pm.
Dahi Papdi Chaat – Entirely sold by Rajasthani vendors this is a wonderful summer dish to substitute for a heavy lunch at times when the heat makes you lose your appetite. Their papdis are mixed with beautiful masalas and chatnis and finally ice cold yogurt is poured over it making for a perfect summer snack. Almost all of them are brilliant but one of the best ones sits outside the Raymond’s showroom at Poddar Court during office hours.
Gaathia – An entirely Gujju snack this is made from fried chickpea batter (besan) and served with raw papaya salad, the benefits of which can hardly be enumerated here. Available from Burra Bazar to Bhowanipore this snack is patronised not just by Gujaratis anymore. Find one of the best places for freshly made gathia in the mornings and evenings at Jai Ambica Bhujiawala at the juncture of Armenian Street and Mullick St. aka Thaana Gali because of Burrababazar police station nearby.
Dalpuri – Throughout the Muslim dominated areas of the city you will find dalpuris available as breakfast. While most of them offer beautiful lentil and spice fillings the one that takes the cake is Babu Miyan opposite the back gate of Nakhoda mosque (facing Chitpore) tucked away in a tiny lane. He starts at the crack of dawn and is sold out by about 11am. Their jalebis put between two hot and crunchy dalpuris make for a heavenly breakfast.
Chai – Although every Calcuttan worth his Rabindrasangeet would have his own favourite place for tea but for me the 2 places that really kick it are Jhuri Singh on Bentinck street, because of his copper container for boiling water, and Balwant Singh Dhaba under the Gurudwara, for using steam to cook tea and heat directly. Both these places have their unique flavour or cha and are my daily stops.
Chilla – Again a Rajasthani / Gujarati import but makes for a sumptuous snack especially for those tired from daylong shopping. Popular places include outside Vardaan Market and near Shibuji on Wood Street – Theater Road crossing. Made with several kinds of dals with the added flavour of caramelised onions this is best consumed with healthy dollops of pudina and garlic chutneys. I love ordering crisp and overdone.
Chowmein – Although many corners of the city streets serve this veritable Chinese import I’ve had the most fun sitting with backpackers just off Sudder Street and having it from the roadside. And of course, I order mine with double chicken and double egg. Speaking of which the double anda double chicken roll from Nizam’s is still to be bettered anywhere in the world. Ask for the extra lime to add more tangy flavour.
Bhel Puri – A die hard Calcuttan like me with ample faith in Calcutta’s great taste in food still bow to the Mumbaikars for what they do with the bhel, the vada pao and the kala khata gola. I had lost faith in getting the Bombay quality bhel anywhere in the city till the paan shop outside Flavours on Sarat Bose Road started selling it. I must say they do a fine job of it and it easily qualifies as the best Bhel of the city. And if you want to have the less glamorous cousin of bhel, the jhaal muri, a uniquely Calcutta offering then head to Armenian Street or Ezra Street, the guys mix fresh singharas in their jhaal muri raising the bar by adding an already successful snack to another.
Puchkas – You may have your favourite puchkawala in different parts of the city but you must some time or the other try the guy opposite Max Mueller Bhavan. His spices are usually in perfect proportion to the potatoes and when the sweet and sour water is mixed together it goes to another level of divine. If you like the puchkas must follow up with the ritualistic puchka chaat afterward.
… just some of the many options available and can be read on The Telegraph Goof Guide 2013.