There was once a time when my mother used to run after me to have food. I was not that much interested in the other items that are cooked at my place on a regular basis. For example: Chicken Kosha, Mutton Curry, fish items or even bati chochhori, bhaja, etc. Tasty Bengali dishes to me was all about bhaat, dal, alu bhaja and pickle. On some other days, I would simply have my portion of rice with laal shaag or bhaat-soyabean torkari. Since I was not very much aware of taste, my mom used to give me soyabean in the name of chicken. These were mostly the scenes at home while on the other hand, I would have jhaalmuri, alu kabli, alur dum from outside. Chicken rolls, once or twice in a month. Other items like alur chop, fish fry, fish fingers, Kabiraji never used to fascinate me.
Cut to 2013.
Life happened and I left home for job. Initially, I was at Jaipur, Rajasthan for one long year. I had a roommate who was a Bengali and we had almost similar choices when it comes to food. I do not remember a single day when we craved for Bengali home-style fish curry. We mostly used to visit small roadside stalls to have pani puris, chaats and dal kachoris. If we had extra money, we would visit a vegetarian restaurant to have butter roti, paneer masala, etc. It was in this very restaurant that I tasted a dish called “Sev Tamatar“. I simply loved this dish and I was fascinated to know how they mix Sev with a thick tomato-based gravy to bring that perfect taste. This dish went really well with tawa roti. I remember visiting a bar in the city of Jaipur just to have their Chicken Tandoori and not really for drinks. The chicken tandoori was my favorite and it went really well with beer. There is nothing extraordinary with the chicken tandoori but it was favorite because the taste was close to what I had back in Kolkata.
After a one year stint at Jaipur, I came back to Kolkata and started visiting my favorite places of the city for food. I missed home-cooked food and started eating bhaat, dal, chicken, fish, egg curry and other side dishes like there’s no tomorrow. I started visiting my favorite momo and thukpa shop, jhhalmuri shop, the biryani shop and the shops which used to sell varieties of fritters.
Later in 2014, I left the city to start afresh at Hyderabad for my new job. By this time, I already knew how living alone feels like, how you crave for home-made food or the food from your city. I made it a point to explore the varieties of food that are available in the city during my week ends. If you’re outside your city for long and if you crave for your hometown food, you generally do not miss the big names. The same happened with me too. I was not missing the Chelo Kebab of Peter Cat, the Devilled Crabs of Mocambo or a Chinese Lunch at Tangra. Instead, the local alur chopwala, the jhhalmuri-wala, the unknown stalls of phuchka, the most dingy shop which sells chicken roll and noodles, etc comes to your mind. These are the things that you miss from the city, the most.
While at Hyderabad, I continuously look for food here and there and keep an eye on Zomato and other apps to remain updated about the best foods of the city. Still, there is a tendency of mine to find out most of the places on my own, try and food and rate it. Being verified by Zomato as a Level 13 foodie, I do get invitations for food tasting sessions arranged by some newly opened restaurants or for a foodie meet. I tend to avoid these invitations and try to avoid the places which has already been explored. Yes, I do go back to Shadab or Green Bawarchi to have biryani, Pakistani Chicken or Shorba. I do visit Karachi Bakery to have various pastries and Ram ki Bandi for the dosas. At the same time, it is for the love of food that I prefer the biryani served by Pista House, the jar cakes and pastries from Little Things, Madhapur and a certain masala upma dosa from the bandi near Indira nagar, Gacchhibowli. These places (except Pista House) are not so famous but they make amazingly great food at much reasonable prices. Similarly, the search for the best momos and thukpas in town is still on. We do have a North-East kitchen making great pork and beef dishes but the lady from Darjeeling outside my office at Kondapur make great momos. The same goes with Katmandu Momos outside ADP office building or the momos that are made by a guy called Shering from his home at Botanical Gardens. Shering has come up with his shop called The Himalayan Cafe and he is an expert in making chicken momos and thukpas. Still, the search for the best is on!
I have found immense pleasure in tasting one of the finest white, creamy pastas just at 50 bucks from a roadside shop near Punjagutta. The Pav Bhaji from a similar roadside stall in the same area. People do love Siddhique Kebabs but Chote Miyan Kebab is equally important to me if I’ve to write about the food scenes at Hyderabad. I prefer rumali roti and butter chicken from a shop called Hyderabad Xpress. I simply love Ammas at Gacchibowli when it comes to Nepali and Tibetian cuisines at Hyderabad. For Bengali dishes, I do find Sarkar’s Kitchen to be the best in the business as of now. There are shops like Kolkata Food Plaza,Kolkata House, etc but all these are standard restaurants who prepare average food, altogether.
Now, when it comes to Kolkata I do have my specific list. Whenever I visit the city, the food journey starts with a lunch or dinner prepared by my mom. It has all my favorites including rice, dal, aloo posto, pickle, fish or chicken. Yes, my comfort food since childhood!
I go to my favorite mashi near Gariahat who sells one of the greatest jhhalmuris ever. She doesn’t use a lot of ingredients but the mixture of boiled potatoes, onions, lots of chanachur and the pickle oil make the difference. The old man sitting at the edge of Haldiram’s, Exide does prepare a great jhhalmuri too. I like the aloo chop and beguni with a bit of puffed rice and a chili from the shop which is situated on the right side if you travel from Lake Mall towards Deshopriyo Park. If you reach Deshopriyo Park crossing, find out the mashi who has been selling ghugni from last 40 years at the same location. You’ll find Moharaja and Moharani in the same area who prepares great kachori and aloo’r torkari. I prefer to visit Moharoja or Moharani during the early hours of morning if I don’t go towards Balwant Singh Eating House for the mini kachoris, samosas and a brilliant kesar tea. You’ll find one of the best tikiya rolls from Bedwin near Gariahat but I’ll not take up space for Bedwin because it is well known amongst the foodies of the city.
I do not find anything extraordinary about the food from Bachhan’s Dhaba. Sharma Dhaba bring back memories and I simply love the food that this place makes. At times, I complete my dinner from Sharma Dhaba with one full tandoori chicken, roti and tadka.
I do make it a point to visit Chitto da for chicken stew and toasts, Silver Grill for Dry Chili Chicken, Maidan area for Bhelpuri and Papri Chat, Kusum Rolls for that awesome double chicken roll. At the same time, I do not find any greatness left in the Chelo Kebab of Peter Cat. The last two experiences were not good and hence I go to Haanglatherium for the Chelo Kabab Platter. Similarly, for biryani I prefer Shimla Biryani or Kabuliwala instead of Arsalan. If I’m craving for a different style for Biryani, I visit India Restaurant for their Dariyabadi Biryani.I simply love the Suta kebab from Adam’s kebab near Colootola.
Now, all these are related to street foods. What about my favorite restaurants?
Yes, there are many of my favorites in the city and I have been visiting most of them since long. One such is Trincas. Be it for a Chinese lunch with mom or a meeting with friends, I visit this place more than often. Their sizzlers and grills, golden fried prawns and Chinese dishes are a favorite of me and my mom. When it’s a catch up with friends, I prefer The Other Room (a part of Trincas) and have beer with chicken ala keiv or chelo kebab platter. For an American breakfast, Flury’s is still my place to go because of its tradition and the premium quality. I do make it a point to have Bengali cuisine with my mom at least for once and my choices for Bengali cuisine are Rajbarir Khawa at Santoshpur or Saptapadi at Gariahat. The copper utensils at Rajbarir Khawa brings back a different feel, altogether while the earthen utensils at Saptapadi adds a different taste to the food. I only go to Tangra-China Town if it demands.
I am a beer fan and love the fact that many restaurants of my city makes a special dish or the other which go really well with beer. I’m not a big fan of the Beef Steak from Olypub because the quality is not the same anymore but love their pork sausages with beer. Similarly, chicken pakoras and beer from New Cathey Restaurant. I visit Shaw’s Brother (Chhota Bristol) to have a few drinks just because they offer a variety of accompaniments starting from fish fingers to guavas with red chili powder and black salt sprinkled on them. You may find me getting drunk at Green Palace Restaurant because no other place will serve a peg of old monk at 70 bucks along with a boiled chanas, ginger and onions in vinegar and black salt with chat masala for free.
You may find me visiting few places even though there are better places. This is simply because there are some waiters who hug me, smile at me and talk their heart out every time I visit them. That “extra love and care” is something which you can’t buy with money.
North Kolkata has a series of shops which sells great Telebhaja. Kalika is one of them. I pick up anything with closed eyes as I am too much sure of the quality and the taste of all the items from this particular shop. Similarly, Mitra Cafe is a place which I try to visit. I often try out the street-style egg noodles and rolls from the series of shops near Jadavpur 8B auto-stand. They are damn cheap yet tasty. I am a big fan of beef biryani and beef rolls. For rolls, I visit a shop at Anwar Shah where they prepare the softest beef roll with tender pieces of beef with onions and lemon. The beef biryani destination is always Zam Zam for me. While writing this, Pao Chein suddenly came to my mind because of the pork items that they prepare in Chinese style. When I was a resident of Kolkata, Pao Chein was my place to go to have a quick, tasty lunch. So was a restaurant at Gariahat which used to serve egg hakka noodles or fried rice with three pieces of chili chicken and a lot of gravy just at 35 bucks. This shop is not in business anymore. Till date, if I am in the city you will find me at Terity Bazaar or at Sree Hari Mistanna Bhandar for a quick breakfast, very early in the morning. It actually depends on my mood whether I want to go for the Chinese breakfast or for the kachori, chholar dal and lyangcha combo at Hazra.
I describe myself as an impulsive foodie and I do not think much regarding the places that I should be visiting. It just happens within a minute or two. Neither do I care much about the ambiance, seating arrangements and decor. It is just the food and the taste, which matters. I am in a dilemma to announce the best momo joint in the city. There are few places which are old and there are some new joints which are giving tough competitions. It is really very tough for me to decide if Hamro Momo serves the best momos. Or is it Tibetian Delight? Momo I Am is doing great and I do visit their branch at Lake Gardens for some hot and great momos. I’ve been eating at Denzong Kitchen since it’s beginning and it can be considered a “pasher parar dokan”. However, there is a place which serves one of the greatest momos of the city but not that much known to people. If you’re in and around Golpark, do try the chicken steam momos from Fresh n Up which stands a few meters away from the take away counter of Aminia at Golpark. This is mainly a take away counter but you can stand and have the momos then and there. Try their Gravy Noodles and chicken/fish side dishes and thank me later.
Now a days, I am noticing a new trend which is disturbing and alarming. Foodies has been there since long. I know people who are foodies as well as great cooks since long. However, for the past 2 years, I am seeing a lot of self-proclaimed foodies in Instagram and YouTube trying to prove something. My observation says that most of them hear the name of the places and the famous dishes that they serve, go there with a camera and start recording just to post the photos and the videos in social networking. This whole thing is for gaining followers and subscribers. There is someone called Adnan from Bangladesh who came to Flury’s to have the American Breakfast but is unaware of a certain name called Hash Browns. He described it as “something made of potatoes“. Similarly, when we went to Mitra Cafe, he referred Kasundi as “mustard ketchup“.Keep in mind that he is a Bengali and is aware of the term “kasundi“. On top of that, these foodies never ever try to find out the hidden gems or new places of the city. Instead they go the same old places which they have either read from Zomato or have heard from people. This is the sole reason people now a days do not know that Eau Chew Restaurant, beside chimney soup, serves Josephine Rice/Noodles which is a dish named after the owner of the restaurant and is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant. Most of them would not know where they can get Ujjala Chanachur from or from where Olypub and most of the bars of Park Street get the chanachur! This mediocrity and not-so-in-depth knowledge about the subject will surely lead them nowhere.
To end, I will keep on going to the places I mentioned till the time I am alive. In the meantime, I would not be drawn towards any places which do not serve authentic food but are costly as hell. I mean why would I have momos worth 300 bucks from a cafe when the same amount of money can get me 3 great plates of momos from one of the authentic shops who are in the business for long?