Kolkata – One more time

Park Street Kolkata
Park Street Kolkata

A story about my staycation at Taj Bengal and rediscovering one of the best food destinations of the country.

‘Why do you want to go to Kolkata? You’ve seen it all! What will you do there?’ Well, that’s what my parents kept asking me for a month, when I informed them that I would be travelling to Kolkata in August. Somewhere my parents were right in questioning my decision to visit the city, with which I have had a Love-Hate relationship.

Leaving my parents confused, I began my journey just a week before my birthday.

I am quite familiar with the city, people and culture. However, this time I was going to Kolkata for a relaxing ‘staycation’ at Taj Bengal and that was obviously, a first for me.

Taj Bengal – The other side of the coin.

The stay at Taj Bengal was my prime reason to visit Kolkata. As I reached the hotel, I was greeted warmly and was given a room that was pure comfort. However, oddly enough, it was the bathroom I fell in love with. Yes, call me crazy, but a fancy bathroom makes every girl happy. Besides the room, I loved splashing in the pool and roaming about in corridors and listening to the evening orchestra. The beautiful artifacts and the vintage feel of the hotel exuded luxury and tradition at the same time. I loved the fact that the look and layout weren’t over embellished or ostentatious, but, pretty sophisticated and classic.

However, the food at The Hub, the 24 hours coffee shop, was rather ordinary. Except for a croissant with bitter orange marmalade, there was nothing that excited me. I did like the usual sautéed vegetables with apricots, hummus, olives and cheese along with the cheese omelet. But sadly, the local food, such as Cholar Dal and Luchi was too average. Aloo curry and Matar Kachori were too mild for my liking and unfortunately, that’s all they had on offer from the local section in their breakfast. Even the pancakes, Tenderloin grill with Jus or Grilled Fish were sadly below par.

However, the place did give me a glimpse of life that my guests enjoyed at the property I had worked at. It was reminded of the times I had spent in the commercial kitchen. How tough it was and how we were always told to smile no matter what. Hence, I call it ‘the other side of the coin’, as perhaps, it was time for me to enjoy and smile back at the staff.

Peter Cat – Finally, I tasted the famous Iranian Chelo Kebabs

I called up Anjana, my friend in Kolkata and decided to meet at Peter Cat. Now one would assume, having lived in Kolkata, I would have visited this place frequently. Considering I have been to almost every place on Park Street, I somehow never went to Peter Cat. Not even once. Every time I tried, there would to be a huge queue of people waiting outside. The restless college kid in me would choose Olypub over this, every single time. But, this was my lucky day, thanks to Anjana who picked the place. Without looking at the menu I ordered a plate of Chelo kebabs. A plate full of Chicken Kebab, Mutton Seekh Kebabs served with aromatic rice with butter and fried egg on top arrived on my table. I liked the dish as a whole and it had different flavours and meat on offer. Everything tasted good and I liked the dish, but I clearly didn’t understand the hype around it. Anjana ordered Caramel Custard for dessert and I will thank her for life for doing so. The bitter caramel (I could make out that it had been pushed to the end) was cool and tasted divine with sweet soft custard. I have never liked this dessert and now, I think after Peter cat, I won’t like it anywhere else or any other way. I absolutely loved the bitter caramel and also my first rendezvous with Peter Cat.

Kasturi – ‘Bangla Khabar’ like never before

Prerna and Yang of Bamboo Boat had fervently pitched for this place. Upon reaching this place, I was shocked to figure out that Kasturi was a 40 years old eatery. And, it hurt a little bit more to find out it’s located at a market I frequently visited, when I lived in Kolkata. Anyway, better late than never. As soon as Saurabh and I took our table at this humble little eatery, a server offered a tray full of Bangladeshi style Bengali dishes. We could choose whichever dish we felt like eating. I feel, this has been my best discovery in the recent times.

Chicken Varta, Kachu Chingri, Alu Varta, Kata Chorchar, Varali Chingri and Non-Veg Varta were the dishes we chose.

And I can say unabashedly that I will cherish this meal for a really long time. Simple, hearty and comforting, it almost felt we were eating at someone’s home.

My favourite was Kachu Chingri Chicken Varta, Varali Chingri. The subtle and slightly sweet prawns paired with pungent flavour of mustard was outstanding. I lost the count of servings I took and of course licked my fingers.  I asked the cashier if he could call the chef, as I wanted to take his picture. His instant answer was – ‘woh so raha hai’ (he’s sleeping). Well, that’s Kolkata for you. People sleep at 2:30 PM in a restaurant where there’s a line of orders coming in. To his credit, I’m sure he wakes up early to prepare the food before the service starts.

New Embassy – Chinese in Kolkata

Every time I would cross Nandan, I would feel intrigued by the door of this Chinese eatery. Of course, there’s Chinatown in Tangra and I absolutely love that area of the city, but New Embassy was located right across the Planetarium, in the hub of the city. So, I gave in this time. However, as I entered the restaurant, I felt the place was rather dull. Though it had the quintessential look and feel of a Chinese Eatery, it was totally uninspiring. In a corner, the owner’s brother sat with a morbid face and the staff looked clueless. Nevertheless, I placed an order for Shrimp Mie Foon, which was good but nothing to rave about. This 40 years old eatery must have been a hub during its prime, but today it felt more like an obstinate adult refusing to change with time. Needless to say, I followed this with a trip to Chinatown and had my share of spicy Kolkata Chinese Food.

Flurys – Meeting John my Friend

John and I - Flury's
John and I – Flury’s

Though this trip was mostly about Firsts, Kolkata also has to be about repeats. And no trip to Park Street is ever complete without going to Flury’s. Even if I don’t eat anything there, I still enter the café, just to meet my friend John, who works there. It’s been 35 years that he has been with Flury’s. He has seen Park Street change and grow with time. Though eateries such as Peter Cat, Trincas, Mocambo, Barbeque, Olypub, Moulin Rouge are still surviving, Tea Time Table (T3 as we all called it) shut down. Now Mamagoto, Au Bon Pain, Monkey Bar and many such new swish eateries are opening up in the area. John fondly remembered our first meeting when he gave me an extra pastry, after I dropped the one I had just bought. I was moved by his gesture then, as I was away from home deprived of good food and company. So, meeting him after so many years and sharing a good laugh felt like the perfect culmination to my Kolkata sojourn.

Now, with 2 trips in 2 years, I think, Kolkata and me, both need a break. Until, I miss Ilish, Paturi Bhetki and Aloor Dum again.

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