Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Eastern Trail

Chronicling our adventures with food during our travels in Kolkata, Darjeeling and Gangtok.

We made this trip quite sometime back but all intentions to blog about it were overcome by sheer laziness. I recently dug up the copious amount of food related notes made during the trip which brought back memories of guilt flavoured sweets, kulhad tea by the roadside and puchkas by the park. Here goes!
A meal for two at most of the places mentioned will cost you around or less than Rs 300 except for the ones marked with * which can set you back by Rs 400-600 for a meal for two. Places marked with ^ are on the pricier side (Rs 700-Rs 1000) for a meal for two.



Kolkata: Anyone travelling to Kolkata is sure to have heard of Flurys- a legendary tearoom founded in 1927 by the Flurys couple. This establishment located on the posh Park Street, is now synonymous with an unhurried cup of tea accompanied by one of their gorgeous looking pastries or filling sandwiches. Remember to grab a box of their chocolates for a friend -they are delicious!
Park Street also houses Sourav Ganguly's eponymous restaurant. It looked like a regular unimaginative 24 hour coffee shop from the outside but was filled with his cricket memorabilia and knick knacks. We didn't try anything here but it should figure on your list of places to visit if you are Dada's fan.


The ubiquitous India Coffee House, has several branches in the city, the most famous being the one at Bankim Chatterjee Street, opposite to the Presidency College, popularly known as "College Street Coffee House". This branch is a regular hang out for students, old timers and 'jahaan artist log coffee peete hai' ('where the artist types drink coffee' -to quote someone who gave us directions to the place!). The coffee here is nothing to write home about but a visit here is a must to experience the air thick with political discussions, the rendezvous of versatile minds and informal discourses on art.

Bhojohori Manna*, named after a mythical chef made immortal in a famous Bengali song by Manna Dey, is a chain of restaurants (check link for locations) conceptualised by a bunch of notable Bengalis (film director Gautam Ghose being one of them) who wanted to preserve and perpetuate the traditional delicacies of their land. Bengali cuisine is centered around fish and the Bhetki Rongpuri special, a flaky white fish crumb fried in Bengali marinade, and the meaty Ilish in mustard sauce, redolent of the sharp pungency of mustard are worth a try. We enjoyed eating the Jumbo Spicy crab as well, though it was a bit messy- trying to pry it open with our bare hands! Pomfret Paturi consisting of a succulent slab of the fish infused with mustard and coriander flavours, wrapped in a banana leaf (paturi) and steamed is excellent.



For some mouth watering puchkas (golguppas or panipuri as we know it) that Kolkata is famous for, head to Vivekananda Park in Southern Avenue in the evenings. The footpath is crowded with chaat sellers and tea stalls but the person to look out for is Deepak Shaw - a renowned (you can see newspaper clippings about him displayed around his cart!) puchkaseller whose tangy puchkas have won awards for being the best in town. He claims to specialise in puchkas with chicken filling as well for which you need to give him a day's notice :)



Aaheli, the Indian restaurant at The Peerless Inn^, Dharmatala serves a Bengali vegetarian thali which is a gastronomic delight. The gulab jamoon especially is rich and mouth-watering!


Kewpies*, located on the quiet side of Elgin road, is a homely restaurant where the Bengali thalis (non - veg and veg) are popular. It has often been voted as the best Bengali restaurant in Kolkata and the food is served on the traditional Matir Thala (earthenware) here.



Like any bustling city, Kolkata is dotted with multi cuisine restaurants and Kwality Restaurant, on Park Street and Gariahat Road is one such joint popular with the family crowd, dishing out some decent Indian-Tandoor-Chinese staples.
Kolkata has a strong Chinese community of immigrants and their descendants, who emigrated during the late 18th century to work at the Calcutta port and later during the Sino Indian war of 1962, most of whom live in Chinatown in the northern part of Kolkata, the only Indian city to have one. Therefore it is not surprising that some of the most authentic Chinese grub we have had so far was at the bazaar near Poddar Court, Kolkata. The vacant lot near Poddar Court is transformed into a bustling vegetable and poultry market in the mornings. If you manage to visit early enough (around 6-30...7am), amidst all the chaos, you can feast on filling Chinese breakfast of fish ball soup, dumplings, steaming pau (Chinese bun) stuffed with pork, sausages, fish wafers and much more - all prepared fresh each morning by the Chinese residents from this locality in their own kitchens. The goodies are so popular that they disappear in a couple of hours - happliy devoured by the shoppers around. While we were here, we also stocked up on chopsticks, Chinese five spice powder and chilli sauce from a quaint shop run by a Chinese lady.





Dumplings



Yes..she is using an abacus!

The famous kachoris at Tasty Corner, Mandeville Gardens are a revelation for anyone used to the crusty version available back home. The kachoris in Kolkata are soft like puris, stuffed with potatoes, green peas and lentils and taste fab!
Wild horses and New Year resolutions can't keep us away from desserts and anyway, a trip to Kolkata is incomplete without gorging on delectable sweets, right? Balaji discovered the best mishti doi (sweetened yogurt) in Mithai,Gariahat Road and Syed Amir Ali Avenue. Spongy rasgullas floating in sugary goodness, soft luscious rasmalais in creamy sweetened milk, milky sandesh are other Bengali sweets that are available here as well as in the KC Das outlets all over the city.




Roshogullas from KC Das

Try the Azad Hind Dhaba in Ballygunge for yummy masala chai in cute little kulhads (clay tumblers). This dhaba seemed to be a popular joint milling with customers, some being served at the tables and many in their cars! Tea stalls are scattered all across Kolkata and sipping on refreshing chai from matkas by the roadside is an experience to be savoured in the original tea capital of India.



Refreshing!

Darjeeling: Steamy cuppas of Darjeeling tea, the champagne of teas, at the Kurseong Tourist Lodge on the way to misty Darjeeling was a perfect way to start our holiday in the hills. The view from the lodge is breathtaking and the tea, with steam rising slowly onto our faces was right for the nip in the air.


No trip to Darjeeling is complete without a visit to Nathmull's, the best tea shop here. Started by a Rajasthani trader, this establishment is now split between two brothers, both of whom are selling tea under the same name. So you have a one room outlet on Laden La road, crammed from floor to ceiling with tins of tea and another trendier tea boutique in the Rink Mall, selling packets of tea leaves, pretty tea sets and other accessories as well as serving freshly brewed cups of tea. The staff in both places gladly walked us through the various kinds of teas and their virtues and also enlightened us on the correct method of brewing the perfect cuppa. We picked up some packets of first flush to take back with us. First flush is the most prized variety of Darjeeling tea and is harvested in March after the rains in spring. It is light in color and aroma and mildly astringent to taste. Initially apprehensive of how it would taste back home, we must say we were happy with the results!



Due to the influx of foreign tourists in this hill town, there is no dearth of places serving English breakfasts and continental fare. The charming Glenary's on Nehru Road is a popular eatery where we had some of the best croissants this side of the world. Buttery and flaky, I fell in love with it when I had it with strawberry jam!



Proximity to the north eastern border of India also means an abundance of Chinese and Tibetan restaurants in Darjeeling. Dekevas, Gandhi Road, a Tibetan restaurant that is part of Hotel Dekeling was where we had our first taste of Tibetan fare. Soups made from noodles (called gyathug in Chinese and thugpa in Tibetan) in various shapes - thenthug (flat noodles) and sogthug (shaped like macaroni) being some of them - seemed to be popular as well as filling. The shabalay is a meat stuffed griddle bread and is also an intrinsic part of a Tibetan meal. We tried the notorious yak butter tea, which is an acquired taste (its salty!). The various momos are a good choice if you are a non-adventurous foodie.

Gangtok: This friendly hill station is bustling with tourists but has a meagre choice of good restaurants. Masala on MG Road is an option for some not-so-bad vegetarian multicuisine. They have hookahs in various flavours on offer as well.
Roll House, tucked under a stairway between the market and MG Road, is packed with tourists and locals all waiting to have the tasty rolls available here. The egg rolls particularly are a must have.
Sikkim produces 80% of India's large cardamom (badi/moti elaichi). The Indian Cardamom Regional Research Station for large cardamom is also located in Gangtok. We picked up some of this aromatic spice from the main market in Gangtok to take back with us.
A visit to the laal bazaar is also a must for the local produce sold by farmers - soya beans, corn, yak cheese, dried fish, yeast for making chhaang - a local liquour. We bought some interesting wooden cutlery here - bamboo straws typically usd to drink chhaang, wooden spatulas, chopsticks and cute butter knives.
The cuisine of the east, not being overtly spicy, would suit any palate. Availability of fresh fish and a blend of various cultures, thanks to sharing of borders with Nepal, Tibet and Bangladesh has resulted in a delightful variety when it comes to food. Wholesome and filling, it is a cuisine that has been adapted to providing energy on the arduous terrains. Not to forget the cups of comforting chai, the warmth matched only by the friendly faces in the mountains!

Did you know...............

........................that cardamom belongs to the ginger family Zingiberaceae?

.......................that it is widely believed that in 1868, Nobin Chandra Das, father of K.C Das (founder of the eponymous sweet shop) modified the original recipe for rasgulla to extend the shelf life of the highly perishable sweet and make it marketable?

.....................that only tea that has been cultivated, grown and produced in the 87 registered tea gardens of the District of Darjeeling and, when brewed, has a distinctive, naturally occurring aroma and taste with light tea liquour and the infused leaf of which has a distinctive fragrance can be called as Darjeeling tea? Darjeeling tea is regarded as a Geographical Indicator (GI). Any tea grown in any other region from the same sort of tea plants cannot be called Darjeeling tea.

7 comments:

  • Prakash Narayanan

    Travelling Uhh?. Nice blog on Darjeeling, Kolkata. Did you guys visit there again. I thought you did a northeast tour earlier.

    -Prakash

  • Nidhi & Balaji

    Hey Prakash.....yeah this is about the same old trip that we did last year.....was too lazy to post it till now!

  • Nidhi & Balaji

    testing author comment

  • sharabori

    hey, your blog is delightful. simple, informative, and most importantly seems to be written by people who like food. great! i am from Kolkata and now live in Bangalore, so enjoyed the blog about kolkata food. next time you are there, try the street food like Jhalmuri (bhel-kolkata style), and some of the deep fried stuff. they are awesome!

  • Anonymous

    The Tea Cosy at the Rink Mall is indeed a really wonderful place. Lovely location, lovely ambience, soft music, very courteous & soft spoken & knowledgeable staff ...
    A sit in Tea Service with a Tea Menu affering almost 75 kins of teas, chilled mocktails, tea paraphernalia, - books, tea pots, strainers, tea spoons, infusers, tea cosies, paintings, etc .. some also for sale.

    They also have online sales at www.nathmulls.in
    for consumers, retailers & importers.

    Offices in Kolkata & new Delhi.

    A msu visit place in Darjeeling

  • Anonymous

    Hello,

    May I know where you stayed in Kolkta?

    Looking for a suitable hotel. Not 5 star :)

    Thanks
    Prema

  • Nidhi and Balaji

    Prema, We stayed at Ppark Palace on Gariahat Road