The gritty metropolis of Kolkata, India, displays a raucous, kinetic image framed by the Ganges River, a navigational artery directly connected to the country’s heart and soul. To plot your course through a city like this is a daunting task and to experience the food scene, an even more challenging journey. A Chef’s Tour, an organization that provides guided food excursions in numerous international locations, came to our rescue. Their guidance on our previous foodie experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand, had proven to be the perfect avenue for local engagement and here, Avik, the company’s energetic local food insider, provided an off-the-wall, into-the-streets litany of endemic food experiences.
Kolkata Street Food
Of course you can easily get biryani, tandoori chicken, and curry at home – so why waste culinary travel currency on those Indian standbys when visiting the mother country? The night’s feeding frenzy starts off at a hole-in-the-wall venue smack in the center of the old city with an eat-with-your-fingers mutton kosha, tender roasted goat swimming in a thick, aromatic sauce. This serves as our introduction to authentic Indian grub.
Next up is a short walk through the streets to Bhojohori Manna, a respected restaurant offering the bounty of the Ganges. Here, seafood is proudly represented with a river caviar cake, a giant whole prawn in a brown curry gravy, and mustard-spiced fish baked in a banana leaf. The main course is topped off with a palate-cleansing mixture of molasses crystals and dried fennel.
Our personal rickshaw is waiting outside with two fragile-looking but quick-stepping men who whisk us off to our next location. Street journeys inevitably supply opportunities to experience an assortment of quick-bite snacks and tonight is no different. A fruit vendor whose family has been operating the same little street kiosk for over five generations blends up a fresh smoothie. Another local with nothing but a portable cart mixes up dalmoot, a snack food consisting of roasted peanuts, lentils, red chilies, onions and sprinkled with lemon juice. Another dispenses pulka, a concoction of potato, broth and spices served in a flaky pastry shell of bite-sized heat.
Allen’s Kitchen is a local venue for Kolkata’s version of England’s fish and chips. As an alternative to the British version fried in grease, the reputation here is built on being fried in ghee or clarified butter. Half-heartedly fighting off the battle of the bulge, a walk through the narrow alleyways of Old Kolkata provides a nostalgic taste of inner-city life. A street-side dose of exhaust and cholesterol is provided by sampling onion fritters, reputed to be the best in town. A heart-thumping, whirlwind ride on a local bus delivers us to a decades-old shop specializing in sherbet. The evening finishes off with sweet delectables from a small bakery teeming with locals.
As with all A Chef’s Tour programs, it’s half city excursion, half all-you-can eat foodie trek and a one hundred percent off-the-radar journey of guided immersion into the local scene.