Kolkata has one of the most exciting food scenes in India. Kolkatans are justifiably proud of their unique food- street food snacks like the kati roll- a flaky flatbread stuffed with juicy marinated chicken, rich milk based sweets and a love of fusing Indian flavours with English and Chinese dishes.
All this in addition to a multitude of traditional Bengali dishes. If you love to eat, you’ll be doing a lot of exploring- this city is dotted with street food pockets where you can go and spend a couple of hours hopping from one food stall to the next. Here are a few of our favourite dishes to hunt down…
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1. Singhara and raj kachori at Tewari Brothers
Embrace the Indian tradition of chaat and a whole world of flavours and textures will open up to you. Chaat are savoury snacks best enjoyed standing on the street as a small pause during the day. They’re made up of a slew of ingredients which may include tangy tamarind chutney, creamy yoghurt, spiced potato, crunchy chickpea noodles (sev), deep fried thin and crispy dough balls called puri- no matter the combination, it’s guaranteed to be delicious.
Tewari Brothers is a local institution famed for using desi ghee (a type of clarified butter produced from Indian cattle) in its sweets and chaat. Come here in the afternoon to munch on singhara (what they call samosas in Kolkata)- flaky pastry stuffed with garam masala spiced potato and topped with a generous ladle of tamarind chutney. Each bite is reminiscent of a Christmas mince pie- flaky pastry aromatic with sweet spice.
And don’t forget to order the raj kachori- a crispy wheat flour ball the size of your palm filled with spiced potato, lentils and chickpeas doused in tamarind and coriander chutneys and yoghurt before being sprinkled with spice, coriander and sev. It’s a behemoth of a snack full of variance in texture, temperature and flavours.
Eat at: Tewari Brothers, 3A, Jagmohan Mullick Lane, Kolkata, West Bengal. Open daily, 7:00am to 9:00pm, singara and kachori available from midday).
2. Mutton biryani at Dada Boudhi Hotel
It’s the addition of the humble spud which sets Kolkata’s biryani apart from all others- whole potatoes cooked with chicken or mutton (this is often goat in India), basmati rice and spices in a giant handi (biryani pot) that’s sealed with clay resulting in rice that is intense with the flavour of spices, slick with oil and potatoes that are soft and full of meaty, spicy flavour. The potato was added as a way to cut down on costs by substituting spuds for meat back in 1856 by the royal kitchen of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who was stripped of his wealth and expelled from Lucknow by the British. Happily the tradition lives on!
There are countless restaurants dedicated to biryani in Kolkata but our favourite is from a no-frills roadside restaurant called Dada Boudi Hotel. The lines of people queuing for takeaway and the continuously full restaurant are testament to the quality of this dish. The heaping pile of basmati rice is light and fragrant with cardamom, the goat is melt in your mouth and the piping hot potato is incredibly creamy. Follow the lead of the locals and tuck in with your hands for one of the most satisfying meals you’ll eat in Kolkata.
Eat at: Dada Boudi Hotel, 1, Ghoshpara Road, Barrackpore, Kolkata, West Bengal 700120. Open 11:30am to 10:30pm.
3. Chicken stew and butter toast at Chitto Babur Dokan
The history of Kolkata can be gleaned from its food and no more so than in the dish of chicken stew and butter toast served at Chitto Babur Dokan a fourth generation family stall. Kolkata was the former capital of the British Raj- 70 years ago Chitto Babu took a recipe for English chicken stew and tweaked it to suit local tastes and Kolkatans have been eating it ever since. Think a piece of chicken on the bone, papaya and carrot wallowing in a rich, chicken-y broth with a side of toast crisped over charcoal and slathered in butter for dunking.
The experience of eating at this stall is part of its appeal- crowds gather round shouting their orders, piping hot tea is pulled to create a frothy brew to chase a bowl of stew and diners huddle over their trays tucking into one of the city’s best comfort foods. Make sure you leave room for a glass of hot creamy buffalo milk at Sharma’s next door.
Eat at: Chitto Babur Dokan, 3, James Hickey Sarani (Dacres Lane), Peerless Bhawan, Chowringhee North, Kolkata, West Bengal 700069. Open daily 6:00am to 9:30pm.
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