Imagine it’s your birthday and your friends are whining for a treat. You take your friends to a shop which has, from Mango Chop to Kashmiri Chop, Soyabean Cutlet, Dhokla, Fuluri, Fish Roll, Fish Chop, Mutton Cutlet, Mochar Chop, Prawn Chop and many more types of ‘Telebhaja.’
All the smoky hot telebhajas, as soon as you break them in your mouth, make your eyes close in joy with the crusty coating and the taste, smell and texture of the inner spice. After a full party, when your friends are chuckling about how hard they have hit your pocket, you make them utterly surprised by revealing the total bill didn’t even cross 100!
Looks like a dream? Go to Laxmi Narayan Shaw Shop at Darjipara Sovabazar - one of the oldest and most famous telebhaja shops in Kolkata, for a reality check. In fact, the whole city of Kolkata has so many such eateries that it appears to be a dream city for people who crave for tastes of the streets.
Common perception vs reality
There’s a notion among Bangladeshi tourists that Kolkata is like Dhaka, there's nothing unique to explore. Many also accused the city of not being so clean. But these notions completely change when someone who visited Kolkata describes the city as a certain place where every street, even every corner has a story to tell.
Let's hear from a tourist who romped through the streets of Kolkata.
"Let's talk about a random alley called Phears Lane that will help to get a miniature of The Great Calcatian diversity," Tariq Ul-Islam, a graduate from Dhaka University, who visited Kolkata a couple of years ago, started sharing his experience of the city of yellow cabs.
"You cannot even predict what is waiting for you after seeing some cliche North Kolkata style residential houses with trademark Communist graffiti on most of the walls at the entrance of that backstreet.”
Sweetmeats at Dumdum
Tariq became more than surprised when his communist first impression blended with those of Urdu and Chinese. “After walking a while, suddenly you'll realise the place magically turned into a typical Urdu speaking North Indian or Pakistani gully. This place is called Damzen lane, which is half the area of Bihari or UP Muslims. The other half of the lane belongs to the Hakka Chinese.”
After Damzen comes the famous 'Territy' which is considered Old Chinatown. The territories besides Territy are famous for Jewish Synagogues named Pollock and Brabourne Street. And then Tariq found what he was in search of.
Malai Chap at Shyambazar, PanchMatha
“Then comes the heaven of Kolkata street food, 'Zakaria Street,' which predominantly caters to Mughlai and Nawabi cuisines. All these ethnic diversities make Kolkata so special to explore by foodies as it is the melting pot of vibrant food cultures."
Momos at Park Street
In Park Street, Kolkata, Tariq observed that the installation and decor have British conduct and the people’s dress and movement are all quite luxurious. There are street artists with westernised appearances, wonderful street foods and elite books on the footpath which is a complete contrast to the Dumdum area of Kolkata.
Cultural diversity reflected in foods
As an impact of its cultural diversity, you'll get thousands of types of street foods here which are extremely cheap and with every bite you take, there’s a whole new world of flavour waiting to be discovered.
One thing to note in Kolkata is that the street food shops are much smaller, which checks the wastage of space. Both higher and lower-income people eat those foods standing there which is not seen in Dhaka.
Momos at East Kolkata
Tabassum Binte Tabriz, another Dhaka University graduate, toured Kolkata by the end of 2019. For her, taste and visuals, both make Kolkata a full package.
"The streets of Kolkata are not only a treat to the eyes, but a pure hub for food fanatics. The use of dairy products is rarely seen in our street foods, but the alleys of Kolkata are filled with aromas of butter, cheese and ghee! The fragrance alone can provide greater satiety, let alone the pure flavours satisfying your taste buds when you dive in."
Dacres Lane is another unforgettable name for street food lovers. Food prices are much lower here as it’s an area in the middle of various government offices and government officials are the main customers.
A neverending menu
Here, a few stalls one must not miss are the first shop on the right when you enter the Chowmein shop, then comes fries from Apanjan Counter, Stew from Chittoda’s shop and two blocks ahead towards the Dharmatala crossing, the lassi shops towards the left - Tabriz makes a to-do list.
You can also discover curry heaven both for non-veg and vegetarian people in the streets of Kolkata. Chicken Curry, Paneer Butter Masala, Dim Tadka, Chicken stew, Aloordom, Lentil gravy, PalakPaneer, Pav-Bhaji Curry, Tadka ChickPeas, Chicken Gravy Chow, Aloo-Posto etc. can be found with both creamy and spicy taste. And there are Nun Roti, Chapati, Paratha, Lucchi, Kachori, Kulcha, and Dosa to have them with.
Another British name that pops up in mind is The Dalhousie Square. So many people come here for court purposes. Some of them win, some of them lose, and some of them wait for their turn for months and years, but all of them satiate their appetite with hundreds of shops here surrounded by British installations.
And then there is New Town, an organised food zone. A hub of numerous multinational and IT companies, thousands of professionals satisfy their hunger here with Doi-Chira, momo, noodles, biryani, fish curry, rice, bread, waffle, pasta - everything in a hygienic environment.
Walking through Victoria Memorial or Maniktala or Princep Ghat and having some Fuchka, Papri Chaat, Momos, Kati Roll, Chhanar-Jilipi, Ghugni-Chaat, Aloo-Chaat, Bhelpuri, Fish Cutlet, KeemarDoi Bora, Dimer Devil, Jhalmuri, Mutton/Panir/Egg/Chicken/vegetable rolls, etc. can turn a dull evening into a blissful one.
Kolkata beyond foods
So why Kolkata? When you have to think about the budget before planning a tour, Kolkata is completely a pocket-friendly city, especially for the foodies. Heavy or light meals, street foods or foods in a good-looking restaurant, foods in Kolkata can save you a lot of money while filling your tummy.
Coupled with food benefits, Kolkata, often called the ‘cultural capital of India,’ becomes even more interesting for its cultural diversity and harmony.
And the list of great names from this magical city can just go on. Satyajit Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Amartya Sen, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Anjan Dutta, Kabir Suman, and you just name it.
And then there is College Street, the second-largest second-hand book market in the world. It is often said that if you don’t find a book here, it probably never existed!
Overwhelmed by the book collection of College Street, Tariq Ul-Islam shared another part of his Kolkata travel experience.
"To satisfy the tummies of the bookworms coming here, an enriched food chain has also developed in the area. This ancient food chain includes age-old cafes like Indian Coffee House, Dilkusha Cabin, etc. These cafes are always buzzing with intellectuals debating over anything and everything, over a cup of coffee or a Mutton Kabiraji for ages."
For the yellow taxi, for the glory of Howrah Bridge in evening lighting, for the Presidency College, for the bookstore on College Street, for the peace of Shantiniketan, for thousands of other reasons, and most importantly- for all the cheap and delicious street foods, Kolkata is a true ‘City of Joy’ for the tourists.