Food is to die for. Food is the essence of living. Food is that existential truth that propels civilizations on the path of progress. Food is the Gospel. Food is divine. But when it comes to eating, I am very choosy and tend to stick to select few dishes that strike a chord with my palate. I do experiment now and then, but that does not stop me from ordering konjee crispy chicken every time I am having Chinese or a plate of chilly pork with a pitcher of beer!
Talking of food always makes me nostalgic – my food-mate Bham and I have had numerous experiences – good, bad and great – while trying out restaurants in and around Kolkata. The discussion of food always opens the floodgate of memories.
Picking 10 Best Dishes out of the vast variety of cuisines I have treated myself to is no mean job… here I will list only those items that have withstood the test (taste?) of time and will continue to charm humanity till the end of time:
- Chicken curry-Dosa at Pecos, Bangalore
Ask any Bangalorean and they will give double thumbs up to this. After downing those countless pitchers of beer with beef fry or chilly pork, when you realise you need to help yourself to dinner, this is the best option available.
- Calamari at Toit, Bangalore
The ideal Saturday night snack! The perfect combo with mindblowingly brewed beer at Toit. Good music only adds to the pleasure.
- Biriyani and Kebabs at Arsalan/Shiraz, Park Circus
In a world where people associate Biriyani with Hyderabad (yuck!), Kolkata Biriyani is the uncrowned king of the palate. The essential aalu and egg – and the aroma of the rice when served hot – at Arsalan will make your mouth water even as you read this. Top it up with mouth-watering kebabs from Shiraz and your day is made.
A Bengali meal
- Chicken Dak Bunglow at Bhojohori Manna
The ideal Sunday lunch. A plateful of steaming hot rice and ghee. Chicken Dak Bunglow is the cherry on top. Numerous other Bengali eateries will offer you the same dish, but no one comes closer to the one served at Bhojohori Manna.
- Parota-Kosha Mangsho at Golbari, Kolkata
Kono kotha hobe na… If you want to experience heaven on earth, take the metro to Shyambazar right away… Word of caution – Golbari owners have separated now; do not fall for the non-authentic kosha mangsho.
- Luchi-aalur dom, home-made
A regular Sunday breakfast whenever I visit home. Sunday is incomplete without pressing the fulko luchi with the thumb. Period.
Kochu bata and kochur loti
- Bhat-kochubata/dhonepatar chutney
The surreal feeling, the enigmatic taste and the culinary delight can never be experienced with another recipe. This has to be made with the shil nora. You will keep wondering how a plateful of rice disappeared within minutes. Even kochur loti is heavenly, if prepared the right way.
The sole companion of a Bengali on a hot and humid day. Panta is a East Bengali dish. Read this before the salt gets over….
- Khichuri-Begun bhaja
The staple diet on rainy days. Add a little ghee/butter on top and you will soon be transported to the wonderland where money grows on trees and you get paid to write poetry.
Without doubt the best invention in the world. I can survive on this for the entirety of my life without complaining. The Musur dal with peyaj-rosun phoron and the jhirjhire alubhaja is worth a thousand orgasms!
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A good way of tracing the history of a nation is to study the pattern of cuisines that emanated in the region from time to time. A relic of the past is always imprinted in the changing food patterns of a country. It is well-known that the fertile Indo-Gangetic plain housed vegetarians in the Aryan, as well as subsequent, eras. Once people started migrating, and there was an intermixing of cultures, the food habits also underwent a change.
Now to the point. Biriyani. It is widely believed that Biriyani has a Persian origin (the word itself is derived from the Persian word Birian meaning roasted or fried rice). With the advent of the Mughal era in India, this particular cuisine gained prominence.
There is another school of thought – Vir Sanghvi wrote about it in a column for Hindustan Times – that Biriyani has a South Indian origin and is derived from the Kannada word bidi anna. This theory however needs validation.
The Awadhi Biriyani (popular in North India, specially Lucknow) is the remnant of the Mughal style. The rice and meat are partially cooked separately, then layered and cooked together in the dum pukht fashion.
As the Nawabs of Lucknow were overthrown by the British, they migrated to Eastern India. It was under the aegis of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah that the Calcutta Biriyani was born. Left with little wealth to afford meat, the Calcutta Biriyani comprised potatoes. In fact, potatoes are such an integral part of the Bengali cuisine that disappearance of this essential item from Biriyani at a time of potato-scarcity in 2013, made headlines in the media.
The Nizams appointed by the Nawab of Lucknow to govern South Indian provinces helped in the spread of Biriyani all over the country. Mixing local flavours with the original Mughal recipe led to the birth of a new genre. Take Hyderabadi Biriyani for example. It resembles the Awadhi Biriyani, except that it is too spicy, like Andhra cuisine. Even the Vaniyambadi biryani introduced by the Nawab of Arcot mixed local Tamil flavours with the original Mughali style.
In the end, what was originally a luxury of the Nawabs, has now become a regular meal for the masses. Specially here in Kolkata, any occasion would call for Biriyani from Arsalan or Shiraz. And if you liked this post, do not forget to share as you dig into your plate of Biriyani. Nom nom.