My most vivid memories of summer vacations in Kolkata are the ones associated with food. Being a child of two busy parents, and brought up on a steady diet of idli-vada-dosa, dal-rice and the occasional burger, elaborate meals were a rarity.
I witnessed food orgies every day. Starting from 9 am in the morning (because, really, who willingly eats cereal in the City of Joy?), the table in the kitchen groaned under the weight of a smorgasbord of fantastical dishes. I soon realised that my favourite meal of the day in Kolkata was the evening snack. Or high-tea, if we want to be fancy now.
The table would soon be laden with exotic little treats – breaded fish cutlets and mutton chops, with crispy exteriors that gave to way to wonderfully seasoned, meaty fillings. The sauces they came with only heightened their pleasure – tangy tomato ketchup, herby green chutney, even a hot yellow mustard sauce, kasundi.
There would be puffs and patties, superior cousins of the ‘pups’ the bakeries in the city make. Stuffed with chicken, cheese and mutton, one would be enough to keep you happy for the next hour.
On those days we really worked up our appetites after an extended afternoon of play, we would march through the tall iron gates, with an adult or two in tow, to the busy street nearby. Here’s where we dug into steaming hot momos (and honestly, I think they make them bigger in the east), prawn pakodas and of course, the ubiquitous roll. While most of my cousins loved the simple egg roll, greedy little me always had to have a double chicken egg roll that someone else, invariably, had to finish. Even now, I remember that first wonderful bite – the hot steam that greeted the mouth, the slight crunch of the paratha, the smoky chicken, the buttery egg that it nestled in, the sweet onions – heaven.
If the grownups were feeling charitable, our little group would head to the nearby Mughlai House, an unassuming little building where a steady stream of patrons settled into creaky wooden tables and chairs to dig into possibly the best Mughlai parathas I’ve ever had. Piping hot, disturbingly greasy and absolutely gorgeous, the-egg-meets-meat-meets-flour formula was definitely invented by a culinary genius, I remember thinking then. The spicy potato curry that the parathas were served with would be polished off by all of us too.
This reminiscence would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Puchka Da, a wizened old man with a disarming, toothless smile, whose seemingly limitless supply of spicy pani puris were perfect after several rounds of catch-catch and hide and seek.
These are the dishes that l believe are responsible for my long love affair with food. Nowadays, I can indulge my cravings at the many Bengali joints that have opened in Bangalore, but nothing can beat the real deal. Lucky for me, some come pretty close, though!
Above: Mughlai Paratha