Nostalgic Recommendations of an Extended Weekend at Kolkata

Posted by on Aug 20, 2011 in Reviews & Recommendations | 9 comments

Nostalgic Recommendations of an Extended Weekend at Kolkata

Now, although I possibly have more than one city that has been home for me in the last 15 years, there is only Calcutta(note-not Kolkata) that can instinctively have me recommend a list of things-to-do in an extended weekend. No Mumbai, nor Bangalore, nor cities in California or Florida can come close to the gushed feeling of nostalgia that envelopes me at the sound of Calcutta. In fact, when I have visitors in Bangalore, I am at a serious lack of ideas and suggestions to give them, if they ask me what they can possibly do in this city.
Calcutta has come a long way to become Kolkata. My growing up years in Calcutta is from a long time back. But there is still so much charm left with those memories, that every single time I go back on a vacation now, I need to essentially complete most or more of the “checklist” you will read in the subsequent paragraphs. With Kahaani, still doing the rounds in social circles, and friendly addas, showering generous kudos and rave reviews of ‘Bidya’ Balan, Parambrata and Bob Biswas, I must urge people to shower that bouquet of credit that the city rightly deserves. Imagine the whole setting of Kahaani in any other bustling city in India, and you will recon with what I am trying to say! The seductive city was actually the fabric that held the movie together.

Calcutta has many new things now. The MoMA. The Floatel. The Ganga Kutir. The Vedic Village. The hi-rise South City towers. The Malls. But I would suggest don’t waste your time in any of these. Unless of course, you are on a business trip, and all you have are just two weekday evenings to spare. If that’s the case-you don’t stand a chance to allow Calcutta to serenade you. You have to stick to walking the Park Street, sip a cup at Flury’s while sampling a few sweets and savouries, and maybe circuiting the Victoria Memorial in the Hertz or Travel House rental car. This post is not for the business traveler. It’s for those of you who have taken a Friday AND a Monday off at work, and have the entire weekend at disposal to celebrate and ‘live’ in the city through mostly a culinary path, but also through some basic not-to-be-missed experiences.
Do check on your ‘Bong-Connections’ before you land in the city for known ‘Club members’. The city offers a whole platter of Victorian-turned-Bengali Officers Clubs, that are now the social homes of many a Kolkata socialite. You must necessarily visit any one of them, to feel enlightened and enriched by the almost-still-existing Babu culture of Calcutta. And while you are there,sample a few of their signature dishes. For example, the Chicken a la Kiev in The Saturday Club. Or, the Pepper Steak at The Calcutta Club. Drive your way past the AAEI Club on Ballygunge Circular Road, to the Azad Hind Dhaba and finger-lick your plate of Boneless Chicken Egg Tadka and Roomali Rotis. If you try this venue during dinner time, the bee-line of cars in front of the eatery might take you aback. Do not fret. The service (inside the comfort of your car, now!) is unusually prompt and meticulous-complete with the after-mint and the tooth-pick with your bill! No description of soul food would be complete without a mention of Chelo Kabab at the Peter Cat. This now-slightly-run-down restaurant in Calcutta would probably be getting 75% of its turnover from that one dish on its menu, although the rest of their kababs as well as their sizzlers are pretty good.
As far as the Chelo goes, it is a skewer of kababs served on a bed of rice with a dollop of butter, a grilled plum tomato, and a fried egg. For some weird reason, never-ever have I wanted to waste time poring over their cat-shaped menu and see what the chef “passionately recommends”. I have always JUST ordered what I had been taught to order the first time around (by my parents). And every time, it tastes just as good.
For quick eats, make do with (Double-egg, Double-chicken, Single egg with Double Mutton) rolls at Golpark or Park Street at the numerous line of shops. Also without fail try Badam Chats, Moshla Muri. Momos and Thukpa from the Tibetan shops at Elgin Road. Pastries at Kookie Jar -try the Macaroon Tart).Phuchka on Lindsay Street or Vivekananda Park (on Southern avenue) and coffee at, well, but of course –Coffee House (College Street).

Now biriyanis aren’t something that you will associate with Calcutta. But we Calcuttans know no such place as our city that can serve the best of biriyanis. We are biased. Only Lucknow(because of being the birthplace of Moghlai food) comes as a deserving candidate for this contest! Try Biriyanis and Chicken or Mutton Chaaps at any two of the following: Bedwin, Arsalan or Shiraz. Remember – it is very crucial to eat at either of the two above, to know the difference. And if you are conscious about the difference in the tastes, and can explain that verbally to a circle of biriyani-craving Bengalis sailing through their lives outside their hometown, you have reserved a permanent seat in their family for an authentic Bengali meal! Which reminds me to mention about Aaheli or the all-women administered Shuruchi for Bengali cuisine that deserves an applaud.
Chinatown in Kolkata? Of course, yes! Visit a Chinese neighbourhood in Tangra , buy the bottles of homemade oyster sauces, freshly made prawn fritters, and relish a dish of Golden Fried Prawns.

Browse books at College Street. Visit the new plaza in front of New Market. Shop there. Catch a play at the Academy of Fine Arts auditorium or Gorky Sadan. Infact, while you are there, snake your way to the backyard of the Academy , to its canteen..and sample the best Moghlai Cutlet or a Fish Roll, along with sweet ginger tea. Check for art-exhibitions. Randomly step inside Rabindra Sadan and check for a performance. The last time I did that, I saw a fantastic contemporary rendition of Tasher Desh-A country of Cards, written by the Tagore man himself. Visit Presidency College or Jadavpur University. Shy away if you want to at the public displays of affection. Or simply sit inside their canteens, eves-drop at their conversations and garner talking points for your diary entry, once you are done with your trip. Take a tram ride around the Maidan.
When my husband returned from his recent New York trip last week, he mentioned with an undaunted air(well,almost!) that in the interval of the Hispanic Ballet he had been watching at the famous Joyce Theater, he had grabbed a glass of wine. Well, Calcutta offers very similar luxury. I haven’t done my rain-check on this one, but New Empire or Lighthouse (cinema theaters) on Lindsay Street should still have the bars functional and serve you a peg of Old Monk or Royal Salute Whiskey.

Hire a Yellow Ambassador Taxi. Talk to the Sardar or the Bihari driver. Tell them to teach you Bengali! Hire a Shuttle-Auto from Gariahat to RashBihari Mor. Hold on to your dear life, while the auto-driver snakes its way in mainstream traffic, and you are resting half-your body weight on the metal bar protruding out from the edge of the driver’s seat! Take the Metro. Get off at Park Street, and witness hordes of tourists(I hope it is still that way!) walking up and down the escalators shrieking and squealing in excitement. Buy a CD of Rabindrasangeet at the Music World Store.
Shop at the state-emporiums at Dakshinapan. Watch a local football match at the camps. Sink in the sunset near Outram Ghat.
If you can wake up early enough, take a tram-ride and visit the Lake Market or the Gariahat Market to witness how a true-blue Bengali man fishes his fish.
Last but not the least, allow the city to serenade you. Treat her like the girl you would like to take home to your mother! And she will definitely make your mother say “yes!”.

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9 Comments

  1. Ei lekhata amar shob theke bhalo legeche. Er onekgulo amar college days er shonge linked.Hate tana rickshaw ta ekhon miss kori.

  2. sambrita….didnt know where to comment so i chose one of the pieces i like more than the others. great job…loving it! will come by every now and then. cheers!

  3. Thanks Ishani!I am not sure I included all my favourites in this list already…but these are by far the common voices and choices of the folks that grew up in OUR times…what say? 🙂

  4. Thank you Mamai!
    Why dont you let me know what all I have missed out…that would have made you more nostalgic?
    Eigulo, are all from my growing up years. Tomar gulo aar ki ki, jaante ichche korche!

  5. Lekha ta khub bhalo hoyeche.Anekey jara ekhon Kolkatar baire, bhishon nostalgic feel korbe.Bibekananda park er fuchka keno miss kore geli?

  6. Ma…of course it is there! How could I forget Vivekananda Park? Check the line just above the pictures, in the post! 🙂

  7. Chordi the article is great , enjoyed reading it …Kintu aamar mone hoi tumi tram ride er katha mention korte parte , probably something unique only for our city , what say ?

  8. That’s great but it looks like you’ve forgotten to mention many of the famous eateries in north Kolkata. College street also has Paramount, a juice bar , which has been around for many years or ” golbarir kosha mangsho” or even sweets like rasogolla from Kc das!! There are many more but I have just named a few.

  9. True that.
    These are around the places, unconsciously though, I probably grew up in. North Calcutta deserves a separate blog post altogether! Thanks for dropping by…

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