A Moveable Feast

Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway wrote his famous ‘A Moveable Feast’ about Paris. Suppose, just suppose, if he had written this book about Calcutta, it would read something like: “For all who lived in Calcutta….will never forget it because Calcutta is a moveable feast.”

I think Calcutta/Kolkata was/is a “Moveable Feast.”

Before I give you my current picks about dining in Kolkata, a little bit about when the city was not only the country’s political capital but was also The Food Capital of India.

It is said that when the English created a settlement anywhere in a foreign land, the first two things built were a church and a tavern (not necessarily in that order?). Calcutta’s first Church was St. Anne’s in the Old Fort William, consecrated in 1709. In 1724, it suffered great damage due to a lighning strike. It was reduced to ruins when Siraj-ud-Daula conquered and sacked Calcutta in 1756. Two famous taverns of the time were the London Tavern and the Harmonic Tavern. The latter was at the site in Lal Bazar where the traffic wing of the Kolkata Police is housed. Harmonic Lounge has been created by the Police to keep the association with the Harmonic Tavern alive.

Around the middle of the 19h century, Hall of Nations at the then Auckland Hotel – later The Great Eastern Hotel and now The Lalit Great Eastern – was perhaps the first classy multi-cuisine food outlet in the country. Roadside service of food-and drink was provided to guests who arrived in their horse/bullock carts. Later in the 19th century, Peliti’s Restaurant achieved world-wide fame and catered to people as far away as Rawalpindi and Hyderabad. It also home-delivered assorted ice creams in many flavours.

Still later in the early 20th century, Firpo’s achieved iconic status and is still remembered as the finest restaurant by the surviving oldies in the city.

It was in 1920s that the first Chinese restaurant, Nanking – long gone - was established in Calcutta and also became an icon with those who appreciatively dined there including our first prime minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.

The first Tea Room in the country was established by Mr. Trinca and Mr. Flury in Park Street in 1926 ( 1927?). Now Flurys and Trinca’s are two totally different establishments.

Another ‘Culinary-Rocket’ which zoomed to great and deserved iconic fame was The Skyroom. After a spectacular run of 36 years, it downed shutters in 1992. Still very fondly remembered.

Calcutta was a true Food Capital of India.

Let us move to the present.

“We can have two drinks.” – A Moveable Feast.

Before we go dining, at this time, we will only talk about just one watering place.

CHOTA BRISTOL, 1 J.L.Nehru Road, Metro Gali.

Over 100 years old. A place for serious drinkers. Unique place with a unique atmosphere.

“Hunger is a healthy….good discipline….the mouth worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more….we can eat somewhere.” – A Moveable Feast

So, now, let’s eat.

Here are some essentially-truly Kolkata, across the culinary board, historic eating places. ‘Historic’ here has been pegged at the places being around 40 years old, or older.


ALLEN’S KITCHEN, 40/1 Jatindra Mohan Avenue.

It traces its origins to the 1890’s, making it perhaps the oldest restaurant in the city. Its Prawn Cutlet, Chicken Steak and Fish Kabiraji are the stuff of which legends are made of.

MITRA CAFÉ, 47 Jatindra Mohan Avenue (and other branches).

Almost opposite Allen’s Kitchen, of a later vintage, but with a hard-core of generations of loyalists.The stars include Chicken Soup, Kabiraji Cutlet, Mutton and Chicken Kosha, English Brain Chop, and – Toast!

ROYAL INDIAN HOTEL, 147 Rabindra Sarani, Chitpore.

Over 100 years old and the flag-bearer of the unique-to-the-city food which I named ‘Kolkata-Mughlai’. The Biryani here is Awadhi style and does not have a potato. Very good Chanmps. There are specific-day specials including the rather rare Nargis Kofta on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sometime back, Tandoori fare was also added to the menu.

EAU CHEW, 12 Ganesh Chandra Avenue.

Established in 1920s, around the same time as the Nanking. Family-run with secret family-recipes. ‘Empress’ Josephine presides over the kitchen run by the­­­­­­­ younger members of the family. I especially like their Chimney Soup, Pork Spare Ribs and Josephine noodles. On your lucky day, you will taste the finest Chinese food in the city. Closed Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings.

CHACHA’S  HOTEL, 42 Bidhan Sarani.

Another Kolkata ‘institution’, its Fowl Cutlets are legendary. Though rather changed from the olden times, is still quite popular for quite decent food laced with massive dollops of nostalgia.

TRINCA’S, 17 B Park Street.

Two Swiss gentlemen, Mr Trinca and Mr Flury were friends. They opened the city’s first tea room called Flury’s and Trinca’s - where Flurys is still located. It is said that they fell out when Mr. Flury ran away with Mrs. Trinca. Mr. Trinca then started another tea room across the road. Over the years, this has morphed in to a bunch of multi-cuisine outlets. Trinca’s achieved fame not only because of its good food but also due to live music. It still offers quite decent food and entertainment.

FLURYS, 18 Park Street, and many other outlets across the city.

Park Street Flurys became a culinary landmark of the city, being its only tea room. It was favored by generations of Calcuttan’s for its breakfasts and bakery/confectionary products, especially its home-made chocolates and Rum Balls. It got a modern makeover in 2004 and still has its loyalists.

KWALITY, 17 Park Street, 2A Gariahat Road.

Over half-a-century ago, Kwality is supposed to have introduced Tandoori Chicken and other tandoori dishes in Calcutta. The place is also famous for its Cholle Bhature and ice creams, especially Tutti Frutti. It still has some of the best North Indian/Tandoori food in town.

MOCAMBO, 25 B Park Street.

Pre-dating the famous Skyroom, Mocambo has established a deservedly high reputation for its food. Dishes like its Fish Diana, Devilled Crabs, Chicken a la Kieve and Baked Alaska have delighted eaters for over half-a-century. They still do. Mocambo and its food are very much integral to fine dining in Park Street. So what if at times it shows its age. Still very much worth visiting, again and again.

AMBER, 11 Waterloo Street.

Time was when a meal at the Amber for its North Indian/Tandoori food was as mandatory on a visit to Calcutta as visiting the Kalighat Temple or the Victoria Memorial. Many said that its Kebabs, Brain Curry, Brain Masala, Saagwala Gosht and Fried Fish were the best in town. Times have changed as also the tastes. Yet Amber still finds some loyalists from three generations of Calcuttans. The massive helping of Nostalgia is guaranteed.

We shall carry on with Kolkata’s Moveable Feast again, later.


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