Alert: This is a very, very, very late post, considering the Ramzaan month ended at the beginning of June! But Ramzaan or no Ramzaan, I am a foodie and all it took to take me back in time, were a few pictures I had saved on my laptop and in a flash, I could taste and smell all the wonderful food in my mind! So, I thought, why not give my dormant blog a bit of life by posting about the most amazing food journey that I look forward to, every year!
Let me begin by saying that among the various things/places/concepts/people I love, my city ranks pretty high. Calcutta, as I still prefer to call it, is home! The sights and smells of this old, laid back city are ingrained in every bit of my being…the old buildings, crowded serpentine roads, the slowly moving trams, the semi-run down busses, traffic jams, the parks and grounds that involuntarily become football or cricket pitches on every weekend or holiday irrespective of the season, the spirit of the city, and the people living within… I hardly need more reasons to be in love! And did I forget about the food?
Yes, I am a foodie! I love GOOD food and I love the 1 km (roughly) stretch from the Colootola Street-Central Avenue crossing to the Royal Indian Hotel on Chitpur Road, especially during the Ramzaan month. It is a pilgrimage I make every year with a very close friend, who loves good food, albeit in smaller amounts than mine! And this year was no exception!
But the food apart, I love this stretch for a different reason! The Nakhoda Masjid has always enamoured me whenever I have travelled up or down Chitpore Road. The magnificent columns, the golden rimmed minarets touching the stars above, and the sound of Azaan emanating from the speaker attached to one of the minarets always transport me to a different world. And this area, during Ramzaan, reminds me of what I remembered to have heard or fathomed about Meena Bazaar, at the Light and Sound Show I had witnessed as a child while on a visit to Delhi. No, I have not been to Meena Bazaar or for that matter anywhere around Jama Masjid, but I am not dying to do that since I have my very own Nakhoda Masjid and Zakaria Street right here in my city!
Coming back to the trip, starting from in front of the Colootola Post Office, we walked west down Maulana Shaukat Ali Street, better known as Colootola Street towards Jadid Islamia Hotel, one of the best-known places serving Haleem since the last 75 years. While this is a Ramzaan special arrangement, Islamia Hotel is generally known for its mouth-watering Nihari served early in the morning. The 300-meter distance takes us way more time than what Google predicts. As we wove our way through vehicles, people, cycle vans, and overcrowded parking spaces that block half of the road, the evening sun had started its slow dip in the western sky. With four huge cauldrons of “Haleem” placed under a makeshift shamiyana, the shop owners and employees were busy packing parcels. As the heady aroma made our heads swirl, we could not resist a peek into the cauldron to take a longing look at the golden yellow delight within made of wheat, lentils and meat. Happy that we could manage a couple of the most delicious Beef Haleem at Rs. 110/- a portion, before it all got over, we happily walked away to our next destination. For the records, Haleem was invented in the 10th Century in Arabia and was called Harees, which travelled from there to Hyderabad and from there to our very own Kolkata. You could also try the Haleem at Sufia Hotel, who also have a variety called Bheja Haleem. Sufia, like Islamia, is also famous for their Nihari.
Further west, the first left turn brought us to Phears Lane, one of the major spots on our way that houses not one but two important stops. First, right you will come across Haji Alauddin sweet shop, but we decided to come back later for the sweets. Further down the road, we reached heaven! Well almost! Coz here, in a small rectangular block tucked inside a wall on the right-hand side of the road, sits Baba Adam, making the most mouth-watering suta kebabs ever eaten by humans since the last 150 years! Well, Baba Adam has taken many names and now better known as Mohammed Salahuddin, makes beef suta kebabs that taste like they have been made in heaven. With the beef ground so fine that it takes a thread to hold it as it is grilled over charcoal. A plate of kebabs priced Rs. 25/-, topped with a dash of lemon and onion and green chilli sprinkled on top melted in our mouth and satiated our souls. Adam’s, of course, serves all year long.
Our next stop was Dilshad Kebab on Bolai Dutta street, at the very intersection of a narrow lane connecting this lane to Colootola Street. If Adam’s is the place to go for Suta kebab, you have to come here to taste what Kheeri, Kakori and Malai kebab should taste like. Dilshad Ahmed meticulously prepares among other things, the most scrumptious and buttery Kheeri kebab from the cow udders. Priced at Rs. 40/- a plate, you have to taste them to believe such delight could possibly be available at such low price. With our tummies half-full, we proceeded towards Chicken Changhezi and Mahi Akbari.
Taskeen stands at the intersection of Ismail Madan Street and Zakaria Street on the right-hand corner. Somehow, Chicken Changezi reminds me of Chengiz Khan and it really looks and tastes almost as feisty! Large pieces of chicken, mostly the pieces that are made into Tandoori kebabs, are marinated in curd and spices with a special hint of “mouri” or fennel, double-fried, cut into smaller pieces while serving. Sold at 450/- a kilo, you can buy as per your need and relish this sinful desi variant of KFC. If you are more into fish, try Mahi Akbari. Dry fried ring pieces of huge Katla fish, with the masala tasting more on the lines of garlic and cumin or “jeera” is also sold by weight and costs about 750/- a kilo. If the heat outside and the spice if the food is a bit too much for you, try the Falooda or the Lassi (both made at heaven and sent down to earth for us mere mortals) and turn back and look at the thin slice of the silvery moon touching the minaret that now announces Iftaar with the Maghrib azaan! Life is beautiful!
God! I feel so full even writing about all this! Watch out for a continuation of this post soon, and this time we will move over from starters towards main course dishes and inside the magnificent mosque. Till then, happy virtual eating!