Delving Into Kolkata’s Bengali Cuisine

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‘India is great,’ reads the side of this for-hire truck. So, too, is its cuisine.

KOLKATA, India — The dizzying, delicious diversity of food alone would be reason enough to visit Kolkata, the heart of India’s West Bengal state. The sweets were swell, but I really looked forward to digging into heartier, authentic fare.

One of the finest examples of Bengali cuisine came from Bhojohori Manna, a tiny, nondescript ground-level eatery on Hindustan Road in the city’s Ekdalia neighborhood.

Among the wonderfully aromatic and nuanced dishes I ordered for lunch were alu potoler dalna, a spicy cauliflower side dish, and Goalondo steamer curry, which involved chicken in a richly aromatic red sauce. Bhetki paturi, a two-inch-square of tender fish, lightly marinated and steamed in banana leaf, had a slightly sweet flavor with citrus overtones.

The most arresting dish, however, may have been the chingri malaikari — a single, whole prawn so immense it could easily beat up a dozen of our so-called jumbo shrimp.

Dessert comprised a single serving of mishti doi,  a cool, delicately flavored custard, or yogurt.

The West Bengal cuisine I had sampled was a complete revelation to me, having been limited in my idea of what “Indian food” meant and woefully accustomed to the relatively meager offerings of menus in New York’s Indian restaurants. I almost kicked myself for wasting time on my first night in Kolkata by going to a tourist-oriented Punjabi restaurant — which served familiar fare — when I could’ve set my taste buds exploring. (And I don’t mean by drinking Kolkata’s tap water.)

My only lament is that I was so hungry at first, and then so completely enthralled by the food, that I neglected to photograph my meal for posterity. I’ll rectify that on my next visit, I’m sure.

 

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