The best meals of 2017 – Where and what I ate

How you begin the new year sets the tone for the rest of it…

It’s true. I started 2017 with a langar at a Gurudwara in New Bombay, wishing for  equally great meals in the coming year. And what a fabulous food year it was. I traveled to various cities for food. Took a trip to Pune to try the famous Bedekar misal and loved it, went to Surat to eat the locho and visited the ponkh market, traveled to Indore (done that twice this year already) and found another food city to fall in love with, took a solo trip to Calcutta and Meghalaya (where I ended up making some most amazing friends), traveled to Goa to learn sourdough which became one of the most brilliant experiences of 2017, traveled to Indore (again) and ended the year with a trip to Srilanka. Apart from all the good food I ate at these places, there were umpteen fabulous meals cooked by my mother, a couple of trips to Lucknow that involved loads of chaat, and some amazing beef curry/fish curry and rice meals at Chetna (PositivityAngel’s) house. Don’t think I can be thankful enough for this year.

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I am an atheist, but somehow going to a Gurudwara doesn't feel like I am confirming to any religion. The idea of following a teacher and learning from his/her experiences sounds more logical to me than blind faith. Also, what fascinates me is their self-less service and the feeling of giving back to the community. Eating at a langar with people from different casts, religions and financial backgrounds and accepting your food with a feeling of gratitude is a humbling experience. So glad to start my food journey this year with such a beautiful meal. I hope the food that I eat this year helps me connect to my roots and make me aware of the efforts people put-in to put that food on my table. Also, here's a big thankyou to all the people who came into my life this past year, taught me new things, gave me new experiences and motivated me to be better than myself. I don't know whether all of you will be part of my journey onwards, but I will always cherish and value those times, learnings and experiences. Wish you all a very happy, healthy and successful new year. #NewYear #gratitude #CircleOfPositivity #Happy2017 #gurudwara #food #langar #feelinghumbled #thankyou #HappyNewYear

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Food Walk Through North Calcutta With A History Lesson

This post was written for India Food Network

Calcutta is bursting at its seams with history, and that’s not an exaggeration. Walk on the streets of north Calcutta and the mere feeling of tracing the footsteps of legends will give you goose bumps. Every corner tea stall, every snack shop has a story to tell that dates back to India’s independence movement.

Indian Coffee House, Calcutta

When British established the city as their capital and took up central Calcutta to convert it into “White Town”, the local population moved to the northern part of the city. It later became the hub for India’s freedom struggle movement and communism. Shops were built as a meeting point for the revolutionaries.

Kachuri Subzi and Tele Bhaja

One such place is Paramount in College Street, which is now declared a heritage building by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Established in 1918 by Niharanjan Mazumdar, the shop was first known as Paradise, which later became Paramount. It’s said to be the favourite hangout of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the owners still have that chair where Netaji used to sit regularly. As I sit there, sipping on my second daber sherbat – the most popular drink here made with coconut water, ice, syrup and the pulp of coconut, the owner tells me the story behind the drink. It was Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, the founder of Bengal Chemicals, who suggested the recipe to the owner since it was inexpensive and highly nutritious. On a hot and humid day, dab sherbat is a blessing in disguise.

Netaji’s footprints become more evident as I move ahead. At Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, where he regularly ate tele bhaja (Bengali fritters), his birthday is still celebrated every year with free food for all the customers. The most famous snack here – the onion bhajiya – is known as Netaji ki piyaji.

Lebu Cha shop, Calcutta

Atithi, across the street from Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, is where I stop over for some lebu cha – the fuel that keeps the city going. The lebu cha or lemon tea in Kolkata is a hot concoction of black tea, lime juice, sugar and a special spice mix, which gives it its zing. In the midst of the locals getting together for adda – meetup to chat and discuss, I sip multiple cups of cha. I move on to Sukea Street to line up for my evening snack of kochuri-subzi at an old shop at the corner of the street. The humble shop has just two rows of benches where people sit with their plate (made of dried leaves) of kochuri and potato subzi. 

The Indian Coffee House, right opposite Presidency College, still has lingering memories of India’s independence struggle and the rich literary past. While most of the tables are occupied by the young college-goers, you’ll also spot a few elderly men sitting with a newspaper and sipping coffee. And then there are cabins, the dining rooms of the era bygone. Cabins served as private dining areas in the times when it wasn’t usual for women to eat out in public. The curtained dining booths provided them the much needed privacy. A few of such cabins still exist, albeit as tea and snack joints. A few such places are Basanta Cabin and Mitra Café – the latter is where I eat a dinner of prawn kabiraji cutlet – deep-fried cutlets coated with bread and eggs.

What and where to eat:

•    Sweets at Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy at Hatibagan
•    Piyaji at Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, Hatibagan
•    Lebu cha at Atithi, Hatibagan
•    Kochuri subzi at Sukea Street
•    Lebu cha at the corner shop on Sukea Street
•    Daab sherbat and imli at Paramount, College Street
•    Kabiraji cutlet and fish fry at Mitra Café, Shobha Bazaar
•    Mochar Chop at Kalika, College Street
•    Coffee and dosa at Indian Coffee House, College Street

The author went on a food walk with Devashish Kuthari, a foodie and history buff, who also runs a Facebook group called GoodVegFood.

Faith Walk in Calcutta – Knowing the city through its various cultures

During British Raj Calcutta was divided into three parts – white town where the British established their offices and residence, black town or north Calcutta where Indians were forced to move to and grey town where Cantonese, Portuguese and Jews lived. As racist as the whole setup sounds, this sadly was the reality of the then India. While the divide doesn’t exist anymore, you can see a difference of culture, lifestyle and architecture. A walk through various faiths and cultures of Calcutta was my second heritage walk with Navpreet (FunOnStreets) during my trip last month.

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Colonial Walk in Calcutta – In Pictures

Calcutta is brimming with History and the only way to soak it all in is to walk through it. Last month as I stopped over at Calcutta on my way to Meghalaya, I was introduced to Navpreet Arora – the heart and brain behind FunOnStreets. Navpreet quit her corporate job last year to follow her passion for History and introducing locals and tourists to her city through walking tours. Her in-depth research and love for story-telling is what make her walks most interesting. In two days I went for two walks with her exploring completely different aspects of the city.

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