Cafe – a slice of old Calcutta

There is a Calcutta hidden inside the underbelly of Kolkata. People there are still the quintessential bong type- intellectual, easy-to-go-with, less pushy …. you know probably what I mean. And, over time, they denied the offer for changing themselves. Maybe the price was a loss in monetary growth,  but frankly, when were the bongs monetary-wise, leave apart a few geniuses. We prefer to collect a group pf friends and get into an adda-mode, after a hard day’s work and this adda becomes our lifeline. It becomes immaterial, what food is served during that time, only tea and cigarette (for most ) is needed. And mostly, to cater this crowd, the old-age cafe culture was borne in Calcutta.

The main idea was to provide people with a space to have some quality time – adda time and in return, to provide them with some tea/ coffee and snacks. Now, over a period of time, life became tougher. And the adda time was getting reduced, and cafes took a hit. Secondly, we became accustomed to AC and other materialistic comfort and adda was taking a back seat. Cafes couldn’t evolve with time , but few, I repeat few, cafes took the challenge and battled the situation with their supreme quality food. This is story of Cafe, one such joint in Bhowanipore, south Calcutta.

You can check the location on google map here (opposite footpath of Cafe)

It is hidden behind the metro station opposite to the Ashutosh College, Bhowanipore, Hazra. And, actually is pretty easy to find. It remains open from 4 PM to 9 PM (but extends on most of the time) on all days.

There is no privacy or any cabin system here. And, when its meant for adda, why should there be ? As soon as you get in, you can find the age-old wooden menu hung on the wall stating the item names in bengali, a strange blue interior and some rickety wooden chairs throbbing with guests.

Pure vegetarians may like to keep off this place for food, and some pudding is the only option here. One you come in, you’re expected to know what you’ll order. And be very aware, items somehow tend to disappear quickly, so arriving early is recommended.

So when we asked for the menu card, the waiter measured up from head-to-toe for a couple of seconds and came back with a laminated piece of paper. One glance at it, and the ordering was pretty simple ” get one plate of whatever is available”. Probably this statement gave him some confidence and he started conveying the order inside.

Let me start with the fish roll and fish fry. They are my most favorite items and some fantastic version is available at Apanjan, around 200 mtrs from this place. Thankfully, the basa craze has still not got in these places and we get to see some vetki here- still …..

You can check my review for Apanjan here

But, frankly, they disappointed us. Fish fry was having a thinner fillet of fish than what is expected. See, when you come to a place with high expectations, this seldom happens. Taste-wise it was perfect, but Apanjan wins hands down here. Fish roll, on the other hand, was finished like a Kobiraji (dipped in egg batter and fried) and the filling, though good in taste, lacked the slight tinge of sweetness. Again, the fish roll in Chitto da’s Suruchee flashed in my mind, damn it. fish Chop was average, if not bad. And, though the fish quality is good, the taste was extremely average.

But, are these the items, that so many people come here for ??? Can’t be, my heart told my brain.

You can check my review for Chitto Da’s Suruchee restaurant here 

Fish fry
Fish fry
fish roll
fish roll

Fish Chop

Sensing the frown in my face, the waiter probably now played his trump card. a half-slit portion of chuza (baby chicken) in some gravy appeared from nowhere. And, like one Ms Monroe used to silence her critics by sheer glam-quotient, it did the same. Just imagine, a half chuza, cooked perfectly (so that the meat leaves the bone with just a tap of spoon) is lying in some gravy with a piece of bong weakness (a halved potato). The gravy was more like a Jus or roast gravy than a stew (at least what we are used to having in Kolkata) , and definitely like a dark-tanned full bodied woman, where one needs to take a dip (apologies for sounding sexist, but this was the exact thought that crossed my mind). And frankly, the previous sin of this place was washed off.

Chicken stew

You can check my story on chicken stew here

Gravy mutton champ – Roast was one similar item but with a gardan/ neck piece from a middle aged lamb. It tasted good, but simply couldn’t stand a chance against its mighty chicken counterpart. The jus gravy was slightly thickened with onion paste and a tinge of crushed red chilly was there, but alas. For maybe the first time in my life, I’ve seen mutton lose the battle to a chicken. Yes, David still wins against Goliath.

Gravy mutton champ (stew)

Next came the chicken Afgani Cutlet. God knows who thought of dipping a meat cutlet in some oil-heavy Indianised gravy (that too with some vegetables thrown in), but the result was fantastic. This is basically one of the rare items (still served in some old cafe in town) and definitely a must-have. The hard outer layer of a cutlet is softened by the gravy and paired with some buttered toast (damn those health freaks ….. ), it is sheer love. And, so was the case here. The cutlet was heavy and with solid meat , lacked the vegetables in the gravy bu what the hell …..

chicken afgani

Finally, if we’d have left cafe without having their famed pudding, as the saying goes, a curse for 7 years would be bestowed upon us. And being the fearful bong, we ordered for it. And I love my city. Nowhere, I’ve seen a squared piece of bread pudding topped with a sexy dollop of meringue getting offered at 40/- a piece. Remember those old circular ovens with glass lid , where our moms used to make the pudding ? It was the same styled bread pudding ( a little less quantity of bread would have helped though, but what the heck … ) with meringue of top. And the trick of the trade in to vertically cut through the piece without harming the topping till the final bite. If you go there, just remember the curse  …

Pudding

No self respecting bong would’ve come out of the place without having a cup of tea (don;t underestimate, you have the option of having liquor tea or with milk and same for coffee) or coffee and who are we lesser mortals to not to succumb ?

Coffee

Overall, a pretty pocket – friendly old-world joint, where adda takes the primary aim and food secondary. But still, the gravy chicken roast is fantastic, followed by chicken afgani and pudding. Will I go again ? Dude, I’ve been brought up in bhowanipore and been flocking this place for last 25 years, off course, I will …..

Bon apetit !!!

Comments and critics welcome.

I can be reached at 9903528225/ indrajit.lahiri@ymail.com

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