Shantiniketan can be called as the average (or non-average) Bengali’s intellectual capital. It’s just 4.5 hour’s drive from Kolkata and by train, it takes just 3.5-4 hours. Now, as I’ve found, where there is a huge flow of tourists, food tends to be exciting. Is it the same here as well? It was my turn to find out. For this trip, I traveled by train though. Howrah Siuri Express left Howrah at 0851 AM and reached Prantik station around 1 PM. Bolpur and Shantiniketan are twin cities and then there is Biswabharati campus. We found Prantik to be relatively peaceful to stay and thus had put up there.
But what about the food scene there?
Whenever I’ve heard somebody talk about food in Shantiniketan, they have spoken dearly of this place. So, upon reaching Shantiniketan, our first stop for lunch was bound to be this one. But please note certain rules about Banalakshmi …
- Banalakshmi is not inside Bolpur city and can be accessed by Toto/ E-Rickshaw/ car. The place is quite famous and they all know it
- It’s closed on all Mondays
- Banalakshmi Shantiniketan serves meals only on prior order (9434446150). And they do not entertain walk-ins
- Please judge your appetite before ordering. They do not like to serve anything extra after the order is placed
Let me stop being grumpy and talk about the good things first. The place is visually pleasing with loads of greenery and one big Banyan tree. The food is served on a pre-paid basis. I mean to say, you need to pay and get the bill and get yourself seated in the next room (common table) to get served.
We took Mutton and Hilsa, apart from the typical veg thali at Banalakshmi Shantiniketan. The thali consisted of bottled water, rice, huge dollops of ghee, dal, Aloo bhaja, two vegetables of the day (Dhoka Dalna and a strange replica of Shukto). The Hilsa was a roundel cut from a fish of around 800 grams and mutton curry. Did they taste good? Yes. Was the taste outstanding? Hell, no. Service was being done by local people and while they tried their level best, maybe supervision was needed. And if a meal like this costs around 550/-, definitely it needs to upgrade. I’ve heard loads of praise about the ghee, but sadly, it was of just-good-quality.
Nola Shantiniketan- for a continental dinner
Life is all about managing one’s expectations. And while Banalakshmi was just above average (or was it a bad day? ), I decided to have my dinner in Nola Food Boutique. Yes, I understand, it’s a strange name. It’s a food boutique. Tucked inside the Ramkrishna road, this is definitely a hidden gem. I’ve always faced one problem while travelling with my family. While we gorge on Bengali food, my 8-year-old son doesn’t really like it. While on a vacation, he always looks out for something like a pizza or burger. And in Shantiniketan, that used to be a problem. But now, Nola is serving all of it, with a decent, in fact, good quality.
They have a giant screen where an interesting playlist goes on. No offence, but for a layman like me, hearing a Coke Studio is a welcome break in the evening. I was served Chicken Tikka Pizza and Stuffed Chicken Breast. And the pizza is good. I mean, if you don’t expect a wood-fired pizza, this is good enough. And at 150/- a piece, you can’t really expect more. The dessert was caramel custard and that was the showstopper. While the garnishing was a bit over-the-top, it tasted damn good.
Aarhani- the hidden gem
So finally, I’ll talk of this small hidden gem called Aarhani. I’m actually confused about what I should call it. It’s not a restaurant. Rini di (9641962667) and Dibyangshu da (9836611383) takes guests on prior telephonic orders only. And I must say, she’s one of the best home chefs that I’ve come across in recent times. I got her reference from one FB group named Calcutta Porkaddicts and needless to say, I was looking for pork dishes. But sadly, pork meat was not in stock that day, and I told her to feed me whatever she likes, with mutton. And I was in for a treat.
They have a mudhouse inside the campus and that serves as the dining room. It’s pretty cool and a fan is there. Service is done by Rupa di, Rini di’s man (or woman) Friday. As soon as we reached, we were welcomed and the best part is, it was courteous as well as professional. The menu was a typical Bengali meal, but with a twist. It was rice, Ucche Posto (bitter gourd with poppy seed paste), Dal, Aloo Posto Bhaja, a fantastic Begun Tok and Kashmiri Mutton.
Ucche Posto was a revelation and so was the Begun Tok. It was somewhere near to a salan, but with a tinge of sweetness and without the harshness. The mutton was cooked without onion and with loads of Garlic, Kashmiri Red Chilly and whole black pepper. It was the showstopper. Even the mango chutney had some of the homegrown Thai Mango. Now, small twists like this make a place, legend. And definitely, this was one such place. The total bill for 2 was 560/- …
After this fantastic meal, I didn’t think twice to order for dinner here. And it was a desi cock with Parota with Rini di promising some custard. And it was a meal to remember. The chicken was nice and tender, properly cut and the little gravy was finished with green chilly and ginger. Did I taste some Kasundi ? Not really sure. I can vouch that this place, tucked away from general eyeballs, is one of my greatest finds in recent times and definitely I’ll come back for more.
Ram Shyam Resort- Sonajhuri Shantiniketan
The final meal was at a resort tucked inside the Sonajhuri Haat- Ram Shyam Resort. Somehow, places in Shantiniketan has got a strange habit of prepaid system, but this place was well managed- rather courteously managed. I had veg Thali (Rs. 130/-) with Katla Jhol (Rs. 180-). The food was served in Kansa thala, bati and glass and the taste were good. Now if I was not spoiled by the taste of Aarhanni, maybe I would have praised it even more. There was a huge dollop of ghee here too and endless refills of rice, dal and vegetables. Overall, it was a good experience. The food is not cheap, but worth the quality and service.
In between, while those long walks inside the university campus, I went to Kasahara Cafe. This is a cafe named after Mr. Kimtaro Kasahara, a master Japanese artisan from the early 20th century and is inside the campus. It’s mostly an open-air space and serves decent basic food. I tasted cold coffee and it was good. But maybe, I had grown old from that age where a chat with friends was more important than food, I found it just good. But this is definitely a place to visit once.
My final take
On average, this trip to Shantiniketan was a mixed feeling. While Banalakshmi was quite average, Aarhani and Nola made up for it. I’m already missing those long solitary walks inside the campus and that lazy chilled lifestyle. And someday, I’m definitely going back there- and this time by car.
My stay at Ranga Mati Resort
This is a good stay option at Prantik. Definitely a good one and at 2000/- per night, the premium cottage room was good. But please remember to hire a car at your disposal for easy transit. They cost around 1500/- a day. I’ve taken the car of Tapas Lohar (9002345316 / 8653326319). The good side, he’s polite and helpful. Bad side, he doesn’t have the navigation capacity.
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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** Disclaimer: I was invited to Shantiniketan by Nola Food Boutique to experience their food **