When one broke chinese businessman named Tom Achew had landed in what we called today as Achhipur, little did anybody know that probably the most loved cuisine in Kolkata was borne. Over the time, Chinese cuisine has gained such popularity among the local crowd, that it is almost impossible to beat it. Now, if I call chowmein as an epitome of Indianised chinese cuisine, I am slightly biased towards one sloppy mess of noodles and meat stock, named gravy chowmein. And this is a memoire to that.
If you want to check the history of chinese cuisine in India, you can check here …
During the 90’s, we didn’t have the luxury of heavy pocketmoney that we’ve spoiled our kids with, today. And almost everybody of us had to manage in a show-string budget. now during those days, we used to stay in Bhowanipore and my maths tution class was in Bakulbagan. And it was during that time, my friend Abhra introduced me to this little gem there. Please note, I am talking of the nineties. And like many a middle class bongs, the main criteria for a restaurant being a good restaurant was the portion size.
Secondly, chowmein was not available in every nook and corner of the city like today. Roll corners used to produce rolls and not Roll and Chowmein. And somehow I had an affection (even today) towards Gravy chowmein. The reason can be that it used to be a one dish meal and one can enjoy it without any side-dish and that suited my budget. And I still remember Vivekananda Cabin on Lansdowne Road as our destination.
Now, in these type of joints, there is nothing called ambience. Few tables and chairs are thrown inside and the manager (usually the owner himself) sits at the cash counter. Ahmed Bhai this is definitely no exception. He has been sitting there for last two decades after he has taken it over from his father.
The crowd is a regular one and they know exactly what to order. So, when I asked for the menu card, the server gave me a strange looks for a fraction of seconds. Now, even for me, I knew what I’ll order, but needed it to shoot. ” One Gravy chowmein and half plate boneless chilly chicken dry “ I shouted. Meanwhile, on the table, some chilly sauce and chilly vinegar (this thing is so fast disappearing from today’s fancy restaurants) were there. The sauces were there in steel bowls who have definitely seen better days, but what the heck.
And the food arrived in sharp 8 minutes. The good part in these restaurants is, you don’t look at anything else when the food arrives. Now, being a bong, for me, a gravy chowmein is good only when there is more of that sloppy cornflower laden stock gravy and lots and lots of meat. and this was just that. Loads of meat (I felt diced pre-fried chicken pakora, shrimp and egg) loaded gravy noodles- simply lovely.
and along with it, came the chilly chicken boneless. Now, dry chilly chicken is my weakness and I’ve had it in numerous places. But what was served to me yesterday, was something out of the world. Deep fried chicken (with less coating) tossed with chopped onion and chilly floating in oil. I mean, all the things that a chinese chicken dish shouldn’t be, but then sin always tastes better, at least at my age. The closest competition to this one that I could think off was Kung Pao, E M Bypass … Okay, here they’ve used onion and not only chilly, but what the heck.
Now, there is a ispecial way to eat gravy chowmein and dry chilly chicken. First you mix up the meat laden gravy with the noodles. Sprinkle a spoonful of chilly vinegar for the extra crunch. And only then you put some onion and chilly (with oil) on top of the noodles and mix a small portion of it. And realizing why they give both spoon and fork, put a fork-ful of the mixture inside your mouth. If someone watches you, they’ll watch you smile lovingly with your eyes closed and even they’ll smile. That’s the beauty.
In these type of places, you normally save the chicken pieces for the last and finish the noodles with the onion and chilly. Apart from the regular marinade, did I find some readymade kebab masala in the chicken ? Who cares as long as the dish is great. the final bill ? A mundane 115/- , yes it’s true.
I won’t say the food is out of the world, or you’ll miss if you don’t visit this place- no. But if you love some good value for money food and/or is a nostalgic food like me, Vivekananda Cabin is the place to be. And if you’re looking for a better rich version of gravy chowmein, Eau chew is always there with the Josephine Noodles.
Gravy Chowmein still remains as one of my most favorite chinese dishes and I still feel that this is one item, which has saved a lot of hungry once-youngsters like me …
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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