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. The primary influence here has been of the Cantonese part of china food and we’ve customized them here as per our local palate. This is the story of one old school chinese restaurant.
A little bit of Kolkata chinese history ?
In the late 18th century, one broke businessman Mr Tom Achew landed in, what we know as Icchapur today. And once Governor general Mr Warren Hastings granted them land for setting up a sugar factory, the first chinese settlement in India was born. In fact , the folklore goes like, the word chinese was converted into the local dialect as china and the product produced by them in that factory was called chini (a.k.a sugar). Few know that before this settlement had settled, there was hardly any documented usage of refined sugar in Bengal sweets. However, the history of bengali sweets deserves a separate mention and will be dealt with later.
However, It seems Mr Achew couldn’t run his factory well and it got closed down. Naturally, the workers moved towards the nearest big city- Calcutta. The got themselves settled in the current Tiretta Bazaar area and this was the oldest chinese ghetto in Kolkata. One of the primary business there, was tannery. Now, tanneries in the midst of the city was probably becoming an eyesore of the british government and the same was shifted beside the eastern wetland. And, thus the new-age chinatown or Tangra came into existence.
And, it’d be interesting to know that though the oldest documented chinese restaurant was “”Nanking”, the oldest operating chinese restaurant today is Eau Chew in Ganesh Chandra Avenue, running from last 90+ years.
Now to the southern part of the city
Nu Wan Li was our childhood go-to-place for chinese food. We were a typical middle class family and eating out regularly in those posh part street restaurants was bit of a problem. They were kept aside for special occasions. So, these small ones were the places which served as our regular family outing places. And, I still remember a fat kid jumping with joy, when his father told him, they’ll be going out to have chowmien for dinner. And as we used to stay in Bhowanipore, commute was not a problem.
So, once we go NOW to some restaurant, lots of things come in mind- ambience, parking facility etc. But, it was not like it then, eating out was the main enjoyment and not other things. So, this time, we set off to revive my childhood with my family. Let me be honest, location is quite tricky to find. If you are going towards Bullygunge Phari from hazra more, it’ll come on your right.
Thankfully, there is an AC. The decor is nothing to boast off. It’s pretty much old-school with red cushioned sofas, which has definitely seen better days and dim red-colored lanterns. It’s mostly empty during the day and the owner is hell bent to shut down the shop by 1030 in the evening. So, please reach a bit early.
Before you even look at the menu card, order for their mixed chimney soup and a small portion. Believe me, it’s a huge portion. The owner is apologetic about not being able to put in the live charcoal inside the chimney, as it’s supposed to be, due to the fire norms. But nonetheless, it’s always a good experience to share the huge bowl. Unlike Eau Chew, Nu Wan Li prefers to use thin noodles and the meat is always properly cooked. So, it’s a pleasure to eat.
We ordered their steamed wanton next along with Fish Finger. Yes, fish finger- please do not frown. My son loves them, no matter what. While the fish finger is good (with Kolkata Betki on that day), I rather tend to go back to those heavenly wantons at Tung Nam. These, I felt, were more like momos (with thick coating).
Off course, Roasted Chilly Pork was the next order along with their mixed Hakka Chow. Both were lovely. Though I somehow tend to get biased towards the Roasted Chilly Pork at Eau Chew and Silver Grill, this one is definitely worth trying. There are two rules for me for getting a good Roasted Chilly Pork. One, the meat should be roasted (and not boiled) and two, there should be chilly, lots of it. Maybe, by looking at my grey hairs, they tend to cut down the chilly, but on returning it back to the kitchen, it was made right. Luckily, they keep the amount of onion and capsicum less here.
You may like to take a look at how the Roasted Chilly pork is prepared at Eau Chew here
The Mixed Hakka Noodles was okay-ish at the best (with some mandatory pieces of onion on top staring blankly at us) and I’ll give it a pass for the Chicken Lo Mein coming next.
Rather the surprise dish was the Chicken Lo Mein. It’s basically chicken steamed noodles (with the nice smell of lard), topped with lightly spiced minced chicken and some cucumber slices lying on the side. The dish was balanced nicely. The prefect flavor of meat, steamed chicken and some cold cucumber to cleanse the palate worked wonders. And, I’d definitely suggest this one.
Desserts is never a forte in chinese joints, but still we hardly ever lose hope. The final dish was Honey Noodles. It was deep fried noodles tossed with honey. I wont say, it was outstanding, but definitely good. And surprisingly, the quantity is pretty big and can easily be shared among 4 adults.
Overall, this restaurant works as a ride to the childhood for me and till date, one of the most underrated old school chinese restaurants in the city. I doubt how long, they would be able to survive in today’s cut-throat competition, but if the question of value-for-money food comes into consideration, they are winners.
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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