Being a Bengali পেটুক, born in Kolkata, I have a certain mental blockage against eating Bengali food at a restaurant. I always calculate mentally which fish costs what at the fish market and what price I am paying for it at the eatery. Solely, due to this reason, I prefer a Pice Hotel than a posh “authentic Bengali restaurant” any day. And, here, I would love to mention a few of my favorites in the city.
History of pice hotel
Now, why its called a pice hotel? As far as my knowledge goes, this concept started a few decades back, in the era where things were available in paisa and then a full meal here (the basic ones) were available at the cost of a few paisa. Hence, people used to call them paisa hotel- pais hotel- pice hotel.
As food researcher Pritha sen says, “Pice hotels, also known as Bhaater hotel or Rice hotels were what were also termed Hindu hotels. They mushroomed sometime in the 1930s-40s as cheap eating houses set up to feed the hordes of daily-wage earners, students and babus who lived in the hostels and messes of Calcutta, far away from their homes in primarily East Bengal and therefore the food was primarily Bangaal, another reason why they have remained so low profile till the foodies discovered them a few years ago! The food was just like you would have at home, never knowing what your mother would put on the table, never knowing what fish your father would get back from his early morning with the accent on small fish and greens. The meals were served for 1/16th of a rupee (sholo anay ek taka) but everything had a price to it from the kola pata to the lebu with rice and dal being unlimited “
Please note, it’s almost difficult to mention all the gems in this category in one post and hence, this is just part 1 of the lot ….
Rules for a pice hotel
First, let us understand the rules to be followed while in a pice hotel …
- There is no formal menu card. You get in a, see what’s available and get your food. Rice, dal, aloo bhaja is standard fare and other items, you’ve to order separately
- Do not faint if someone comes and shares your table-space. Here, tables do get shared
- If you are a vegetarian, you may opt off one such place. The jewels of this place are its non-veg dishes
- Tip the waiter generously while leaving. He’ll remember you on your next visit (important for the size of the fish piece)
Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel
We’ll start with north Kolkata. After all, that’s the older part of the city or as the British would call it, the Black Town. Please reach college street. It’s easily accessible via public transport. And, take the adjacent lane towards M G Road (commonly known as xerox gully). You’ll bump into this place called Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel.
Its an almost 60-year-old pice hotel with a strange piece of history attached to it. Regarding history, I’d love to attach this piece from the Anandabazaar Patrika newspaper. Please check.
Yes, it’s a pretty famous joint among locals, students and traders- needless to mention foodie gluttons. Their specialty lies in the fresh catch of the day and on quality. They take pride in serving you the best and charging pretty well for that. Here, if you reach early, try their mixed chorchori with fish head and Topse Fry. Also, for the strong-hearted ones, their mutton (no specific name) is a must. You’ll be charged separately for the banana leaf on otherwise steel plate and earthen kulhar. But then, when did pleasure come cheap? Do not forget to order the fine rice (slightly extra costly than the ordinary one) and you’ll remember this for a long long time.
Now, as you’ve reached the place, do visit the Indian coffee house at 3 min walking distance from here (opp to Presidency University main gate) and Paramount Sherbet (at the other side of College Square) for some heavenly old school sherbet.
The lassi shop at Esplanade
Okay, once you’re done with this area, I seriously doubt whether you’re in a position to have any other meal soo. So, the next day, you can start with the central Kolkata. There are two gems there. Get down at the Esplanade Metro Station. And just when you start getting a little tired from the hustle and bustle at the metro, you might start looking for some drinks to start with. Look no further, walk towards deckers lane from K C Das shop at the Esplanade junction. In 2 min, you’ll find this shop selling these amazing Lassi right on the footpath. Forget about the dust and other mundane things in life. Grab one mug (yes, you read it right) of mango Lassi (in season, otherwise special lassi only) and thank me (LOL).
Well, now that you’ve refreshed, start walking towards Rani Rashmoni House via S N Banerjee Road (don’t worry, it’s just 10 min walking distance) and try to ignore other distractions on the way like Anadi Mughlai Parota and Sabirs. Just remember, today, you’ve started for the pice hotel and you’ll have to conquer it. Take the lane adjacent to Rani Rashmoni House and just after 2 min, you’ll find Hotel Siddheswari Ashram on your left. It’s an unimpressive entrance, but don’t get fooled, be a braveheart and enter, take the staircase and you’ll find one of the rare pice hotels which boast of an AC section.
I personally prefer the non-Ac section there, because the staff here seems more courteous to me. Maybe I am biased, but what the hell … Order for their Kobiraji Jhol (it tends to get over by 12 noon) and chutney. Kobiraji Jhol is the Rohu fish curry meant for everyday consumption. It’s an extremely light gravy with the seasonal vegetables put in and I am told there are regulars who stay in the nearby mess and have this thing for the last few decades- every day.
Surprisingly, the mutton is not very interesting here, but Bhapa Rui (steamed rohu with mustard) makes up for it. If it’s one dish here, Kobiraji Jhol and chutney (mostly pineapple and on good days, plastic chutney) are killers here. On another note, I’m told their machher mathar kalia (fish head gravy) is to die for, but I’m not a guy who loves to chew on heads.
On your next day’s hunt, about 100 meters from here and almost at the crossing of S N Banerjee Road and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, lies this place called Jogar Hotel, formally named as Jagannath Bhojanalay.
In one word, this is a madhouse. You might not like to take your non-adventurous girlfriend/ boyfriend here. It’s a restaurant (if I may say so) with almost non-recognizable signboards and the only way you can recognize this place by seeing the mad crowd coming in and out from this place. The first rule here, fight your way in (while cursing me) and grab a chair while giving scary/ sentimental looks to the person sitting there. And once he starts to get up, jump in to occupy the seat. The traders from this locality and formerly TOI office staff are the prime customers here.
The USP in value for money fresh catch of the day. They tend to serve medium-sized cuts of fish (due to the sheer pricing factor) and serve it fresh. Mutton is awesome here along with Vetki (they serve the whole baby vetki in the mustard gravy here). Trust me, once you take in the first bite, you’ll understand “why this Kolaveri di….. ” It’s worth your time and fight.
Well, well, we’ve visited north and central Kolkata… so how can south be left behind. Let’s visit our final destination (in this post) inside Gariahat Market, Adarsha Hindu Hotel.
Adarsha Hindu Hotel
Once in Kolkata and especially south Kolkata, you can not miss the huge gariahat market complex. Enter the same and go to the first floor of the new complex. Ask anyone for the pice hotels, and you’ll land up here. This place operates on all days and is open from 9 AM to 4 PM and again 630 PM- 930 PM.
This is almost a 60-year-old place. The owner’s name is Kalipada Maity who is the second generation businessman. They serve you fresh catch of the day from the market below and hence all the ingredients are fresh. Aquaguard water is served, hence you need not worry about that, however, mineral water is available at a price.
As soon as you’ll sit down with my friends, with no questions asked, you’ll get an empty plate with banana-leaf covered and water in earthen bhands. Ask for the standard meal, which we ordered – consisting of rice, dal, aloo bhaja and panchmesheli sabzi (mixed veg). For the non-veg section, order their Kucho machher chorchori (A mixed sabzi with pumpkin, brinjal, sliced potato and mourola fish), one hell of a Tengra fish (A king sized original tengra cooked in a moderately spicy oily gravy) and Koi machher Tel Jhal– Now this is one koi fish dish that I really liked. Its cooked in the same onion gravy as tengra but the tengra was more saunf flavored whereas the koi is more garam masala flavored. The boal Jhal here is cooked in a less spicy manner with potato and is pretty good. The boal was mid-sized and not very oily….. but ok- you can’t have everything.
Try the mutton Jhol here. It’s basically a mild-flavored mutton curry with potato cooked with tender lamb- a la Bengali ishtyle. The specialty of this dish is it has to be less spicy (yes), has to be with less garam masala and cumin flavored (hell yes) and to be cooked with potato (we are Kolkattans- remember ? ).
Well, there is a general scenario for foodies like us in any of these pice hotels. We come out with our belly hung, belt loosened by 1-2 units and disbelief in our face by seeing the unbelievably low pricing. God bless these hotel-wallas (and not restauranteurs) for keeping the legacy of Bengali home-styled food alive in Kolkata.
Again I’d like to mention, this list is majorly a partial one and many more gems are coming in sequels. Till then, happy gorging …
Bon apetite !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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