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.
This is the second part of my compilation for the same. and you might like to check the first part here
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 paise. Hence, people used to call them paisa hotel- pais hotel- pice hotel.
As 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. “
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)
Okay, as you’ve understood the rules and listened to the gyan, let’s move to my few favorites in the city (you can check the first part of the list here).
Bengali food in Kolkata always had a loving relationship with the cooks (or thakur as we call them lovingly) from Odisha. Please don’t get me wrong, but I’ve spent a good 3 years at Bhubaneswar and I personally believe that Odisha cook’s skills get elevated to a different level once they are outside Odisha. I know it’s a bad joke, but then if you’re looking for a typical pice hotel run by Odiya thakurs, this one has to be your choice.
Tucked in the narrow and busy Kailash Bose Street, this pice hotel is superbly unimpressive with their looks. But this is probably the only pice hotel where there is still floor sitting arrangement apart from the regular chair-table. Regarding the food, it’s fantastic. And if I need to choose 3 dishes from this place, my choice is rather specific. They have a Kobiraji Fish Jhol. There is a clientele who goes to the same place every day of the week and naturally can’t afford rich food. This dish comes to help. Light runny fish curry is cooked with vegetables and this dish is a must.
Mutton curry at Jaganmata Bhojanalaya is another gem. It’s one of that less spicy mutton curry with a baby lamb. In fact, the curry is cooked with such perfection that even the bones can be chewed and crushed. And the third dish is the Shol fish tok. The chochori made with Mourola fish (anchovy) is pretty impressive here. A meal for two should cost you around 500/-
People have got a notion that pice hotels in Kolkata are there, only in the northern part. But let’s agree to disagree. For around 100 years, Tarun Niketan proudly stands there near the Rashbehari Crossing, south Kolkata and is holding the forte for pice hotels.
Of all the pice hotels in Kolkata, Tarun Niketan probably has the largest spread of typical Bengali dishes in its menu. And they still proudly claim that except the gravies of chicken curry, mutton curry, Fish Kalia and egg curry, other dishes are without the touch of Onion and Garlic. And they also say that this restaurant still adheres to the rules of the pice hotel. Now, if you skipped the rules, please go above to the rules segment of this blogpost to recheck it once.
I request everyone who comes here to try their egg curry. All the places in Kolkata use those tasteless poultry eggs for this dish. But Tarun Niketan gives you an egg curry with duck eggs. In the olden days, having chicken and chicken products was a taboo in many a Bengali home and the owner still goes by that logic. For the business, nowadays chicken curry (and a damn good one) is cooked, but egg curry still rocks here.
Please try the Pabda and Tangra fish Jhol here. They make it with Badi- those lovely small dal dumplings and that makes all the difference. Poor bhora (Stuffed) Kankrol and Neem Begun are served here, which is quite unusual in Kolkata’s pice hotels. And most importantly, they give a potato in the mutton curry here. Needless to say, like any pice hotels, menu changes with the daily purchase and is updated on the blackboard. But, I can assure you, Tarun Niketan won’t disappoint you.
Young Bengal Khiderpore
Okay, the second pice hotel that I’d like to mention here is the Young Bengal Hotel. Tucked in a quaint lane near the Khiderpore Fancy Market, this pice hotel is serving home-style Bengali food to its patrons since 1930. And without a mention to this place, the listing for pice hotels in Kolkata is definitely incomplete. But please note that this restaurant is closed on Mondays, as it’s the holiday for the Fancy Market, which is the prime source for customers here.
The entrance is, as usual, quite unimpressive. And once you enter, you might mistake it being inside somebody’s private property. But get in and order for the fish of the day. Madam Pritha Bardhan runs this place and as per the unwritten rule of a pice hotel, the menu changes on a daily basis her as well.
Regarding food, if it’s available, please go for their mocha with kucho chingri. As per my knowledge, no pice hotel in the city does this dish. In fact, rather than the rich mutton or chicken, the milder machhher jhol with numerous varieties of fish is a better choice here. The pabda jhol with badi is fantastic, as well as the Aar machher jhol. On a good day, typical Bengali Pulao is available, which pairs brilliantly with the light homely mutton or chicken curry.
I am quite vocal in saying that if I need to take someone out for the taste of typical home-style Bengali food, a pice hotel is my go-to-place. They do not have a very luxurious seating arrangement, barring one- no AC and casual service. But the food makes up for it. Once at a pice hotel, I never miss my home food. And that’s what matters to me. I’m sure, I’ve missed a few more and this series will surely continue.
Bon apetit !!!
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