Every festival has a flavour that tells a story. I have always wanted to be in Kolkata during Durga Puja, so that I can get to experience the frenzy and the food as well. Although I am a vegetarian, I have been told that there is something irresistible about Kolkata Street Food that beckons everyone and there is a lot to offer for the vegetarians as well. Kolkata is a melting pot of communities and the streets reflect their cultures. And there is a tale unfolding here. The Chinese, the Tibetans, the Mughals, the Nawabs, the Marwaris, the Tamilians and the Gujaratis have left their signature dishes behind, while the British added their culinary flavour. The Bengalis for whom food is more than just a dish adopted these iconic recipes and made them into their own.
But then, to get an authentic flavour of the streets of Kolkata, I do not have to travel to the City of Joy this festive season. The gastronomical essence of Kolkata is now available right in the heart of my city in Bangalore. Next Stop Kolkata is a unique Kolkata Street Food festival that is celebrated in Monkey Bar – be it Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Curated by Iti Misra, a legendary home chef from Kolkata and Monkey Bar’s Head Chef Dheeraj Varma, the menu is not just about food, but has its share of stories as well that takes you right in the heart of the city, its buzzing lanes and iconic eateries.
And there is a “Monkey” twist as well to every dish, says Iti Misra as I sip Puchka Caipiroshka, a toast to the street food mixed with a twist of vodka and gondhoraj lebu and fresh mint. Iti Misra adds that every quintessential snack from the streets and stalls of Kolkata has a tradition behind them. The momos for instance are inspired by the Tibetan settlers while the dumplings has the Chinese community. Her favourite is the story behind the Chicken Rezala, from Chitpur Road, a curry that she adds has an Awadhi flavour to it. It was apparently introduced to Kolkata by the cooks of the Nawab of Awadh – Wajid Ali Shah who was here on exile.
The festival takes you into the streets across the length and breadth of Kolkata, which is a treasure trove for epicureans . The street food here is a reflection of the myriad cultures that form the very fabric of Kolkata. And so, according to Iti Misra, you have the College Street Hing-er Kochuri, the Fish Roll at Beadon Street, the Vardaan Market Moong Daal Pakodi Chaat from Camac Street, the Tibetan Momos from Bishop Leroy Road, the ghoogni from Vivekananda Park, the Chicken Rezala from Chitpur Road ,the Esplanade Mughlai Porota, Tiretti Bazaar Prawn Dumpling among others.
Iti Misra’s stories take me right into the streets of Kolkata. The vegetarian in me tried the moong daal pakodi chaat and the Kochuris which was served with a spicy and tangy curry of potato and pumpkin. I also munched the Ghoogni while trying the vegetarian version of the Mughalai parota with paanch-phoron baby potatoes.
All these delicacies can be gulped down with drinks aptly titled Piara Peara, Puchka Caipiroshka, Thaanda Chaa. I tried the PuchkaCaipiroshka, a heady toast to the festive season mixed with all the right flavours .
Pic Courtesy Sanjay Ramachandran
The festival is on from October 4 to October 21. So here is your good food alert and make your reservations right now at Monkey Bar, across the four cities.
This post is written in collaboration with Monkey bar who had invited me to preview the festival and meet Iti Misra.