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Food in Calcutta: Tiretti Bazaar’s Chinese Breakfast

 

Homemade Chinese delicacies

Homemade Chinese delicacies

The steaming bowl of broth and fish balls beckoned invitingly. The woman who had set up her stall by the roadside looked at her container on the fire that kept the soup warm for customers. She had just ladled out a serving along with handmade fish balls in a red bowl keeping up with the Christmas week celebrations. I bent down to smell the contents. All it needed was the customary decking with soy and it was ready. The table next to her is always kept ready with seasonings and cutlery. Break the generous fish ball and take a bite. Wash it down with the hot broth and that’s when you realise why you made that early morning journey to Tiretti Bazaar in Central Calcutta (Kolkata). (Do pardon me but I’m used to calling the city I grew up in Calcutta and not Kolkata).

The steaming soup container

The steaming soup container

Recently a lot has been written and discussed about the unique Chinese Breakfast in Calcutta. Many have called it a recent discovery while some have ventured out to try the food because of the visibility on social media. But for the old timers, it’s a matter of habit. I was introduced to Poddar Court about 10 years ago on a chilly winter morning by a dear friend. Having picked me up from home in the wee hours, we drove through the empty roads to reach the central part of the city.

Fish ball soup and Pork Bun

This time round when I visited home for Christmas and impromptu brekkie plans were made, I realised I was going there with the same friend. We were older but not wiser, yet our appetite for Chinese food remained the same!

Get them buns steaming hot. You get a choice between chicken and pork

Get them buns steaming hot. You get a choice between chicken and pork

You can shop for wallets as you devour pork spring rolls!

You can shop for wallets as you devour pork spring rolls!

Years ago, Chinese immigrants made Calcutta their home. They brought their food and culture to the expanding city and today, they form a unique part of Calcutta’s cultural heritage. As Chinese restaurants blossom, a visit to Tiretti Bazar will give you a taste into delicious homemade Chinese delicacies. From dumplings filled with minced meat to steaming buns with homemade fillings, sausages to prawn crackers, delicate broths to deep fried meat balls.

As you enter the road, you’re greeted with the view of a market. Fresh roses the flower seller sets up are gorgeous and red. Walk further down and you encounter fresh vegetables and greens – from bok choy to Chinese cabbage. Then you have the meat and fish sellers showcasing their wares and finally, the smell of steaming dumplings tell you you’ve reached your destination. The number of sellers has dwindled over the years but that does not stop a handful of enthusiasts from selling their homemade delicacies every single day no matter the weather. “Even if it’s raining, you will find one of us at least selling food so that no one goes back empty handed,” said the man who sells crumbed spring rolls along with wallets. The stalls are set up early in the morning, about 5ish and they wrap by when their stocks run out, which is pretty early if I can add. If you decide to come here at your leisure, you’ll be disappointed. The earlier you arrive, the more food you will get!

Steamed dumplings

Steamed dumplings

You want more? There's plenty!

You want more? There’s plenty!

Work never ends. Preps for the buns start in the evening while for items like dumplings and rolls, early morning plays a crucial role. As I dug into fish ball soup, prawn spring rolls, pork and fish dumplings and steaming pork baos, I craved roasted pork. If you want to try it, make sure you go there on the weekends because that’s the only time you’ll get it. If you’re in Calcutta and want to do something local, eating Chinese breakfast at Tiretti Bazaar must be on your to-do list!

Get some sausages to cook at home!

Get some sausages to cook at home!

Buy what goes into the sausage so you can attempt making them yourself!

Buy what goes into the sausage so you can attempt making them yourself!

After breakfast, why don't you complete your veggie shopping too?

After breakfast, why don’t you complete your veggie shopping too?

The roses that greet you when you enter and leave the breakfast road!

The roses that greet you when you enter and leave the breakfast road!

PS: Pocket pinch for 2 hungry eaters: Rs 300 approx
How to reach: Nearest metro station is Central. The food place is walking distance with the help of strangers whom you’ll have to ask for directions. If driving, then park in front of Poddar Court, near Lal Bazar

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Calcutta street food: Five must-have delicacies

Every city is defined by its culinary aspirations, more contextually, its street food. What the common man eats during a hard day’s work, what the local woman snacks on during a break, what school going children can afford after their tiffin money is over. Every city has a famous type made popular by tourists. Delhi has its kebabs and chaats, Indore has chirwa while for Bombaywalas, their vada pav is a heavenly concoction.

I recently went home to Calcutta (or now known as Kolkata). It’s difficult to put a finger on what exactly makes Calcutta street food stand out so. I think it’s because of the vast range good solid cheap street food that the city offers. Yes, you have the world famous Flurys and Nizams, but ultimately it’s the quality and range of street food which defines a city. Every visitor reads up on what to eat and what to do, but having lived in the city for a sufficient number of years, after walking in almost every by-lane and eating almost everything the gorgeous city has to offer, Calcutta food makes me nostalgic. You can try eating at a Bengali restaurant and you can go to the ‘Bengali area’ in your city, but for the food which offers its heart and soul in every bite, you have to visit Calcutta. Divine, delectable and heavenly on your taste buds, from puchkas to kati rolls, chops and cutlets to shingara-kachori and mughlai parathas to Chinese breakfasts, Calcutta food leaves you wanting, no, craving for more.

Whenever I visit Calcutta, there are a few places I make a beeline for. Although this time home was a short visit and I couldn’t eat everything, I managed to squeeze in time for what I call ‘my food’.

Sandwich paradise

Sandwich store near New Market

Sandwich store near New Market

If you find yourself in the New Market area, take a quick detour towards Lindsey Street and stop by NV Stores. It’s a small sandwich shop which offers you a vast range of fillings and sauces, grilled or loaf creations all under 100 rupees ($1.50). My favourite is the vegetable loaf sandwich for 30 rupees ($0.50). They cut open a fresh load of bread, slather butter and mustard and add vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, onions, cucumbers, carrots and even fresh coriander. It’s heated for about 30 seconds till nice and warm. Wash it down with a glass of mango lassi. You won’t be hungry before dinner, trust me. I couldn’t visit the ‘office para’ or Dalhousie area during this trip but there’s a small sandwich cart behind Gillanders office building which makes one of the meanest cheese sandwiches I’ve had. It will give any proper establishment a run for its money.

Puchkas, need I say more!

Yummy, can't have enough of puchkas!

Yummy, can’t have enough of puchkas!

You can try golgappes in Delhi and panipuri in Mumbai and even batashes in Lucknow, but they all pale in comparison to Calcutta puchkas. After years of research I’ve come to decide that the best puchkas the city offers is NOT found in VP or Vivekananda Park but opposite Max Mueller Bhavan on Rowland Road. Second comes the ones found at the Elgin Road-Woodburn Park crossing. The tangy tamarind water which accompanies deep fried flour balls with mashed potato stuffing that has been seasoned by a whole lot of spices, oh my mouth waters as I write this. It takes some time getting used to if you’ve never had it before but you’ll be addicted I tell you. There have been great debates on the different versions found in different cities but the one thing Calcuttans are passionate about is food. They make sure their puchka voice is heard!

Deep fried goodness – the telebhaja

Deepfrying delicious telebhajas

Deepfrying delicious telebhajas

Every state has a version of fried fritters accompaniments during tea, but Calcutta’s version of telebhaja is hard to beat. Calcuttans love deep fried food and they love to deep fry anything. Evening tea is never complete without onion, potato, brinjal, cauliflower or chilly fritters. Vegetables finely cut and coated with a besan (gram flour) mixture, then deep fried till golden, ah the crunchy delight to be able to bite into one. Telebhaja vendors are found in every street but my favourite place is near the Chandni Chowk metro station.

Secrets of a kati roll

The textures are just right

The textures are just right

Every city has a version of the kati roll. But no one makes it better than the Calcuttans. You can have a vegetable roll with potatoes and beetroot or a chicken one with spices and onions, you won’t regret it. Rolls are a staple in Calcutta so they are not overpriced as the ones found in Bombay or Delhi. You will get any roll under 100 rupees ($1.50). My favourite is the chicken egg roll found in a small kiosk in front of Anita Medicine house in Northern Park. They make the parathas just right, not too crispy or too thin. The egg is cooked with the paratha and the chicken mixture added later. With a squeeze of lime and salt, this divine creation must be a must-have. Also, if you’re in the mood for spicy beef rolls, head to the Park Circus crossing or near Statesman House.

The jhal in muri

Not a great picture, but he's making a bhel puri, a sweeter version of the jhal muri

Not a great picture, but he’s making a bhel puri, a sweeter version of the jhal muri

Jhal literally translates in English to hot while muri is puffed rice. So the jhal muri concoction hits the right note when you’re eager for a snack. Popularly called masala muri, the vendor adds onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lime, tamarind, salt, spices, oil, peanuts, chillies, coconut and/or a sweet sauce to the muri. Finally topped off with coriander leafs and bhujia, it comes to you at about rupees 30-40. ($.60)

PS: I add this because they are found in every nook and corner of Calcutta, and extremely tasty at that!

Steaming momos

Perfect for the evening snack

Perfect for the evening snack

Well the rise in popularity of momos – steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with chicken, pork or vegetables from North Eastern India – have been massive in recent years. Suddenly every street has a momo-seller. They serve you the delights straight from the steamer along with a piping hot bowl of clear soup and a red hot fiery sauce made from tomatoes, chillies and garlic. Extremely filling and easy on the pockets (about 20-30 rupees or less than $0.50 for a plate), there’s nothing like a plate of momos during the evenings.

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