Kolkata, Bengali Kalikata, formerly Calcutta, city, capital of West Bengal state, and former capital (1772–1911) of British India. It is one of India’s largest cities and one of its major ports. The city is centred on the east bank of the Hugli (Hooghly) River, once the main channel of the Ganges (Ganga) River, about 96 miles (154 km) upstream from the head of the Bay of Bengal; there the port city developed as a point of transshipment from water to land and from river to sea. A city of commerce, transport, and manufacture, Kolkata is the dominant urban centre of eastern India. The city’s former name, Calcutta, is an Anglicized version of the Bengali name Kalikata. According to some, Kalikata is derived from the Bengali word Kalikshetra, meaning “Ground of (the goddess) Kali.” Some say the city’s name derives from the location of its original settlement on the bank of a canal (khal). A third opinion traces it to the Bengali words for lime (calcium oxide; kali) and burnt shell (kata), since the area was noted for the manufacture of shell lime. In 2001 the government of West Bengal officially changed the name of the city to Kolkata. Area city, 40 square miles (104 square km); urban agglom., 533 square miles (1,380 square km). Pop. (2011) 4,486,679; urban agglom., 14,112,536.
More than four-fifths of the population is Hindu. Muslims and Christians constitute the largest minorities, but there are some Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. The dominant language is Bengali, but Urdu, Oriya, Tamil, Punjabi, and other languages also are spoken. Kolkata is a cosmopolitan city: other than Indians, groups present include a variety of peoples from elsewhere in Asia (notably Bangladeshis and Chinese), Europeans, North Americans, and Australians. Kolkata was segregated under British rule, the Europeans living in the city centre and Indians living to the north and south. The pattern of segregation has continued in the modern city, although the distribution is now based on religious, linguistic, educational, and economic criteria. Shantytowns and low-income residential areas, however, exist side-by-side with more affluent areas. The density of population is extremely high, and overcrowding has reached virtually intolerable proportions in many sections of the city. Kolkata experienced a high rate of population growth for more than a century, and events such as the partitioning of Bengal in 1947 and warfare in Bangladesh in the early 1970s precipitated massive population influxes. Large refugee colonies also have sprung up in the northern and southern suburbs. In addition, a great number of migrants from other states—mostly from neighbouring Bihar and Orissa and eastern Uttar Pradesh—have come to Kolkata in search of employment.
Kolkata’s Food Culture
Like every other place, Kolkata too serves food with a slice of history, a pinch of tradition and a garnish of culture. No city is complete without its food and there’s no food without a background. Like every other place, Kolkata too serves food with a slice of history, a pinch of tradition and a garnish of culture. Though, being a Gangetic plain, Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal has primarily been a fish-eating city, it has managed to evolve over centuries while being an integral part of the colonial past and a melting pot of traditions. We list down for you, 5 cuisines that forms Kolkata’s food culture.
Taking a cue from its colonial past, Kolkata has some restaurants serving the best of Continental food for decades now. Even the leisure clubs in the city have mastered the art of serving amazing and not-so-spicy victuals enjoyed in European countries. There is no match for the Irish Chateaubriand Beef Steak, Devilled Crabs, Fish Orly or the Chicken Al-Kiev which are among the must have list of the restaurant goers as well as foreigners visiting the city.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh exiled to Kolkata in mid-1800 and also brought along his cooks with him. Centuries later, Kolkata still enjoys the royalty of Awadh in the form of Biryani and Kebabs. There is no dearth of restaurants serving this cuisine and people from different walks of life savour the taste of this royal cuisine. Also not to forget are the mouth-melting kebab which includes name like Kakori, Galawati and Shammi Kebabs to name a few. The oldest venerated restaurant in the city serving Biryani dates back to 1905.
Lastly, but definitely by no means the least, Kolkata’s food culture is incomplete without Bengali food. The simplicity of flavours, subtle aroma and the lightness of food is hard to find in any other cuisine. Despite having Bengali food at home, there is not stopping for the food lovers to head to their favourite Bengali restaurant and enjoy the maach and mishti. And not to forget some delicious vegetarian dishes that are not much talked about but definitely leave you wanting more.
Bengali traditional food, especially the yummy mouthwatering sweets are popular all over India. Bengal boasts off its cottage cheese based sweets like sandesh, rosogolla and chanar payesh. Other must try delicacies consist of Misti doi (sweetened curd) and Patali gur confectionery (date palm jaggery). When it comes to Calcutta cuisine, it can be said that each district of Bengal has its own unique dish to offer like Langcha and mihidana-sitabhog of Bardhaman, sharbhaja of Krishnanagar, chanabora of Murshidabad etc. Calcutta will never disappoint food lovers. In Bengal, Chinese cuisine is in demand. North Indian and south Indian food can be found virtually in any restaurant. Other cuisines that Bengalis are fond of include Continental, Thai, Tibetian and Anglo-Indian. If you wish to savor the taste of these cuisines, you can visit some eating-houses in and around Chowringhee and Park Street. When it comes to the cooking specialty of Calcutta, Kathi rolls (kebabs wrapped in dough) truly deserve a special mention. Rice and fish are traditional favorite foods, fish and rice make a Bengali. Bengal’s vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes preparations, a favorite among Bengalis. Bengalis make distinctive from milk products, including, Chômchôm, Kalojam, rasgolla and several kinds of are specialties of winter season. Sweets like coconut-naru, til-naru, moa, payees, etc. are prepared during the festival of Lakshmi puja. Popular (rice soaked overnight in water) with onion & green chili is a traditional dish consumed in rural areas.
Common spices found in a Bengali kitchen are, etc. People of erstwhile use a lot of ajmoda, coriander leaves, tamarind, coconut and mustard in their cooking; while those aboriginal from West Bengal use a lot of sugar, gram masala and red chili powder. Vegetarian dishes are mostly without onion and garlic. The style of food preparation in West Bengal is different from other parts of the country. Bengalis are famous for various preparations of fresh water fishes. The cuisines are rich in specialized spices and flavors giving unique tastes. The Bengali meals include fish curryprepared with spices and chilies. Snacks include Singada, Beguni, Piazi, Muri and Pudi. The major attractions of the city are Jhal Muri, Rasagolla, Sandesh and Misti Doi.The Christian influence came to Bengal a few hundred years after its arrival on the Western borders of India. While the religion propagated in the populace, the region remained isolated from the political and religious centres of Christian India. This meant that people retained many of their local customs and especially food habits. Though the Dutch and the French also had colonies in West Bengal, they have had little impact on Bengal’s culinary habits. That came from the British, and other Western immigrants such as the Baghdadi Jews who set up Kolkata’s famous Jewish Bakeries. West Bengal’s flourishing community of Anglo-Indians formed a once-influential cuisine, but it is now dying along with the reduction in numbers of their communities. The key culinary influence of the Christian community was the ritual of tea (introduced by the British and now central to Bengali identity), and in Bengal’s snack food traditions. Baking, which was pretty much unknown till the British came along, became widespread. The popularity of baked confectioneries was a direct result of the British popularising the celebration of Christmas. The Jewish community, though always tiny in numbers, picked up the trend and made it hugely popular to the masses – now every railway station in West Bengal serves puff pastries to go with tea to millions of commuters across the state. Chops and cutlets, once British in origin but now firmly Bengali, are served every day in every little shack. The pound cake is a treat every kid has grown up stealing. Kolkata’s big Jewish bakeries are dead or dying, but their influence is everywhere.
Kolkata came into prominence in Western eyes as the original capital of . The city quickly became one of the largest and richest in the world, completely overshadowing Dhaka. After partition, Kolkata continued to wield an outsize influence in the cultural and food habits of West Bengal. Its offices, ports and bazaars attracted many communities from the rest of India, most notably the Marwari community, millions of whom have made the city their home for three generations. Their influence has been, in particular, in the sweet shops (e.g. Ganguram’s)and street foods of Kolkata and West Bengal; many famous sweet shops in the state have Marwari origins.
Traditional Dishes From Kolkata You Need to Try
With lush vegetables, flavorful seafood, hearty meat dishes and plenty of wholesome desserts, traditional Bengali cuisine is uniquely rich with something to offer everyone. A big part of experiencing Kolkata involves indulging in its rich local cuisine. To make sure you don’t miss out on what the city’s kitchens have to offer you, we’ve compiled this list of ten local dishes you should try while in Kolkata.
Fish is an integral component of Bengali cooking. Fried or curried and usually paired with rice, it makes for a delicious meal that seafood lovers should make sure not to miss out on while in Kolkata. Macher jhol is a traditional, spicy curry, which besides fish also includes potatoes and tomatoes. It is usually seasoned with turmeric, garlic, onions, and grated ginger.
This Bengali dessert consisting of fermented sweet yogurt is one of the area’s most famous culinary exports. While you can purchase packaged mishti doi in grocery stores across the country today, you should buy it fresh from one of Kolkata’s legendary sweet shops at least once.
This hearty mutton curry is yet another dish that originated in Bengal but which is now popular worldwide. The spicy curry is prepared with mutton, a range of vegetables (usually including tomatoes and onions) and a variety of spices.
Featuring potatoes cooked in a thick tomato gravy, this lip-smacking curry is considered Bengali-style comfort food. The dish is usually paired with a flatbread such as chapati or puri.
This deep-fried flatbread is probably Kolkata’s favorite carb treat. Made from maida flour—refined and bleached wheat flour—luchis are usually fried in oil or ghee until they’re crisp. Pair them with alur torkari or any other rich curry for a truly comforting Bengali snack.
Perhaps the most known among Kolkata’s sweet dishes, Bengali rasgullas consist of balls of cottage cheese and semolina dough dipped in a sugary syrup. While most people in the subcontinent tend to associate rasgullas with Bengali cuisine, the state of Odisha claims to be the birthplace of this popular dish. Regardless, no culinary tour of Kolkata is complete without gulping down a couple of rasgullas!
Kolkata Street Food: Lip-smacking Places For Street Food In Kolkata
The Cultural Capital of India is a heaven for foodies and especially for people with a sweet tooth. Bengali sweets are famous and certainly needs no introduction however; the spicy, tangy and absolutely mouth-watering dishes that Kolkata has to offer will leave you undecided on whether you like the spicy Bengali cuisine more or the melting flavors of the sweetmeats. Add to that the traditional Chinese and Tibetan food that are found here and you’re spoilt for choices.
Here’s a list of Kolkata Street Food that one has to enjoy when in Kolkata:
If there’s some place in Calcutta where each and every phuchkawallah makes a phuchka to die for, it is this. Among other Kolkata street food, the papri chat, dum aloo phuchkas and dahi phuchkas here are to die for! On a good day, you might be able to spot a Tollywood celebrity or two lined up for these tangy mouthfuls of heaven. Maharaja Chaat Centre, Southern Avenue is your go-to place here. Churmur, a cousin of the phuchka family is another delicacy too hard to resist. Combined with tangy masalas, tetul gola (tamarind pulp), mashed potato and broken papris, churmur is simply heavenly. Bhawanipore is another must-visit place for good, nay, GREAT phuchkas and street food.
2. Kathi Rolls
Did you know the now famous ‘Kathi Rolls’ were first invented in Kolkata? This shop called Zaika owns the credit to the delicious stuffing wrapped in thin roti that is now found in every city. Though there have been variations and twists as it found its way across cities, the original and authentic Kathi Rolls can still be found at Zaika. For more lip smackin’ rolls, try Nizam’s and Badshah in New Market and Kusum’s and Hot Kathi Roll in Park Street!
3. Anadi Cabin, Jawaharlal Nehru Road
Rotis stuffed with generous amounts of Chicken Kheema or broken cutlets, onions and eggs, this is the speciality of Anadi Cabin – Mughlai Parathas. Though you’ll find versions of the same in other places in Kolkata but Anadi Cabin serves some of the best and also cheaper Moghlai Parathas. These paranthas add a totally different flavour to the Kolkata street food cuisine!
4. China Town, Tiretti Bazaar
Make your way to the Chinese Bazaar. It’s best to come early in the morning before everything is sold out. Momos, dimsums, strings of Chinese sausage, fishball noodle soup, pao and various other delectable treats are hawked by vendors to make your breakfast experience memorable. While you’re at it, stop by the shop selling Chinese goodies and wares and learn about the history of the community’s influence on the city.
5. Tiwari Brothers, Burrabazaar
If you prefer tea over coffee, then head to the Tiwari Brothers for some ‘special chai’ and hot piping samosas only they are Singaras here. Nonetheless, it’s a fitting combo for the evening and tastes just as delicious.
6. Rabindra Sadan Metro Exit
The Tibetan cuisine has always been a favorite in Kolkata, and Rabindra Sadan Metro Exit is one of the best places to have these amazing dumplings. Momos here are served with a piping hot soup and the perfect sauce for accompaniments – the very definition of comfort food! A line of little establishments dot this area and they are always flocked by students and office goers in large numbers. The momos here are breathtaking, and the low prices will leave you amazed and craving for more!
7. Balaram Mullick & Radharam Mullick, Bhawanipore
The dripping Roshogolla, thick Misti Doi, innumerable varieties of Sandesh, mouthfuls of Rasmalai, unmatched Rajbhog and the sweet Payesh; it is impossible to come to and not head for a sweetshop. Though these sweetmeats are found practically everywhere in Kolkata, Balaram Mullick and Radharam Mullick are nothing short of a brand when it comes to sweets in Kolkata. You’ve not Kolkata Street Food until you’ve visited this amazing sweet shop. The fusion sweets, along with the traditional crowd favorites are ones to die for. Besides this, KC Das, Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy are worship places for Mishti when it comes to Kolkata!
8. Fruit Kulfi, Camac Street
Did you really think Kulfis come in a regular shape, taste and size? Then you surely haven’t visited Camac Street’s most amazing Kulfiwallah! This person, who is found on Camac Street, somewhere between Pantaloons and St. Xavier’s, has the most low key establishment and he keeps a box of dry ice near his basket of yum to stuff his delectable kulfis in. The close proximity to a lot of colleges ensures a steady flow of yummy street food at all times. We pick the Mango, Sitaphal and the Cheeku kulfi to be our favorites.
Top Bengali Restaurants in Kolkata
6 Ballygunge Place
6 Ballygunge Place was founded in 2003 to fill the gap in the market for standalone Bengali specialty restaurants in Kolkata. The original one is located in a white, century-old and character-filled converted bungalow in upmarket Ballygunge. Its dishes were developed from scouring renowned cookbooks, including those containing traditional recipes from Rabindranath Tagore’s family.
Address: 6 Ballygunge Place, Ballygunge, Kolkata. Also at DD 31 A, Sector 1, Salt Lake, Kolkata.
What’s Good: Pabda Macher Jhal (spicy fish curry, prepared with mustard paste and poppy seeds.)
Cost: A meal for two at this mid-range restaurant will cost around 1,000-1,200 rupees. For a real feast, go for the sumptuous lunch and dinner buffets.
This relatively new and memorable Bengali cuisine restaurant is named after a hit 1961 Bengali romantic drama starring Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar. Its decor, featuring movies stills and old portraits of the stars, reflects the theme. Soft romantic music from Bengali cinema plays in the background as well. The restaurant was founded by two chefs (Ranjan Biswas and Swarup Mondal) who have 10 years experience working in luxury hotels. Their menu combines traditional and innovative fusion dishes.
Address: 49B Purna Das Road, Hindustan Park, near Gariahat, Kolkata. Also at G 40A Bagha Jatin, near Ganguli Bagan Post Office, Jadavpur, Kolkata. Phone: (cell) 9831611210 / 9007912433.
What’s Good: Signature dishes that are liked by Uttam Kumar, including Kacha Lanka Mangsho (mutton in coriander gravy).:
Cost: 1,000 rupees for two people.
If you’ve got money to splurge on eating out, you won’t be disappointed with Oh! Calcutta. This award winning, fine dining restaurant can now be found in major cities across India. It aims to recreate dishes from traditional old style Bengali recipes, selected through painstaking research. The environment is elegant, and there’s a private dining area as well.
Address: Forum Mall, 10/3 Elgin Road, Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani, Kolkata. Phone: (33)2283-7161.
What’s Good: You can’t go wrong with the seafood. The Bhapa Hilsa (steamed Hilsa fish) and Smoked Bhetki (smoked Bhekti fish) are legendary.
Cost: About 2,000 rupees for two people.
Aaheli at The Peerless Inn
The elegant and iconic fine dining Aaheli has been serving authentic Bengali cuisine for decades, and is popular with both locals and foreign visitors. It offers a wide variety of dishes from all over Bengal, with a focus on bringing back exclusive lost “Zamindari cuisine”, the food of aristocratic landowners. Live Bengali music and waiters clad in traditional attire enhance the ambiance. Do note that alcohol is not served in the restaurant (although it is available elsewhere in the hotel).
Address: The Peerless Inn Hotel, 12 Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Esplanade, Kolkata.
Phone: (cell) 9903034456.
What’s Good: Chingri Malaikari (prawns in coconut milk curry) and Rui Macher Patishapta (fish crepes).
Cost: A meal for two will cost around 2,000 rupees.
The Bhoj Company
Also in the New Market area and serving primarily Dhakai Bangladeshi cuisine, The Bhoj Company opened in 2012. It’s a small restaurant that’s developed a loyal local following. The food is affordable, super authentic and servings are generous. Service could be better though.
Address: 30A Free School Street, New Market Area, Mirza Ghalib Street, Kolkata.
What’s Good: Kochu Pata Diye Ilish Bhapa, Bhetki Paturi, and Chingri Machher Malai Curry.
Cost: Expect to pay around 400 rupees for two.
Kolkata. The name itself beams culture of a different kind, which this city so proudly enthralls. It has an irresistible magic no other Indian city can compete with and when it comes to food, the magic only amplifies to another level! From snacks to sweet dishes, the list of delicacies is never-ending and they have never failed to impress anyone. We know you’re drooling already! So, plan a trip to this vibrant eastern state and grab a bite of the best street food in Kolkata.