Monday, March 4, 2024



What do you do when you reach a city you want to see but don't know where to start? There are different ways to enjoy a city that is new to you. One way is to trust someone who knows the city well and can show you sights and places you may not otherwise come across. Being foodies, my husband Prem and I took this approach during our recent stay at Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. We signed on for a tour called," Bengali Nights Kolkata Food Tour" conducted by Avik. 

For the uninitiated, in a tastings tour such as this , the guide explains to you important and interesting aspects of the places you visit and the food you are served as part of the package. We found Avik, our guide, to be an engaging personality. We enjoyed his company as also that of two others who were on that tour with us. There was a connect between us as they were also linked to Bengaluru - where we come from- in some ways.

The rendezvous for the tour was the entrance to the Metro in Esplanade. We took a Uber there from our hotel. Shortly after we got there- well in time to be on the safe side- Avik came and soon after the two other ladies arrived.

A large part of the fun in this tour is that we used different types of transport peculiar to the old city of Kolkata. Since it was an evening/night tour, we couldn't use the ubiquitous tram. This was a big disappointment for me as I have never travelled in one. We were told the number of trams in use in Kolkata have fallen sharply over the years. We started our tour by using the Metro. Locals say with pride that the Metro service in Kolkata was the first to be started in India. It commenced operations in 1984. 

Our first stop on hopping off the Metro was to have an orange- milk shake -served from a stall on the street pavement. We hadn't tried this combination of Orange and Lassi before - so it tasted new and different for us. 

Our trip also had a ride on the Kolkata bus and we were thrilled to see the statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The bus we got was not crowded - which came as a pleasant surprise to us- and it rattled on with the conductor holding on to the notes collected in the form of a fan  and issuing old world tickets which we hadn't seen for years. 

We also travelled. by the quaint rickshaw pulled by a person. We were rather hesitant at first to use this antiquated mode of transport. Avik convinced us that this was a means of livelihood for the rickshaw pullers and our being squeamish would actually deprive them of much needed income. It was an experience we had never had before. 

In our next stop we had the famous phuchkas of Kolkata. These would be called Golgappas in Delhi and Pani Puri in Mumbai.  

There were many sights which were totally new to us. For example, our tour took us through unbelievably narrow streets. 

We had more snacks at Lakshminarayana Shaw , an old joint - established in 1918- where many celebrities have dropped in over the decades. Interestingly it is still called "Netaji's Shop" in local parlance as the legendary Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose used to drop in for their famous fritters and other snacks as a college student! This evening decades later, we tasted their onion and chilly fritters which were so yummy! 

Another stop was at Bhojohori Manna for dinner. 

Here we had a Bengali style meal- starting with puris which are called Luchis here and a sweetish yet very tasty Bengali dal with fritters as an accompaniment. I remembered an interesting article by Priyadarshini Chatterjee on how the Luchi is perfect with any meal and any occasion in Bengali homes. 

 The next course was - what else in Kolkata- but fish. While our tour companions had squid, Prem had  Bhetki fish with hot steamed rice which he wolfed down before I could take a picture. The dinner also featured a Bengali dish in which the fish was cooked in a banana leaf. The meal was washed down by a welcome drink of Coke.  

We continued on our walk with Avik pointing out interesting sights and regaling us with stories relating to them. Our next port of call was Food Square where we quenched our thirst with a Pan Sharbat that had   the unmistakable taste of betel leaf- paan.  It was cold and refreshing. 

No meal in India- least of all in West Bengal- is complete without a sweet. For those of us with a sweet tooth, Kolkata has to be the best place given its innumerable sweet shops that dish out sweets from the morning! Our sweet shop turned out to be Putiram, where we were plied with one sweet after another until we could have no more!! 

We had the standard Sandesh which was delicious.

My friend - Ganga - a long time resident of Kolkata had recommended that we must try the Gud Rosogolla. This was totally new to us. We had of course had Rosogollas over the years but had never even heard of a Gud Rosagolla. Apparently this is not available all through the year. We got lucky because Putirams had just made a batch of them and we loved this. You must have guessed by now that Gud Rosogolla is made of jaggery or gud- hence its special colouring. 

It was past 9.00 pm by now and our enjoyable tour was coming to an end. We may have spent more time chatting about the highlights but it began to rain. We had to scamper into a cab  to get us back to our hotel.

Thanks, Avik, for a memorable experience. We weren't sure what we were in for when we decided upon this tour but it was a lot of fun! We would most heartily recommend Avik's tour if you wish to explore the relatively unexplored parts of Kolkata and sample some Bengali cuisine on the way. 

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