February 2008


On the fourth floor of The Forum shopping mall…

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…is Oh Calcutta!, a restaurant I dined at on three occasions.  It’s a high-end joint, with a comfortable atmosphere and great service.  They play hideous muzak from hell, but the food more than makes up for it.  I thought it was one of the best places I got to try on my trip.

These little morsels were outstanding, I thought:

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Steamed in banana leaves, the first is a delicate fish forcemeat and the second a sweet mouthful of onions and fresh chhena, a sort of moist paneer.  This begs for comparison with amuses-bouche and would be both familiar and prized in an American restaurant.  Everyone (all Americans) at the table relished these.

They were preceded by:

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Some puffed, mildly spiced lotus seeds.  The rest of the table liked these more than I did (a lot), somehow they always taste a little old to me.  The cocktail was terrific.  It’s green roasted mango pulp with vodka and a sulfurous pinch of black salt, just delicious.

This is sort of a silly picture to include, but why not?  A condiment convention that seemed unique to Kolkata, the chilli on a toothpick:

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I suffered from bravado one evening with these at the Taj Bengal and had to order through a waterfall of tears.

Here’s a plate of Oh Calcutta!’s terrific white luchis, a cousin to the more familiar puri:

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While I was in Kolkata, OC! was promoting a chilli festival.  Here are a few dishes from that menu:

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On the plate, a silky bit of chicken, some pulao, a dish of squash and poppy seeds and kosha mangsho, a relatively dry-cooked dish of mutton.  I enjoyed the kosha mangsho here so much I ordered it again, on a second visit.

An order of sauteed chhena with green chillis, a simple dish of balanced, nuanced flavors:

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I loved it.

On my second visit, I started with a small plate of spicy chicken:

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I gobbled up almost this entire plate of freshwater crab:

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Then I ordered this fish jhol, a thinnish curry.

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I was stuffed, but I ate on.  Here it is on the plate:

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For dessert, a malpua, flecked with a bit of fennel seed. 

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And a couple dishes from my last visit…Oh Calcutta’s lovely mochar chop (banana flower fritter.)  The filling was delicately spiced with a kind of garam masala, I think.

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And this is their lovely prawn cutlet, finished in a lacy egg batter:

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When will I get to eat here again?  Soon, I hope.

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Gautam was often making great suggestions of neat stuff for me to buy, taste and play around with.  Here’s some more odds and ends I found, most of it with his guidance.

In Bangalore, I posted a snapshot of the sour-salty-sweet-hot treats called churan.  On the left is another, looks like a bottle of pills but they’re actually snacks.  This was tamarind flavor, available even in farflung Portland.  Also, lemon drops.  I wonder what the fore-runners of these treats might have been, if any…

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And this is a variety of parsley unique to the area, called Kolkata Parsley I believe. 

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I couldn’t resist these plump stuffed-chili pickles. 

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I got this snack mix, a chivda, at a namkeen shop, cool place offering all sort of fried treats. 

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I bought these flowers from a produce stall not knowing what they were.  Gautam eventually translated for me:  white egret flowers.  We fried them up into light pakoras, just a touch bitter.   You just have to remove the stamens first.

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I bought these, too, not knowing what they were:

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A friend of Sam’s eventually told us:  kokum.  This fruit is pretty common down South of Mumbai, used for its sourness to compliment fish.  I followed Sam’s friend’s simple recipe: peel and use the outer layer only, pop mustard seeds in oil, toss in some jaggery, melt, then lightly simmer the peels.  Made a very tasty chutney:

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Eaten with Bengali-style mashed potatoes, this was hybrid Thanksgiving food! 

Jefferson took this photo of banana stems at Jagu Babu bazaar.  I guess I’m including it just because it’s a great photo.

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Here’s a local lime, the gandharaj, fragrant as Thai limes, not very juicy.  I loved these.  I squeezed their juice on all sorts of food a Bengali probably wouldn’t:

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I went to Koley market in front of the busy Sealdah train station to buy fish.  I bought a bag of mourala, like whitebait:

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Fried ’em up crisp:

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At New Market I bought some mutton patties and a warm loaf of plain cake.

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Insided the puff pastry turnovers was simple, delicious minced mutton.  The plain cake came from a famous shop, Nahoum’s.

In the middle of town is a great sweet shop, Bhim Nag.  Next door, I bought these cauliflower-stuffed samosas.  I can’t help but wonder if these snacks didn’t know better days. 

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Another fruit I’d never eaten previously, the sada jamun.  Mildly sweet, somewhat plain.

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And lastly, a couple kachoris, stuffed savory pastry snacks:

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