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Food odyssey Kolkata to Delhi

Be it Old Delhi or Kolkata, a foodie's nose will hunt down the best and identify separate tastes to one's heart's and belly's content. Here's a few places to look out for in the two cities.

Whether it's the beautiful Victoria Memorial, the majestic Howrah Bridge or the sun-kissed Maidan grounds, all of them are an integral part of the rich heritage that symbolises Calcutta – a city whose every street and corner has some food anecdote to relate. The people in this city are known for their love of good food and as a result, a number of eateries in the city have become a part of the city's heritage. Calcutta offers an awesome culinary experience, with a refreshingly unique and delicious approach to food. Calcutta, also one of the most inexpensive places to eat in India, is a culinary melting pot like no other.

Start off with a cup of sweet, milky chai, brewed to perfection with a dash of ginger and served in numerous tea stalls round the city, in small clay cups. For breakfast, you can visit Flurys, your first stop on this wonderful food journey. Without a visit to this legendary eatery, in a heritage building ravaged by fire in the recent past, your culinary journey in Kolkata would be incomplete. It's a British institution in the city and evokes fond memories. You can gorge on beans on toast or its delicious club sandwiches. The best bet, however, is the Flury's all-day breakfast, which consists of two rashers of crispy bacon, two grilled sausages, one fried egg, one grilled tomato & one hash brown, with two slices of toast & butter, with choice of juice, tea or coffee. If you go to Flury's at teatime, then their rum balls is a must.
For lunch there's no place like Aheli at Peerless Inn hotel, where the food, ambience and dress code of the servers is totally Bengali. Order the "Zamindari Thali", served on copper dishes, like the food enjoyed by old, aristocratic Bengali families, consisting of numerous items.
Another awesome place is 6, Ballygunge Place. Bengali cuisine is not only about mustard oil & hilsa fish, and the USP here is home cooked food, served in a traditional manner. Go for the begun bhaja, narkel diye chana dal, fish fry and steamed rice. Another quaint home-style Bengali bistro is Kewpie's, where you can get a variety of Hilsa fish delicacies like Smoked Hilsa, Elish Paturi, Elish Bhape, Doi Elish, to mention just a few, served on clay utensils. You can also feast on their Mangshor jhol, (mutton), Maach (Fish), Kewpie's Amish (non-vegetarian) and Mithu's Niramish (vegetarian) thalis. To round off the meal choose a yummy dessert – Aam Kheer, Payesh, Patishapta, Malpoa, Doi, Sandesh. A Calcutta food tour will be incomplete without it's street food. Dacre Street, also known as Decker's Lane, has everything you would want to try. From Punjabi to Chinese and the trade mark Bengali dishes, you'll find it all here. What's more, the WHO has rated it one of the Best Street Food areas in the World! Russel street has also become an icon for it's signature phuchkas, bhelpuri, churmur, and other chatpatta flavours like aloo dum are elevated to high cuisine under the Kolkata ki chaat umbrella. Southern Avenue too has phuchka wallas lined up at the Vivekananda park boundary wall. Unlike the north, where Mitra Cafe reigns supreme, bread with aloo dum is quite popular in south Calcutta, and you can't miss the kabiraji cutlet at Regent and Moghlai Paratha at Anadi Cabin on SN Bannerjee road near Dharamtala. Interestingly, this cutlet is purely British in origin and was taught to a Bengali chef by the sahibs. They were called coverage cutlets because of its egg coating. Since the locals could not pronounce it, they called it Kabiraji. Another highlight are the Mutton Kathi Rolls, Biryani, Rezala or chicken chaap with roomali roti served at such gems as Arsalan, Royal, Aminia, Nizam's and other famous joints serving Mughlai and Hyderabadi cuisine in Kolkata.
You also can't afford to miss China town if we are talking about Chinese food. Located in Tangra in the eastern part of the city, this was once a thriving nerve centre of all Chinese activity in the country. However, owing to migration and other factors the population has thinned. Tangra is the place to go to appease those Chinese nosh longings as you hustle for space in the tiny eateries where the famed American chopsuey is rumoured to have been conceived! For authentic fare go to Beijing, that till now proudly wears the tag of Calcutta's best Chinese restaurant. Real Chinese food is hardly available early in the morning in Kolkata. That is unless you go to Terreti Bazar, a fascinating street that's Chinese yet Indian at the same time. Enter Sen Yat Sen Street here and you'll find vendors selling all sorts of a mostly Chinese-influenced selection of Kolkata street food. This was the original Chinatown in Kolkata before the Chinese shifted to Tangra. Fairlie Place is the central business district of Calcutta and you can see people in formal attire pacing the street either on the phone or with a newspaper in hand. The street is filled with a string of stalls selling everything from chats to full meals. However, the most famous dish here is the Luchi-Alu Dom. Luchi is similar to puris while Alu Dom is the Bengali rendition of Dum Aloo, and Fairlie Place makes the best. The Stock Exchange road is a great place to find Chilla, Dal Pakori and Dahi Chaat. For desserts, again head for the street sweets served in Dalhousie or on strand road, where you find everything from malpua, garam jeeleepi and pantua. It's usually a struggle to choose between the chana pora, rabri, kulfi or jolbhora sandesh. Which reminds me of Calcutta's famous telebhaja or deep fried snacks – shingara (samosa), beguni, alu chop, Hinger kochuri served with a delicious potato curry and mochar chop (banana flower fritters).
Kolkata Street Food hopping isn't complete without a visit to New market, a heritage area frequented by the British. Both the vegetarian and non vegetarian street food here is awesome, with a smattering of branded retail food joints. Another old timer which never fails to titillate is Moulin Rouge in Park Street, dating back to the 60s, when this street was the centre of a small but thriving pop, jazz & cabaret scene.
Calcutta is a haven for sweet lovers. Each sweet shop has it's speciality – KC Das for ' Rosogolla', Bancharam for 'Aabar Khabo', Radharam Mullick for Nalen gurer sandesh, Ganguram for radhabollobhi, Sen Mahasay for sitabhog and Chittaranjan for 'Rajbhog' and the famous Girish Chandra Dey for a variety of modern, flavoured sweets. And do try Kolkata's mishti paan.
Moving up the map towards Delhi, the tastes get richer with influences of the Mughal era and the numerous other invasions the capital has gone through. At an elaborate buffet in a upmarket hotel, I saw a huge spread of 500-odd items costing close to a Delhi-Bangalore air ticket. This is in a city dotted with bhojanalayas, which serve unlimited veg meals for less than fifty rupees. The food is much tastier than anything you get in a tony hotel. One neat place called Adarsh Bhojanalaya in Haveli Haider Quli near Fatehpuri in Chandni Chowk area might give you all the flavours you dream of in one shot. Take a chair and order a thali with a katori of desi ghee. The ghee is heated and tempered with jeera. And you pour this over your dal and sabzi, which makes the food so tasty that you are tempted to sprinkle it over your raita and kheer too but don't! Different kinds of rotis – plain, missi or paranthas – are available. Delhi is also the chaat capital of the country and remains on the highest rung of chaatdom, in the chaat hierarchy from Benaras to Haridwar. The real chaats of Delhi are found in the old walled city (not the Bengali market joints). Here you get chaats made out of spicy whole potatoes in a light peppery gravy and chaats made of mashed samosas in a green and white, tart chutney and of course the usual chaat, consisting of paapris, dahi vade and pakoris with boiled chholey. Among the best chaat counters in Delhi is Lal babu Chaat Bhandar and the 70-year-old Ashok Chaat Bhandar in Hauz Qazi Chowk at the head of Chowri Bazaar. There's also the usual chaat with soft dahi vadas or the dahi pakoris (baby dahi vadas), and then there's the kalmi vada chaat – crisp, flat and thick paapris made out of ground lentils. Plan an exclusive chaat day in Delhi on the next trip, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Once the tongue is nicely set ablaze, you can saunter down to Mianji's kheer shop, which is 200 metres down the Lal Kuan road from the Hauz Qazi Chowk. Tart and sweet – that's what a gastronomical journey is all about. Another major attraction is the Doodh Jalebi, near Kashmiri Gate Once you have crossed that, you will find the doodh jalebi stall just a few shops down the same side of the road. The doodh jalebi factory here prepares each plate with a lot of care. Other gastronomic delights not to be missed in Old Delhi are stuffed paranthas in paranthewali gali, Moti Mahal's butter chicken, Kulfi at Sitaram bazaar, biryani at Karim's, and paans at Prince's Paan.
Whether in old Delhi or Kolkata, a foodie's nose will hunt down the best and the taste will always separate them from the rest. So Enjoy!

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