Mini Punjab in the heart of Calcutta

Mini Punjab in the heart of Calcutta

Bengal and Punjab have a long shared history and intertwined destiny. One small thread of this beautiful bond has not been spoken about much - the innate love for food.

Having been married to a true blue Punjabi and settled in Kolkata, I have often heard from my husband, "This is not authentic Punjabi Dhaba food". He would often repeat this in the famous eateries and even the fine dining restaurants of the city of joy. But recently, he found a place that according to him, serves authentic Punjabi cuisine. The place that recreated nostalgia for him is 'The Ballygunge Dhaba' - a quaint old spot, running since 1938. Without any garish paints or the stereotypical Punjabi decoration, this simple-looking family-run Dhaba on the Ballygunge Phari serves very authentic food, he opined. To verify his tall claims, I ordered from this place and within half an hour, a packet full of food and intoxicating aroma arrived home. The breads and dry items were wrapped in aluminum foil whilst the gravies were in white plastic containers.


Chicken Lasooni Kebab (Rs 265 per plate), Chicken Tikka Butter Masala (Rs 310 per plate), Mutton Rogan Josh (Rs 280 per plate), Cream Peas Masala (Rs 150 per plate), Dal Makhani (Rs 150 per plate), Tandoori Roti (Rs 18 per piece), Butter Naan (Rs 60 per piece), Masala Kulcha (Rs 75 per piece).


The food was hot and I was quite impressed with the quantity. Some dishes seemed a little oily, but then that is common in Dhaba food. Off the bat, what I particularly liked at the first glance was that the Roti was still soft and hot. A cold Roti loses its flavour and texture, so this was a sure plus point.


The Dhaba had both North Indian and Chinese dishes on its menu, but we stuck to the former. For starters, I ordered the Chicken Lasooni Kebab. Gladly, there were 6 good-sized pieces of chicken enveloped seemingly in a thick curd-based paste of ginger, garlic and other spices, grilled to perfection. However, the flip side was that the other spices had overpowered the flavour of garlic and it was not 'lasooni' enough for a kebab.

The Chicken Tikka Butter Masala had bite-sized succulent chicken pieces in a tomato-based spicy and tangy thick gravy laden with butter. Though it tasted good, the chicken pieces had not been chargrilled before being cooked in the gravy. Hence, the dish was not really authentic.

Hailing from Kashmir, I was mighty excited to see Mutton Rogan Josh on the menu. The base of the Rogan josh curry was fried tomato and onion ground to a paste and then cooked with the fried mutton pieces with a lot of oil and spices and a dash of rose water. The mutton dish tasted divine and had good 4 pieces in one plate. But it's not the way Kashmiri Pandits make it. Neither tomato nor rose water is traditionally used in the dish.

Being a hard-core non-vegetarian, I rarely find the vegetarian part of a meal highly impressive but the Cream Peas Masala was unexpectedly yummy with the sweetness of cream and undertones of spiciness. The peas used were frozen and sweet. The star of the order was good old Dal Makhani. It was the way it should be - creamy, thick, and spicy. The Dal was authentic and is much recommended. Make sure you consume it fresh.

As for the bread basket, all the breads were well-cooked. The best thing about Tandoori Roti was that it was made of atta (whole wheat flour) and not maida, making it a healthier and more rustic authentic Punjabi option. The Butter Naan was garnished with a generous amount of caraway seeds and butter. The Masala Kulcha was stuffed with mashed potatoes, crushed coriander leaves and a lot of chilli powder. The size of the breads was rather big and one bread was sufficient for a person. I did not order any dessert.


I loved that all gravies had a unique flavour and the food was fresh. Many times, various dishes have the same gravy base which is quite annoying but luckily, this wasn't the case with this order. The Cream Peas Masala, Dal Makhani and Tandoori Rotis were out of the world but I didn't like Lasooni Tikka and Chicken Tikka Butter Masala for the reasons mentioned above.


Overall, my experience was good. The North Indian fare was a bit Mughlai-inspired rather than truly authentic Punjabi or Kashmiri cooking. They even serve Biryani, Rolls and Chinese and have two dessert options (Kesar Kulfi and Kaju Firni). And lastly, whenever you have a craving for authentic, Dhaba-style Dal Makhani and Tandoori Roti, this is your go-to place.

(The columnist is a food connoisseur who loves experimenting with culinary delights and a career bureaucrat in the IRS Income Tax)

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