The Pice Hotel trail: Tarun Niketan in South Kolkata

The concept of a Bengali ‘bhaater hotel’ was never unknown to me, considering I grew up in Kolkata of 90’s. These hotels were meant for people who lived without families or could not afford to bring their own ‘tiffin’ at workplaces. During those days, you would have been surely considered a lunatic if anybody thought about ‘Bengali food’ as an eating out/fine dining option. In fact, I remember distinct opinions like – “Poisha diye keu maach bhaat khetey jaay naki?” (Who goes and eats and fish rice by paying for it) when places like ‘Oh! Calcutta’ or ‘Bhojohori Manna’ first came up.

Lake Market locality – the typical Kolkata post card.

Fish and rice are Bengali staple food and the concept of a Bengali restaurant in Kolkata then sounded alien, at least for middle class Bengalis like me and my family. Then I left Kolkata for attending law school and my first job, got married, lived abroad and when I returned after a span of some good 7-8 years, I found that not only these Bengali joints were popular, but they had captured the fancy of my middle class Bengali parents also. The primary reason being easy availability of age old traditional recipes at these kitchens, which were increasingly difficult to source and prepare at our nuclear homes. We did not have the time or patience to spend an entire day in the kitchen to make that perfect ‘chitol maacher muithya’ at our homes, like our grandmothers did. Plus, the generation who could make it perfectly, were growing old. So the buffet at a fancy Bengali fine dining restaurant sounded the perfect saviour. BUT! and the biggest ‘but’ was and is that these places are quite expensive. The fine china and the air conditioning makes it comfortable but does not quite translate to the comfort of home cooked food where the ‘Noli’ of a simple ‘kochi pathar jhol’ (the Mutton piece with the bone marrow inside the goat meat bone tube served with simple  curry) could be enjoyed while nobody gave you glances. For the uninitiated, the ‘Nolir’ piece remains the most coveted one, and it takes some exercise including some indulgent hitting on the plate for the Noli to come out and melt in your mouth. Now imagine doing that at a fine dining restaurant.

A typical meal served at Tarun Niketan

My foodie heart wanted to taste some ‘chyachra’ (bengali vegetable mishmash often cooked with a fish head) or ‘borar torkari (lentil cakes cooked in a light curry), without some fancy fusion taste, just like we used to do at home, without burning a hole into my pocket. I was researching about Kolkata and the history Bengali food chains when I came across some blog posts by The Calcutta Girl and Indrajit Lahiri. This is when I re-discovered the ‘Pice hotels of Kolkata’ or ‘Bhaater hotel’. The concept behind some of these century old hotels was often to serve simple, authentice, homely meals to people coming to Kolkata/Calcutta when the city was a bustling commercial capital or the second city of the empire during the days of the British Raj. These hotels were cheap and were often attached with boarding houses or ‘mess baris’ where working middle class gentlemen used to live and eat. Now most of these ‘mess baris’ are gone, but the Pice hotels have remained – Pice being the cost of the meal (1 Pice being a former monetary unit of British India, equal to one quarter of an anna, as per Google Baba). I also found some useful information about them on some popular YouTube channels like KolkataTalkJhalMisti and Foodka. Apart from these, some of my favourite city bloggers and friends like Poorna Banerjee and Anirban Halder, threw in some great suggestions on Facebook.

Most of the information about Pice Hotels that I found where about hotels located in North and Central Kolkata, considering they are the older parts of the city. I must agree that it did hurt my ‘born and brought up in South Kolkata’ sentiments a bit. As a result, I decided to start off my Pice Hotel trail in Kolkata from the most famous South Kolkata Pice hotel – ‘Tarun Niketan’ located near the good old Lake Market.

How to get there?

The place is equally accessible from Gariahat or Rahsbehari, through public buses. It can also be reached by Metro, by getting down at Kalighat Metro station and walking towards Triangualr Park/Gariahat and the place will be on your right had side. The nearest landmark is Lake Mall and the distance is walkable and will fall on your left, if you are facing Rashbehari bus stop/Kalight metro. For getting there by Uber, put the location as “Tarun Niketan” with the address -88/1B Rashbehari Avenue, Kolkata 700 026, but be mindful, the area is quite crowded and you might just miss the board or the lane.

Entrance to Tarun Niketan
The narrow alley that leads upto the Pice Hotel.

Ambience/Vibe of the place

Tarun Niketan is a 103 year old Pice hotel which still serves food on Kolapata (Banana leaves). As with the rules of all pice hotels, everything from the leaf to the lemon slice served is charged. The walls, the marble top tables, rickety old chairs or the hand written rate chart/menu card with white chalk will give you an idea of the antiquity of the place. The long queue of people awaiting for their turns to sit on the table and have food will give you an idea of the popularity of the place. In fact, be prepared to share your table with strangers during rush hours and indulge in some chitchat (one Kolkata speciality), about the rising prices or state of the economy while having food. The place has some very regular customers, who eat here on daily basis and the waiters know their liking and what exactly needs to be served. Customer loyalty is unquestionable here. Not to forget, do not miss checking out the numerous newspaper and magazine cutouts which have been framed and now adorn the wall, which mention the history and speciality of the place.

Hand written rate chart
Walls adorned with newspaper cuttings

Most importantly, Food!

Once you enter the hotel and find a place for yourself, one person comes and puts on the banana leaf, the salt and the ‘gondhoraj’ lemon slice. Next, the person taking your order will rattle out whatever is available for the day. Reach early, as most of the day’s speaclities are over by 2’o clock in the afternoon. The menu also keeps on changing so, paying attention to the star waiter is necessary. We ordered- Bhaat (rice), Kolmi shaak bhaja (a kind of leafy greens/water spinach as starters), Daal (lentils), Chalkumro r pur bhaja (Stuffed Ash gourd fritters), Chingrir Bora (a fried preparation with Prawns), Paanchmishali Torkari (Vegetable mishmash), Bhetki Paturi (Bhetki fish preparation in a banana leaf), Bhetki maacher jhol (Bhetki fish curry) and Aamer chutney (Mango chutney).

The rice served at first go was quite a bit for our city bred ways and in case you need second helping you can ask for some more, for a nominal cost. I found all the food served, apart form the watery daal, to be amazingly good. I ate Kolmi shaak after long, and even though it could have been sliced a bit more finely, I found the taste to be just perfect. The Chingrir Bora, Chalkumror pur bhaja and Paanchmishali torkari were superb! But the fish preparations take the cake and the crown here. The Bhetki Paturi that I had was one of the best I have ever had in my life. The fish fillet was big enough, and the coating/paste was not at all rich with spices and oil – in fact, it was quite dry and had a beautiful sweet taste. The fish for the jhol was quite large in size and the jhol was very simply made with all the tastes of the spices retained. In fact, both me and my husband loved the food so much that we forgot to take decent photos of the food. That translates to actual ‘foodgasm’ in the era of Instagram. The ‘Aamer chutney’ was decent too.

The half eaten Paturi
Kolmi Shaak bhaja
The half eaten Chingrir Bora
Aamer Chutney

Also, all the food preparations cooked at Tarun Niketan are made without onion and garlic, apart from the Fish, Meat and Egg preparations. The place also does not serve Chicken eggs and the egg curry served is made with Duck eggs.

Guess, what the pocket pinch for this entire meal for 2 was? I asked some of my friends and they guessed it to be above 1000 going by a conservative estimate.

But the actual price for the meal was only INR 354/- Only!

Surprised, are you? so was I. But then again, Kolkata remains the city of surprises and it is quite plausible to find such amazing places serving such nice, simple food at such throwaway prices. The food quality is never compromised and if you can give away the comfort of AC fine dining restaurants for a day and  game for some interesting tit bits of history – these old Pice hotels, which are a part of Kolkata’s culinary history, will welcome you with open arms. So are you ready for your date with history and culinary simplicity of Bengal and Kolkata?

Hat Tip: A complete Bengali meal is finished off with some nice paan and you can walk till Lake Mall to have some nice Benarasi paan from ‘Benarasi Pan Shop’ situated at the right hand corner of the mall.

Khaike Paan Banaras wala!

 

Tarpan Vidhi Part-3 / তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ৩

This is the third and last part of the digitally restored notes from my maternal grandfather in law – Mr Dilip Kumar De’s (Dadu’s) diary about the “Tarpan Vidhi”. I had made a promise to myself and the few dedicated readers of my blog (on my blog’s Facebook page – The Big Bong Theory) that I will not let such a treasure that I had access to, by virtue of being Dadu’s eldest granddaughter in law.

This is actually my tribute to the man who epitomised brilliance, meticulous thinking and the charm of the now extinct, good old “Bangali Bhadralok”. Read till the end to know more about the remarkable man. As Devi Paksha approaches, I hope this is helpful for one and all. Shubho Mahlaya and a very Happy Durga Puja to all of you :).

Read the first part here and the second part here.

Typing down such difficult Bangla/Sanskrit on Avro Keyboard has been a tough job, but I will be happy if his work finds a global window and helps people. The digitalisation is not 100% perfect or correct. Apologies for any unintended errors. The remaining parts will be published soon.

তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব -৩

৯/ ভীষ্ম তর্পণ

ভীষ্ম তর্পণ নিত্য করিতে হয়না, কেবল ভীষ্মাষ্টমীর দিন কর্তব্য। পিতৃ তর্পণের পূর্বে ভীষ্ম তর্পণ করিতে হয়। পিতৃ তর্পণের মতনই একই দিকে, একই আসনে, পিতৃতীর্থে (কিন্তু বাম হাত দ্বারা ডান হাতের পেশী ধরিয়া) এক অঞ্জলি জল দিতে হইবে। মন্ত্র-

Continue reading “Tarpan Vidhi Part-3 / তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ৩”

Tarpan Vidhi Part-2 / তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ২

As promised on my blog’s Facebook page – The Big Bong Theory, this is the second part of the three parts of the digitally restored notes from my maternal grandfather in law – Mr Dilip Kumar De’s (Dadu’s) diary about the “Tarpan Vidhi”.

Read the first part here and the third part here.

Typing down such difficult Bangla/Sanskrit on Avro Keyboard has been a tough job, but I will be happy if his work finds a global window and helps people. The digitalisation is not 100% perfect or correct. Apologies for any unintended errors. The remaining parts will be published soon. Read till the end to know more about the remarkable man.

তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব -২

৫/ দিব্য পিতৃতর্পণ

দক্ষিণ দিকে ঘুরিয়া বসিতে হইবে। কোষাকুষি ও জলপূর্ণ পাত্র সামনে রাখিতে হইবে। জলপূর্ণ পাত্রে কৃষ্ণতিল ও তুলসী সর্বদা রাখিতে হইবে। জল ফেলিবার জন্য খালি পাত্রটি পাশে রাখিতে হইবে। একটি আলাদা পাত্রে তুলসীপাতা ও আর একটি পাত্রে কৃষ্ণতিল রাখিতে হইবে, যখন জলপূর্ণ পাত্রের তিল ও তুলসী কমিয়া যাইবে, তখন পুনরায় উহাতে মিশাইতে হইবে।

বাম হাঁটু মাটিতে পাতিয়া ও দক্ষিণ হাঁটু তুলিয়া বসিতে হইবে। পিতৃতীর্থ দ্বারা – অর্থাৎ, কোষাটি জলপূর্ণ করিয়া দক্ষিণ হস্তের তর্জনী ও অঙ্গুষ্ঠের মূল প্রদেশ দ্বারা ধারন করিয়া, এক এক অঞ্জলি জল নিম্নলিখিত প্রতিটি মন্ত্রের সঙ্গে খালি পাত্রে ফেলিতে হইবে। লক্ষ্য রাখিতে হইবে, প্রতিবার অঞ্জলি দেওয়ার সময় যেন জলপূর্ণ পাত্র হইতে কিছু তিল ও তুলসীপাতা কোষায় আসে।

Continue reading “Tarpan Vidhi Part-2 / তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ২”

Tarpan Vidhi Part-1 / তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ১

Recently, I stumbled upon a family heirloom tucked away in glory inside my mother in law’s belongings. My paternal grandfather in law, late Mr. Biman Behari Ray, had once asked my maternal grandfather in law, later Mr Dilip Kumar De (Dadu) to write down the details of “Tarpan Vidhi” – the ritual of offering water to ancestors on the occasion of Mahalaya, the beginning of Devipaksha, according to the Hindu calendar. Dadu had given him a handwritten diary with all the details mentioned with his usual precision. I do not know if such an admirable and erudite piece about our gradually forgotten traditions is available online or not. At least I have not come across one. So this Mahalaya, just as we begin to celebrate the spirit of Durga Puja, I, his eldest granddaughter in law, intend to pay a tribute to  a scholarly man in this very small way.

As promised on my blog’s Facebook page – “The Big Bong Theory“, this is the first of the three parts of the digitally restored notes from Dadu’s diary about the “Tarpan Vidhi”.  Typing down such difficult Bangla/Sanskrit on Avro Keyboard has been a tough job, but I will be happy if his work finds a global window and helps people. The digitalisation is not 100% perfect or correct. Apologies for any unintended errors. The remaining parts will be published soon. Read till the end to know more about the remarkable man.

Read the second part here and the third part here.

তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ১

১/ আবাহন

দক্ষিণে মুখ করিয়ে কম্বলাসনে বসিতে হইবে। সামনে কোষাকুষি থাকিবে, তার সামনে একটি খালি পাত্র, এবং ডান দিকে ১টি বা ২টি জলে ভর্তি পাত্র থাকিবে। দুইবার মন্তপাঠ সহ আচমন করিতে হইবে।

আচমন করিবার বিধি

কোষায় জল ও তুলসীপাতা থাকিবে; বাম হস্তে কুষি ধরিয়ে সামান্য জল ডান হাতের তালুতে লইতে হইবে, ও তাহা দ্বারা আচমন করিতে হইবে। আচমন করিয়া জল খালি পাত্রে ফেলিতে হইবে। আচমন করিবার সময় “নমোঃ বিষ্ণু, নমোঃ বিষ্ণু, নমোঃ বিষ্ণু” বলিতে হয়।

Continue reading “Tarpan Vidhi Part-1 / তর্পণ বিধি পর্ব – ১”

Refugee

“Basically, you are a Refugee!”

A huge round of thunderous laughter serenaded Shambo’s living room in Gurgaon.

It was the occasion of the house warming party for the new apartment that Shambo had managed to buy in one of those luxurious apartment blocks in this new city. The EMI will cut a deep hole inside his pocket, but the name plate on the door would more than make up for it.

Shambo’s mother still refers to Gurgaon as “Dilli”. Shambo had failed to explain that Gurgaon was more of an excuse in the name of a city. He went out one day to find a proper book store nearby his house, but had failed to find one. The look of disgust on his face was so palpable that the “autowallah” had to ask – “Kya hua bhaissab, sab thik to hain na?”

Yet, this place was his home now. He has managed to buy his own house here, with his own money. For every single thing that he hated Gurgaon for, he respected the place for giving him a job, an identity and the financial independence that his home town could never give him. Gurgaon valued his hardwork and tenacity.

“What happened, Refugee? Can we have some more beer please?”

Continue reading “Refugee”

Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16

There are days when I feel extremely bored and tired with this city that I have known since my birth. I want to get rid of that invisible umbilical chord which does not let me leave her and yet I cannot bear the sight of her any more – happens quite often nowadays.

But then there are days when she makes me fall in love, again…..and for a lifetime. Just like the unmatched euphoria of discovering the bling in the red from the first bloom of “Palash” across my balcony. I increasingly find it difficult to describe my relationship with Calcutta. She has almost taken the place of that unknown neighbourhood aunt whose turmeric soiled sari is often the most comforting factor in your life – that you have reached home at the fag end of the day and while the world around you might conspire to give you a tough time, you can sleep in peace for the night here.

Why I say this, is again a difficult story to explain. Last weekend was a super busy one for the city. The omniscient Bengali Panjika had wreaked havoc in the average Bengali’s life and the market prices soared with the thought of keeping the goddess of wisdom happy. The Bengali who always find a dilemma between keeping the two mother goddesses happy – Lakshmi and Saraswati and whom to prefer while making a career choice, was again trapped in that debate.

And then there was the Kolkata Literary Meet happening against the backdrop of the majestic Victoria Memorial. The Lit meet, in its essence- epitomised Calcutta. Unorganised yet extremely rejuvenating…sessions which only could happen here in this city which is known for its eccentricity.

So while me and my husband man rushed to attend a particular session at KaLam, 2015 while walking past the beautifully designed Mohor Kunjo (earlier known as Citizen’s Park), we caught a glimpse of the Bengali Valentines Day madness. And truth be told, I was super happy to see all those sweet 16’s clad in their first yellow (“Bansanti) coloured saris and their counterparts in the oddly worn dhoti.

Continue reading “Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16”

Murshidabad through my eyes…

Christmas holidays or “Borodiner chuti” is big in this part of the world. I belong to a city who wears her hat of colonial past with elan and pride and frankly speaking I do not see anything to be ashamed of there either. You cannot change history and if you want to, you belong to the same class of Taliban fellows who were trying to demolish Buddha statues in Bamian, Afghanistan, a few years back. They probably tried a bit too hard to prove that Buddhism had not left its footprints there a few hundred years back. So when anybody asks me what is there to be so proud about Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and why it should be preserved since it is a constant reminder of the British rule in the country, my only answer to them is – my dear! since you asked that question, you made the distinction about ‘class’ and ‘crass’ so clear in front of my eyes 🙂

That part of the rant was necessary, since my chosen destination for spending Christmas holidays with family this year was – “Murshidabad”. Anybody aware about this long forgotten chapter about India’s brilliant past will know that Murshidabad is not only about the famous “Battle of Plassey” that changed the course of the history of the sub-continent. Unfortunately, like many things which I find unbearable about India’s education system, our history books have relegated the pomp and grandeur and the long history of the Nawabs of Bengal and Murshidabad – the last flag bearers of independent Indian rulers in this part of the world, to a mere 8 marks essay type answer in the history answer sheets.

Continue reading “Murshidabad through my eyes…”