Slice of Punjab in Kolkata

Kolkata: While ilish (hilsa) and rosogolla (balls of sweets dipped in syrup) are the hallmark of the Bengali food culture, robust flavours of Punjabi dishes too have a mass appeal and legacy here, far away from the north Indian plains.

Thus, piping hot daal maakhni, smoking skewers of kebabs cooked in tandoori style, aromatic sarson da saag and a range of breads infused with spices and other ingredients – all with the sheen of generous dollops of clarified butter or ghee – and more were on offer at a just-concluded Punjabi food fest here.

And, instead of elaborate seating arrangements and signature décor, kiosks of seven restaurants handed out small portions of fast-moving Punjabi dishes to foodies in the open-air arena of a popular city mall.

“People in Kolkata are more inclined towards Punjabi food than Mughlai since items like tikkas and kebabs cooked in tandoor (clay ovens) can be had on the go,” Abhro Guhathakurta of the relatively new Rang De Basanti Dhaba (RDBD) chain told IANS.

Apart from the usual roster of Dilli ki paneer makhani, Dilli ki butter chicken, dhaba chicken curry, RDBD serves its signature breads – hari mirch ki roti (green chilly flatbread) and lal mirch ka paratha (red chilly flatbread).

“Though the staples are always in demand, there is a fair amount of experimentation that is going on,” Guhathakurta noted.

Then, there’s Sanjha Chulha, an established name in North West Frontier spread. In addition to Punjabi staples like sarson da saag and makki di roti, it offers juicy chunks of jugalbandi kebab – a fusion of minced mutton and chicken seekh kebab.

“Punjabi food is extremely popular among Bengalis as well as the north Indian community in Kolkata,” Sanjha Chulha chain co-owner Asif Ahmed told IANS.

On offer at Honey Da Dhaba are chicken butter masala, mutton boti kebab and lehsuni kebab, among others.

“Kebabs and tikkas are among of the most popular items and move fast. Since the cooking is done in authentic clay ovens, there isn’t too much oil used,” restaurant in-charge Dhiraj Joshi told IANS.

Though themed restaurants with faux ‘dhaba’ ambience are popping up across the city, renowned food critic, columnist and restaurateur Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta pointed out that the city’s gourmands have always relished the mouth-watering taste of Punjabi dishes.

“After partition, immigrants and refugees came to the city from the Pakistani part of Punjab and since then, the food culture has really diversified. Some are more Calcuttan than Punjabis and, naturally, the food has also evolved,” Dasgupta told IANS.