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Kolkata, India: Ideas for informal pre-wedding meal for foreign guests please

My little sis is getting married in Kolkata in December. We are all arriving just a few days before the wedding, which is in a hotel with a mixed Indian/Western buffet as the groom is European while the bride is Indian. Bride and groom have friends from abroad who will be coming to Kolkata to attend the wedding. Because there will not be much of a chance for them to all catch up during the wedding, we were hoping to organise a pre-wedding informal meal. It could be lunch or dinner, preferably somewhere central, preferably traditional Bengali cuisine, which is difficult to get anywhere else. I looked up Kewpie's, 6 Ballygunge Place and Oh Calcutta online and it seems as if you pay a hefty price for small portions. Any suggestions? It would be for a group of 15-20 people.

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  1. It looks like you have done your research - these are the places I would have recommended based on prior reviews if you dont want to eat in a notel dining room.. I think there might be one other place offering bengali home style dishes - will look around for the name. As far as price, its all a matter of perspective. None of these places will be expensive from a westerner's standpoint. If you try to go too far downmarket in India, too, there arent a lot of real restaurants and there may not be acceptable dining conditions for your western guests. There are some other threads on Calcutta which you may find by searching.this Board (and International)

    ps the other one I might have been thinkin of is Bhojohori Manna, here are some local reviews (it has multiple branches around town) http://kolkata.burrp.com/listing/bhoj...

    26 Replies
    1. re: jen kalb

      Thanks jen. I was wondering about bhojohori manna too, from the photos it looked like a bit of a fast food joint, but with a proper menu. Trawling the internet, I also found a place called Tero Parbon.
      http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tero-Pa...
      I was also considering the Suruchi restaurant in Elliot Road, as most of the attendees are 'do-gooding (!) international human rights and development' type people and this joint is run by a union of women rescued from destitution. It seems to be true homestyle Bangla ranna but the joint is really stark canteen like. As long as hygiene standards are fine, I'm ok with it because there will be five-star hotel banquet at the wedding itself, so a contrast may be eye-opening.
      I am getting my parents (who live in Kolkata) to suss out the joints I am shortlisting. But being typical elderly Bengalis, there are like 'Why would anyone go to a restaurant to eat Bengali food? Why not go for Chinese or Thai?' !!!

      1. re: medgirl

        Just a wild idea and it may not work for a number of reasons - how about asking a Bengali caterer to prepare a traditional Bengali meal for this? That would solve the problem of getting the kind of food you want. However, potential problems are:
        - what would be the venue? Are you hoping for a certain ambience? Can you rent a venue small enough for your needs and bring your own caterer
        - would a caterer be willing to work for such a small party (if it's a wedding caterer, they may not be interested)
        - the caterer may have their own ideas about what should go on the menu (say Chinese or Thai - to show off to the "foreign" guests how well versed they are in international cuisine)

        Yeah, probably not such a useful suggestion after all. But, I thought I'd throw it out there, just in case.

        1. re: sweetTooth

          Thanks sweet Tooth, this is an option we are considering. Venue will be an issue. We have a small flat that could hold 15 people at a push but my mum wouldn't be keen before the wedding, because has enough to worry about. We know a guy happy to cater on a small scale who would do a Bengali menu. But it is stressful for my mum in the run-up to the wedding, so booking a restaurant would be ideal.

          1. re: medgirl

            Yup, having to manage all that would be an unwelcome headache. Good luck! I am sure your guests will appreciate what ever you do! :)

        2. re: medgirl

          I will check in with my daughter on these. I have heard about Suruchi too - maybe she tried it. I just think you want something a little upscale. the lack of restaurant culture means there may be a bare bones enviroment in some places and not be a lot of sensitivity to people who want to sit and talk vs in and out patrons. If it were me based on what I know without going to any of the places one of those three you mentioned would be my pick.

          you might want to check and see if there is anything recent on AnotherSubcontinent - or ask over there. They have some bengali participants.

          1. re: jen kalb

            sweetTooth was a bit prophetic in his/her suggestion: a neighbour in the same apartment block as us will be away for that month and has offered us the use of their flat for any wedding-related functions! So now we have a better venue for a catered party. Because so much family is going to be around and my mum is going to be so busy preparing for the wedding, we had hired a caterer to provide lunch and dinner at home for us around the time of the wedding anyway, so we could ask him. And he would cook us Bengali stuff.
            jen, I am personally interested in trying out the places I mentioned in my original post. I have been to Kewpie's but about a decade ago; I use a cookbook written by the owner. Haven't been to any of the others. So many dining out options in Kolkata, it's hard to fit everything into a short 2-week visit. Also, I have a very soft spot for the Kolkata-style biriyanis (Awadhi style) and end up getting indigestion sampling biriyani from Shiraz, Aminia, Royal, Arsalan, Rahmaniya, etc, etc!!! That's not even including the dhaba food that is so comforting, with their winter specialties of mustard greens and maize-flour roti!

            1. re: medgirl

              wow, that sounds delicious. I hope that we will be hearing back from you about how it all works out and about your personal takes on the restaurants. Im hoping to get to Kolkata eventually myself at some point but the timing is out of my control - in the meantime would love to hear more, especially about both the Bengali and Awadhi style places..

              1. re: jen kalb

                jen, from an old thread I gathered you were visiting India in 2006, and your daughter was on a year's Fulbright scholarship to Kolkata. Were there any particular eating experiences in Kolkata she rated highly? Has she been to Suruchi and what did she think? I follow your posts on the Outer Boroughs board; you are very knowledgable about Indian food!

                1. re: medgirl

                  Yes, she spent some time in Kolkata. I will check with her recollection of the places she liked\ and report back.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    We ended up getting a caterer to provide the following: fish fry, keema croquettes, steamed rice, red lentils, banana flower curry, prawn malaikari, chilli chicken, tomato chtuney. We will buy in our own traditional bengali winter sweets. The chilli chicken is more a indian chinese thing but is very popular with bengalis! It is coming to 550 rupees a head, including crockery, cutlery and a server.

                    1. re: medgirl

                      Wow that sounds like a fabulous feast! Ooh, please tell me what are some traditional Bengali *winter* sweets. Would pati shapta be one of them? Or is that strictly for Sankranti?

                      1. re: sweetTooth

                        Just got back from India. In winter, 'nolen gur' or 'notun gur' is a big deal, I think it is fresh date molasses. So nolen gurer sandesh and nolen gurer rosogolla was what we got. We also got a few 'Western style' pastries, like lemon tart and small chocolate pastries from a shop called Kookie Jar which does them very well. Pati Shapta is more of a homemade sweet, traditional for the Sankranti festival. I love the homemade sweets, especially the rarer ones my grandma used to make, like chirer puli (small parcels made of flattened rice, filled with coconut/molasses mix, deep fried and dunked in syrup) and narkoler chirey (coconut cut by hand so that it resembles flattened rice, toasted lightly and glazed with syrup).
                        The lunch was very good. Some guests thought it was the best meal they ate in Kolkata. It was more relaxed having a catered party.

                        1. re: medgirl

                          Thanks so much for responding! Glad to hear the meal was a success.
                          I was lucky enough to grow up in a town with a large Bengali population and hence great Bengali sweet shops. I remember that date palm sandesh very well. Still have it every time I visit my parents, as our trips very conveniently happen in Winter. I can only imagine how delicious nolen gurer rosogulla must be. Will ask the store owner next time I visit. Chirer puli sounds so scrumptious! Isn't it sad that these culinary gems that our grandmothers perfected are getting lost in the bustle of modern life? I don't even make 20% of the goodies my mom used to make, let alone what grandma made.

                          1. re: sweetTooth

                            Hi sweetTooth. Yes, I suppose it is a shame that many 'homestyle' recipes are getting lost with the pace of modern life. There are some food bloggers out there who do a lot to write about cooking at home, so maybe there is hope. Living in London, finding the ingredients can be a pain. I located a recipe for chirer puli on the internet, but have to find the chire (flattened rice)!!

                            1. re: medgirl

                              thats also called poha, right? In the US most indian stores carry poha. So glad it went well and loved the report.

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                You're right Jen. Where I live in London is more populated by Sri Lankan Tamils and I haven't found it in their shops. I will have to go to East London and check the Bengali shops.

                                By the way, i only managed to sample 3 different biriyanis while i was there. The best one was a goat meat biriyani that the Sonar Bangla Hotel served at my sis' wedding. It was very light and the meat was so tender it fell apart if you poked it with a fork and the rice was perfectly cooked. I ate a lot of that and it gave me no indigestion. In contrast, I ate only a couple of spoonfuls of a chicken biriyani from Arsalan (a very popular Mughlai joint in Kolkata) and it was so greasy and spicy it gave me indigestion. I also tried a goat meat biriyani from Zeeshan and it was better, but still quite rich. We also got a takeaway chicken biriyani but we didn't check in the box and when we opened it at home, there was only the rice and a bone from the drumstick; no meat at all! Bad luck!

                                I did spend almost 900 rupees on a recipe book by Pratibha Karan called 'Biriyani'. It has a hundred biriyani recipes classified by region. I have already looked through it and marked out about 10 recipes I hope to try cooking this year!

                                1. re: medgirl

                                  thats funny, because pohi is used by tamils and I have purchased it in Sri-Lankan stores in NY. it usually comes in a fairly large bag . I guess poha is the hindi name tho - I think it is aval in tamil.

                                  the biryani project sounds great! did you see this article?
                                  http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/rude-...

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    thanks for the tip, jen. i will ask for aval and see if i score some chire.

                                    i would really love to be able to cook biriyani. the rice always ends up overcooked with me. i even bought a chasseur cast iron casserole online but it turned out to be too big to cook small test amounts in: we were left with vast quantities of overcooked rice with chicken in it! i am trying to persuade my other half that i deserve another cast iron pan! in india i think they cook in aluminium pans and they are fairly cheap but i don;t like using them for health reasons.

                                    thanks for the link to the article. i hope this book turns out to be a winner. i was lent another of her cookbooks 'hyderabadi cuisine' by a friend and it is a really good cookbook.

                                    1. re: medgirl

                                      I have the hyderabadi book (which I think I saw a bit by Rahol Verma about) but I havent cooked from it yet. are there some recipes you have liked? I have an old aluminum caldero (a round bottomed pot) I have been cooking in for almost 40 years - it is very useful for indian dishes. Im thinking that a lidded earthenware pot would be good for the final cooking stage of biryani.

                                      1. re: jen kalb

                                        I liked the recipes for achari murgh (pickled chicken), sheermal (bread), tomato rice, and really liked a baked mince dish (can't remember the name, dum ka keema, maybe) which is a terrific party/potluck offering. I tried making the hyderabadi biriyani twice but ended up with mush as usual.
                                        I have a flat bottomed pot (aluminium) and the rice on the bottom was nearly burnt with the rest overcooked. Maybe flat bottoms don't conduct heat as evenly. i was drawn to the cast iron thinking it would conduct heat more slowly and evenly. the books just say use a heavy-bottomed pot. the chasseur is great for stews and pot-roasts. i just mistakenly got the 28 cm one, which turned out to be something like 7 quarts.

                                        1. re: medgirl

                                          Medgirl
                                          I had the same problem with Biriyani a couple of times. A good way to avoid is : First use some grease (preferably ghee) to line the vessel. Use raw potato slices to line the bottom of the vessel. Once the raw marinated meat and half cooked rice has gone in (meat below), make sure the vessel is sealed properly (to prevent the steam from coming out. Once you hear some boiling inside, turn the heat very low. Once it has cooked for some time on low heat, you can put the whole vessel on a flat griddle which is placed on the fire. This should prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom.

                                            1. re: medgirl

                                              For books, try Bangla Ranna by the late Meenakshie Das Gupta - she is the person who started Kewpie's Kithcen (she is Kewpie !!). You can get it on Amazon.com - also try Calcutta Cookbook - same author - I picked up a copy in Calcutta last month - great reading as it also contains history and evolution of some of the dishes.

                                              1. re: rocklandfoodie

                                                ditto re Bangla Ranna - there are several good Bengali cookbooks but this is a classic.

                                                1. re: jen kalb

                                                  Rocklandfoodie and jen, I have copies of both Bangla Ranna and Calcutta Cookbook! In fact, on my CH profile I list Bangla Ranna on my 'most tattered cookbooks' list! BR I mostly use as a reference and may tweak the recipes to our family's personal taste. CC I like to read mostly as a work of non-fiction. They are great books.

                                  2. re: medgirl

                                    Hey, medgirl
                                    I'm a Sri Lankan Tamil, and I can tell you that we use poha/chire very commonly in our sweets/festival dishes. So its is strange that you find it difficult to get it from those shops. Maybe you can ask them for "aval", which sounds like "vowel" without the "v"...which is what we call it :)