Someone had once said Bengali food – and here I’m talking about Kolkata Bengali food, not to be confused with the Bangladeshi avatar, where the ‘East Bengal’ spices tend to impart their own distinctive flavours – has not been marketed. 100 per cent true. The best versions of this cuisine are still homemade (so if you have a Bengali friend, from Kolkata, who actually cooks, the best bet is to invite yourself over).
Having said that, the cuisine is slowly making inroads into the organised restaurant sector in India, (Oh, Calcutta! has been a huge hit in metros outside Bengal), but that scale is still absent in the UAE. Contrary to popular belief that Bong food is all about ‘maachh’ and ‘bhaat’ (fish and rice), the cuisine is varied and highly nuanced, with vegetarians dishes – such as ‘shukto’ (a mixed curry with bitter gourd imparting the underlying flavour) – being held in very high regard.
For “Kolkata-style” food fans, there is, of course, Shiraz Golden Restaurant (Al Karama, 04 3971449; City Centre Al Shindagha, Meena Bazaar, 04 3425111 & Madina Mall, Muhaisnah, 04 2610077) – the Kolkata based Mughlai food chain. The chain is as much part of the city’s landscape as the Victoria Memorial is – that serves the amazing biryani (accompanied by a pat of boiled aloo soaked in the juices). The kathi roll – which has firmly established Kolkata’s signpost in the global food market – is fantastic: succulent pieces of meat wrapped in crispy parathas, with no ketchup/sauces to ruin the experience. Shiraz also serves ‘rezala’ (meat slow-cooked in an yoghurt-based curry) and ‘chaap’ (totally different from ‘chaaps’ you get anywhere else in the world).