10 things we love about Kolkata cuisine
Huzefa Sajawal’s Fatt Pundit restaurants specialise in the Indo-Chinese cuisine unique to Kolkata, in Punjab. He shares his favourite not-to-be-missed specialities of this food-obsessed city
Want to learn more about Kolkata cuisine? Looking for Kolkata dishes to try? Read Huzefa Sajawal's guide below, then check out Huzefa's recipe for vegetable hakka noodles and our best Indian recipes. We also have our favourite Indian vegetarian recipes and our guide on the best Indian restaurants in London.
Huzefa Sajawal is chef-owner of two chic Kolkata-inspired Fatt Pundit restaurants – based in Soho and Covent Garden, London. Huzefa grew up in Mumbai, where his grandmother trained chefs from Lucknow, and where he started his education in hospitality. He moved to London to complete his master’s and joined the JW Marriott group at Grosvenor House. He’s a champion of regional Indian food and specialises in the Indo-Chinese cuisine of Kolkata. fattpundit.co.uk
1. Breakfast in Tangra
From 5am you’ll find vendors in Kolkata’s Chinatown with huge steel steamers serving breakfast on the go. The Nepalese will be selling steamed or fried chicken momos, and those with Chinese lineage will be selling pork or seafood dumplings, chicken shiu mai and steamed buns stuffed with pork. Also popular for breakfast is a pork or fish meatball soup, served with spicy chilli sauce on the side.
2. Indo-Chinese cuisine
This is a cuisine steeped in history, born out of the early immigrants coming over to Kolkata from China, where they flourished in the tannery business. As an extra source of income, the ladies would cook and sell Chinese food such as soups, noodles and dumplings to the locals, and in order to adapt to their taste they used Indian ingredients in their dishes. Word spread, first to Mumbai, then across the whole of India. Indo-Chinese is now the number one cuisine people choose when going out to eat all over India.
3. Wonton noodle soup
A typical lunch in Tangra, the Chinese area of Kolkata, made from broth, noodles and wontons. The wontons are usually stuffed with either pork or seafood, the two most popular fillings in the Chinese community, but there will always be a chicken option available as this is preferred by the Indian community.
These are deep-fried hollowed breads served with potatoes, a typical breakfast for the Indian community in Kolkata. Kachori always has to be eaten with a saffron masala chai, drunk out of a clay pot which is then thrown away when finished with. This way of serving chai is unique to Kolkata.
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5. Kathi roll
Also known as the nizami roll, this grab-and-go lunch was invented in Kolkata and is now widely available all over India. Crispy, flaky paratha is coated in egg and then stuffed with either chicken or mutton, paneer or vegetables. My favourite filling is chicken, which is cooked with lots of fried peppers and onions.
The way they use mustard in Bengal is really clever. It comes in so many different forms – mustard oil, mustard paste, and seeds crushed and used in tempering with ghee or oil. All of these forms give off very different flavours. Mustard is used in absolutely everything in Bengal.
Bengalis are famously the best sweet-makers in India. In the morning you'll find jalebi – you’ll spot them easily from their distinctive spiral shape, made from deep-fried batter. After the batter is fried, it’s soaked in a sugar syrup with lots of saffron, which gives it a distinctive orange colouring.
Sandesh is one of the most popular desserts in Kolkata – it’s a milk dumping soaked in sugar syrup. In summer, the dumplings are coated with mango and sugar, and in winter they are coated with jaggery. Another favourite is mishti doi – a set yogurt made in terracotta clay plots, sweetened with different flavours (such as cardamom and saffron), and garnished with a few nuts.
9. Hakka noodles
Hakka noodles and chilli chicken are favourite Indo-Chinese dishes, now famous in India. The Chinese took a particular liking to the Indian goddess Durga, so there were temples made for her all over Tangra. The Chinese community would offer hakka noodles to these temples. Check out Huzefa's recipe for hakka noodles here.
Kosha mangsho is typical Bengali-style mutton curry. Slow-cooked for a long time, the meat gets very caramelised and dark in colour. Flavoured with mustard oil and only available in Kolkata, it is usually served with rice or paratha. Macher jhol (fish curry) is huge in Bengal – the two main ingredients are mustard and turmeric, and whichever fresh fish you have available.