“It’s pouring here, guys. Don’t think I can make it” – I texted my friends around 4 pm, feeling a bit guilty because this was the third time I cancelled an adda at Niranjan Agar. The rain god was however not in a punishing mood and cleared the skies giving me ample time to make the journey. I took the metro (underground train), which I was told the most convenient transport for this particular destination. And it was so. It took me under 30 minutes to reach Girish Park Metro Station in North Calcutta from my south Calcutta residence.
Niranjan Agar was so next to one of the metro station gates that it was like you exit the station and enter the restaurant. It was on the ground floor of a century old building that had beautiful curved balconies. The building and the restaurant must have come into existence around the same time. A bright yellow signboard announced that Niranjan Agar was established in 1922 (by Niranjan Agar of course, hence the name). Though I am using the word ‘restaurant’, it’s more of a tiny, old Kolkata café – but without any cabins or coffee. The restaurant has two parts- two adjacent rooms. First part is a small but brightly lit room which recently got a makeover and ugly plastic furniture. The second part is a tiny, dark hole with low-ceiling, giving you the feel that you are sitting under an old staircase. It was furnished with a large wooden table with benches on both sides. A huge fan in iron grill encasing loomed like a dark cloud. The two spaces are connected with a narrow opening in the separating wall. The lady controlling the cash counter sat in that gap blocking the short cut. Both rooms have separate entrances from the main road.
The shiny room was already full at 6 pm though the place opened only a couple of hours ago. I entered the second room and settled on a corner of the bench, creating much annoyance to the middle aged couple on the other side who were cosily appreciating ‘Chop Shilpo’. I decided to order a cup of tea and a fish fry while waiting for my friends to turn up.
The fry appeared in front of me in a jiffy. I guess they remain well aware of daily demands and keep everything ready to sell optimally. A medium size and lean fillet of bhetki (Bekti), marinated humbly, dipped in batter and crumb fried. It carried quite original flavours, but the leanness of the fish hampered enjoyment. Before I could relish the taste of the fish, I was rudely disturbed by the crumb walls. May be, the day’s catch was frugal. Tea followed in a tiny paper cup, something I was not expecting. These old joints usually serve tea in thick dwarfed ceramic cups. The tea tasted good, nevertheless. It was a thick bodied milk tea that pumped energy. I cherished the small cuppa sitting in that ancient room and watching the busy world pass by through the open wooden doors.
“Save 4 devils for us, my friends will join me soon” – I had alerted Shailen, our server, taking precautions against the heavy demands. Niranjan’s Deemer (Egg) Devil was the primary reason for me to travel all the way from southern part of the city. Soon, Subhankar, Abhik and Suman joined and Shalien got us our prizes. Egg Devil seems to have derived it’s name from devilled eggs, but the two has no similarity beyond egg being a common ingredient. Devil is a minced mutton fused egg chop (croquette)- more of a bangali babu version of Brits’ scotch egg. History says scotch egg was invented by British department store Fortnum & Mason in 1793. It is a hard cooked egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated with bread crumbs and deep-fried. However, another school thinks Brits imitated our Mughlai Nargisi Koftas which are hard boiled eggs encased in a covering of spicy minced meat, fried and then put in a gravy. I have my theory for Egg Devil. It’s a love story of a gora memsahib with her Muslim khansaama in the British Raj era Kolkata. In a particular dull afternoon, when her husband was away on some diplomatic mission, the lady found comfort in the kitchen in the company of her cook and the egg devil blossomed in the deep frying pan. I am yet to conjure a theory for how their love child was found by Niranjan Agar, but I have to admit he nourished it with his own ideas.
The egg devil at Niranjan Agar is made with big size duck egg. The hard boiled egg is cross-sectioned from the top but the knife stops short before reaching the base. The egg opens up like a flower with four petals and is heavily stuffed with cooked minced mutton (goat meat). It then gets a thin covering of boiled and mashed potato, is dipped in a batter and deep fried. The exterior is uneven but think Salvador Dali and bite into the surreal taste of this beauty. The fresh, flavourful egg is the hero of the story, well-supported by the timidly spiced minced meat. Duck egg has an undertone of sweetness that had been highlighted, the reason salt and spice heat were used sparingly. Very Bangali, very Kolkata 😉 ….and immensely delightful! It seems that Niranjan Agar took care to remain true to its century-old egg devil recipe and chose to age gracefully as the title of my article suggests.
We followed up the egg experience with a couple of more dishes. Mutton kopta (not kofta) was a flat disc of minced meat and boiled potato mix that had been crumb coated and deep fried. It added only calories to the experience. Kosha mangsho had a beautiful rustic gravy and 4 small and succulent pieces of mutton. It was served with thick slices of bread slightly toasted on open flame. Quite enjoyable, though it cannot be given the status of classic Kolkata kosha mangsho. On the other hand, the adda that had flowed over the food that evening was blue-blooded Bangali adda, flavoured with the charms of aged cafe in north Calcutta.
- Address: 239/A Chittaranjan Avenue, Kolkata 700006 (Near Girish Park Metro Station)
- Phone no.: 080176 25110
- Location on Google Map
- Hours: 4pm – 9pm
- Pocket pinch: Rs300 for two persons
- Comfort level: very basic set-up. No air conditioning.
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