“দিদি, দাশ কেবিন আসছে!”
No, the restaurant couldn’t really walk. This was actually a coded communication between my sister and me.
Didi and I used to share a room in our ancestral house near Southern Avenue. We were great allies in mischief during our pre-teen years. 2-4 pm was usually study time and after that we were allowed to go out and play. In absence of a clock in our room, we girls watched the movement outside to track time. (Asking mom would have invited scolding). We had code words for our neighbours. The short, plump and rather dark elderly neighbour in white dhuti-punjabi was given the name – Das Cabin. The gentleman owned a restaurant by the same name in Gariahat. Since Das Cabin opened at 4 pm sharp every day, spotting Mr. Das on his way meant it was nearly play time.
Das Cabin was well known for it’s Mughlai Parathas in the 80’s. Located at the heart of Gariahat, the aroma would pull the evening shoppers and the homebound crowd to this tiny restaurant. The paratha was humble in size, yet was plump with egg and onion filling. Bits of green chillies were piquant speed breakers. The edges of the paratha were browned till crispy while the middle was golden and pleasantly soft. The most remarkable part of the dish was the dry potato curry that came with it. The paratha had a sweet undertone barring the occasional chilli heat. The small cubes of potatoes, on the other hand, were sharp, spicy and heavenly delicious. The potatoes were cooked unpeeled and that added more taste and texture. Post shopping at Gariahat, we would often get Mughlai Parathas packed to have at home. The parathas came in brown paper packets and the curry in a clay pot. The curry was rationed carefully by the restaurant. Therefore, we would always put a request, “তরকারীটা একটু বেশি করে দেবেন…”
When I was in my late teens, the mughlai paratha craze at our household slowly started to decrease. Around that time, Calcutta saw a boost in food scenes in terms of variety and we started taking interest in egg rolls and mutton tikias and dosa (blasphemy!). Mr. Das also passed away and his elder son took guard of Das Cabin. From that time till a few days back, the only reminder of Das Cabin’s existence was another funny story. My sister got married to a vegetarian Konkani Brahmin who had never been to Calcutta before his marriage. He had learnt about Das Cabin and other such iconic Calcutta food places from my sister. After visiting our house in Calcutta and tasting mom’s excellent cooking, he had named our kitchen ‘Ghosh Cabin’.
Since Das Cabin can’t be found on social media, let me guide you to the place. It’s at Gariahat 4-point crossing. From ‘Anandamela’ (a well-known electronic goods’ shop), if you start walking towards Golpark, just where the Gariahat market building ends, there’s a lane on the left. Cross over the lane and you’ll find Das Cabin on the other side. It’s hidden from the main road by fruit vendors’ sheds.
In my recent avatar as good food memories chronicler, I made plans quite a few times to visit Das Cabin. But the ever-existent queue in front of the place was a challenge. After a few failed attempts, I got lucky on a rainy Monday evening. Once inside, I realised nothing really changed. It was a tiny, brightly lit room furnished with sturdy, classroom-like wooden chairs and marble top tables. A vintage refrigerator that looked very much dead, stood in a corner. I strongly suspected they used it as a cabinet. Near the kitchen, a bamboo ladder pointed to a hole above, which must be a storage space. Blue ceramic tiles on the walls made the room look like a slightly spacious bathroom. Mr. Das looked pleased with all the business his cabin was still doing, as he smiled at me from the black and white portrait hanging on the wall.
I ordered a mughlai paratha and approached the gentleman sitting at the cash counter in hope of a few information. Unfortunately, he bluntly refused to answer any of my questions. His face told me ‘No Pictures’ as well. I walked back to my table, but this time sat strategically. Although he was watching me constantly, customers distracted him a few times. I made good use of my phone camera during those brief lapses in guards. Quite thrilling the entire episode was. I now have a career option as undercover reporter.
Service at the restaurant was prompt and soon I was sinking my knife and fork into the once famed ‘Moglai Porota’. Yes, it was always Moglai and never Mughlai. Till date, the menu board also maintains the same. Sadly the taste couldn’t hold a candle to my childhood memories. With age, the paratha lost mass and vigour and yielded a mediocre taste. The potatoes were still unpeeled and the curry was vaguely reminiscent of the past glory. I could tell the recipes were still the same, but alas!, the hands were not motivated, the heart was retired. Of course, whether the paratha aged not so well or my taste buds got evolved would always remain debatable.
Though I was feeling uncomfortable under the glare, I decided to try one more dish – fish kobiraji cutlet. There weren’t too many choices either as all meat items were discontinued with due to the recent controversy. A board warned no tea/coffee. The fish Kobiraji turned out to be good. It had fresh, flaky Bhetki fillet, a bit lean albeit. The nice, fluffy egg coverage tried to cover up the small size of the cutlet. But the taste had the charm and aura of vintage kobiraji. I smiled inwardly. Those who take risks, are often rewarded.
A few youngsters walked in and I asked one of them to click my pic. The man at the counter was busy talking about his recent Russia trip (yes, you read that right) to a regular customer. I paid my total bill worth Rs150 and when I was about to leave, someone called out, “একটা মোগলাই পার্সেল, তরকারীটা বেশী করে দেবেন…”
I later found out from dad that the man at the cash counter was the younger son of Mr. Das. He would have recognized dad surely, though we were not neighbours any longer. May be I should have introduced myself, or may be this was meant to be an incognito visit. He and I were but two children from the past. It was evident he didn’t need the business, but memories and habit pulled him back to the cabin every evening. It was a part of his life. The same emotions took me there after 25 years.
This blog post is my way of pickling some of my precious childhood memories to give them immortality. I have now put them in a jar and screwed the lid tightly. Salman Rushdie called this process ‘chutnification’ in his book ‘Midnight’s Children’. On a future date, when I open the lid, I am certain I will get the aroma of Das Cabin’s Moglai Porota and will hear two little girls giggling.
- Address: 17, Gariahat Road, Ballygunge Gardens, Kolkata 700019
- Location on Google Map
- Hours: 4pm-9pm
- Pocket Pinch: Rs200 for two