Zakaria Street has almost become synonymous with Iftar in Kolkata during the holy month of Ramzan. The attractions are the make-shift stalls that pop up near Nakhoda Masjid and the entire stretch of Zakaria to attract the Iftari crowd as well as foodies of all religions, cast, and creed. Well, in fact, food is the greatest unifier in my opinion. Whether Zakaria is overhyped or if there are really some gems worth experiencing, I can’t tell ….simply because I have never been there. I had, of course, cherished some really interesting write-ups from gastronomes I trust and obviously there was a keen desire to visit the place during Ramzan at least once in my lifetime. So when Poorna Banerjee, a travel and food blogger, and a close acquaintance proposed a Ramzan food walk, I didn’t hesitate to jump on the bandwagon of Zakaria craze.
Only to discover later, there wouldn’t be any Zakaria stall hopping on the walk. Flexibility has always been my forte and Poorna’s logic was solid and intentions were good. So I wouldn’t say I was hugely disappointed when I got to know Zakaria was not there on the itinerary. Poorna had been to Zakaria several times and had found the food to be very unhygienic and the place claustrophobic with too many people on the narrow street. Her goal was to acquaint us with the same food, albeit in the back alleys of Park Circus and of much better quality. Another huge advantage of knowing these less talked about food places (except Shiraz) was these were permanent eateries/restaurants/shops and would be there to satiate our cravings round the year. So let’ start.
Haleem at Shiraz
On paper, Ramzan is about abstinence. But the holy month has become as much about dusk-to-dawn feasting as it is about the dawn-to-dusk fasting, iftari in particular being the scene of some impressive gastronomic action. There are pakodas and samosas, jalebis, Rooh Afza, of course, dates and fresh fruit. The uncrowned king of the iftar in South Asia, though, is the haleem.
Haleem is meat and broken wheat stew used for breaking fast at sundown. The recipe of Haleem is believed to have been an Indian experiment with a Persian dish called Hareesah containing meat, wheat, and cardamoms. It had a consistency like porridge. Like most foreign cultural imports, hareesah was eventually Indianised. A variety of lentils were added to make it less thick, and more stew-like. And, of course, various spices, India’s secret weapon, soon found their way into the dish. The meat was traditionally lamb, however, modern haleem is made with goat, or buff/beef or, sadly, chicken. The earliest mention of haleem was found in the 16th century when the Yemeni royal guards of Nizams in southern India used to prepare this dish regularly.
We reached Shiraz (the outlet with the AC first floor) at around 6 in the evening. Just in time, because while we were there haleem got over. Lucky we had ordered by then. Shiraz offers the most varieties in Haleem. We tasted Kolkata Shahi Haleem and Irani haleem. Shahi haleem is common across Kolkata and is a spicier version of haleem to satisfy the local palates. Irani is smoother, less spicy and uses mutton boti instead of big goat meat pieces. Anchita, who was a part of the food walk group, thought there was sago in it and that made the texture smoother. And we did find evidence in the bowl. As part of the haleem rituals the toppings of fried onions, mint and coriander leaves, chilies and limes were provided separately. Haleem is a Ramzan special dish and not available at other times. I am not too fond of it. However, I actually liked the taste at Shiraz. The slow-cooked stew also creates a lot of heat in the body after consumption and it totally beats me why this is Ramzan food in Asian countries. The price for a bowl is around Rs200/-.
For more information on haleem in Kolkata you can refer to my fellow blogger Pratik Banerjee’s excellent research:
We also had delicious and succulent chicken malai til kebabs as a bonus dish. The tils or white sesame seeds gave it a different texture and elevated the taste by a few notches. The kebabs were slightly charred giving the exteriors a light crunch before your taste buds dig into the melting meats. This dish was definitely the find of the day for me!
Butter Chicken at Food Rocks Café
Next, we moved to Quest Mall. No, not inside, but we took Shamsul Huda Road that is right next to it (right-hand side). A non-descript eatery had a live kebabs counter at the façade and 4 tables inside. Not to be judged at all by the cover. The eatery presented some gorgeous old-Delhi style butter chicken and KFC ka baap fried chicken. The butter chicken had way too much butter for my comfort though tasted great (I mean, why won’t it?!). Well-done chicken chunks were tossed in a generous pool of butter and malai and they offered gold class gluttony. The super hot Fried chicken had all the oomph of KFC and bettered it by using fresh chicken and tastier coating. In fact, if I ever crave for fried chicken, I would want to pick them up from FRC instead of KFC. Poorna mentioned the owners have their own hatchery and they hand pick chicken for their dishes. If you doubt the hygiene etc, I can offer that I didn’t feel any discomfort post-consumption in spite of having a super sensitive digestive system.
Kulfi at Royal Kulfi
Satiating all the carnivorous cravings we came back to the main street. On the corner, there was a roadside kulfi stall offering kulfi falooda and rabree kulfi. I went for Kulfi Falooda topped with Rooh Afza. Superb stuff. No bull shit only malai and pista solidified. The shop remains there for 365 days. The Kulfi man was a smiling guy of 50ish. He was pretty amused at slightly different customers suddenly attacking his stall. He had his mouth stuffed with paan (betel leaves), and spoke barely opening his mouth. Quite a talent! Falooda Kulfi was Rs50 and rabree Kulfi was Rs70.
Jilipi at Jaiswal Testy Corner
Across the street is the Karaya Road stretch. 5 minutes walk took us to Jaiswal Testy Corner. Testy, and not Tasty, mind it! They immediately put us to test whether to choose hot jalebis or hot gulab jamuns. Very difficult decision! But somehow we made up our mind for jilipi. Fresh, crunchy and sugary goodness can make the butcher shops all around invisible. However, if you are a rigid vegetarian, the area could be a little unpleasant for you. Jilipi comes for a royal price of Rs5 each.
That was the end of our Ramzan food journey. Though the heat and humidity were killing, the spirits were high. And so was the camaraderie. Those of you who can’t do Zakaria, you might find these places as good options. If you know similar places in Calcutta, do comment below and add to the list.
A very happy Eid in advance to all my readers!