Recently a Global survey had declared Kolkata as India’s top city for street food. We Kolkatans were elated for obvious reasons. Who would pass up a chance to gloat in the glory of OUR egg roll, phuchka, fish fry, shingara (not samosa) and the likes. Well, Kolkata actually offers a lot more than that and what we remain blind to, is purely our loss. As I discovered so in the maze of Kolkata’s own Bhulbhuliya – Burrabazar.
I grew up in a culture where people indulged in coffee in winter. Pretty much like wearing monkey caps or eating nolen gur (liquid palm jaggery) infused desserts. Rare luxuries. Rest of the 10 months tea ruled the world of Calcuttans. Can’t really remember how I permanently switched to coffee. Must be during those times when all-night studying required extra power. I had started my coffee journey with the classic hand beaten coffee. Mom used to excel in that and she would just use a teaspoon to beat the coffee powder with sugar and a touch of warm milk-water. Not an easy task. It required skills and precision. Besides, Nescafe in those days yielded better taste and aroma than the weak liquid it produces these days. Gradually I parted with milk or creamer in my coffee and started having it black. The taste became refined over the years keeping pace with my lifestyle choices. Now I prefer my coffee (medium-dark roasted beans) black with a sensory stimulating aroma and a strong body with a façade of a fine crema. Less voluminous but not a nude espresso shot. Americano is what they call it, though I upgrade it to long black wherever possible.
For 2 years, my office was somewhere between Rashbehari crossing and Kalighat. I used to carry lunch from home. However, 4 pm was a crime time when mind would demand a snack bribe and a short break to carry on for two more hours (often more). Now the South peeps know that there is no dearth of ‘cheap n cheerful’ food in Rashbehari-Kalighat area. Shingara, Kochuri, porota, roll, chowmein, chop, phuchka – you name it and the place has it….and to top it all, Apanjon was just a stone’s throw away. My go-to place was, however, a hand-cart manned by a Bihari Mashie in her 50s. She used to sell muri, peanuts, chana etc and you could customize the mix as per your requirement. She was quite a Lalu, albeit in a bright printed saree. Over the months she grew accustomed to my order and from then on I just needed to come to her cart and she would prepare the perfect peanuts mix with tiny slices of cucumber, onion, green chilies, tomatoes, a dash of lime juice and a few drops of mustard oil. She would put the mix in a paper cone and would say ‘Shpecial – 20 taka’.
I had passed by Macazzo at least a few hundred times since its inception in September 2016, but never made it inside till a few weeks back. It was partly because of the lack of meat-loving company and partly because of the wrought iron furniture that I could see through the glass door. I do not regard wrought iron furniture as very ergonomic. Nevertheless, the good reviews I had been receiving from trusted food enthusiasts, had made me decide to visit the restaurant. The opportunity came all of a sudden one evening, when an adda at Macazzo was hurriedly planned.
“দিদি, দাশ কেবিন আসছে!”
No, the restaurant couldn’t really walk. This was actually a coded communication between my sister and me.
I have been hearing about the use of quinoa (pronounced as keen-wa), as an alternative for grains, for quite some time now. I must mention here that my life-long struggle with size XL and health challenges has got me to do extensive reading on nutrition values of food. I can tell how many calories in a teaspoon of olive oil or how many grams of fat and protein in a raw egg without blinking my eyes. However, I was not keenly curious about quinoa because I avoid grains in my daily diets, i.e. I don’t eat rice and eat wheat minimally.
It was mid-2012 and I was going through some major changes in my life. I moved to a new job in the city and left behind a 5-year job that involved taking care of four villages. Those villagers had become an extended family. I also moved to my own apartment embracing solo living and left behind my 100 year old ancestral house by the southern avenue lakes where I created 34 years of memories. Adjusting to the new life was not easy and my bipolar heart was on a roller coaster ride.
I had taken up a job with the local branch of Hope Foundation, an Irleand based non-profit organization that was committed to the street children of Kolkata. It funded many projects across Kolkata and one such project was Hope Café. And it was here, my heart found warmth and solace.