Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel: Pice Hotel in Kolkata with a Legacy

“Pice hotels” are legacies from pre-Independence days in Kolkata. The budget eateries got their name from the fact that in early twentieth century full meals could be had here for one paisa. Though today the same does not hold true, these are rice and curry joints (known as “Bhater Hotel” in Bengali) where you can get fantastic Bengali meals at a very affordable price.

The pice hotels perhaps were one of the first to define a-la-carte food – each of the items have to be ordered separately. If food is served in a banyan leaf, and water in an earthen pots, then even these have their prices, so too the wedge of lemon if you want it.

There are quite a few such hotels all over the city of Kolkata, but some of them are particularly well-known, either for their food or sometimes even for their rich legacy. Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel, tucked inside a lane near College Street-MG Road Crossing is one which is known for both these. 

The hotel was set up in 1913 by an Odia migrant Man Gobinda Panda, catering to the large student population looking for affordable meals. Initially this place was called Hindu Hotel as it was located close to Hindu College, but after independence the owners renamed the place.  Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was a student of Presidency College nearby. He used to be a regular visitor here and used to love the food here. Later in life, many of his secret meetings planning for freedom struggle were held here. Of course, since then the hotel has changed its location.

Topshe Fry

I was in Kolkata and went looking for this place with Sudip, a friend of mine from Hyderabad. Google Maps took us to a no-frills place close to College Street crossing with a small board. Inside there were about ten marble topped tables, and the place was quite neat and clean. It was around 12:30 and hungry customers were already halfway through their meals.

Chara Bhetkir Jhaal

The white menu board hung close to the counter gave us the list of all items available. There were six vegetarian items and eleven types of fish dishes (around nine varieties of fish) as well as dry and wet items of mutton and chicken. 

Boal Macchher Jhol

We started with Shukto and Muro Muger Daal with rice. The first serving of rice costs Rs 20, whereas subsequent smaller helpings are Rs 5 each. The daal was paired with Topsher Fry, a fish we do not get in Hyderabad. Loved the dal and the crispy fish fry. The other option available was Musurir (Masur) Dal. A list of vegetarian items on offer can be seen in the pic.

Mangsher Jhol

Next, it was fish time. Boal Machher Jhal and Chara Bhetkir Jhol were our choices. Both the dishes tasted similar with chopped potatoes in the curry. Frankly, these were not that special. The best for me during this visit was the plain vanilla Mangher Jhol, this was so so good. Aamer Chatni was a fine way to end the meal.

Aam Chatni

The bill for all these for two people came to Rs 780. Had a chat with the current owner Arunangshu Panda. He told us that till today they strive to offer the same quality of food, and they care a lot for hygiene in the restaurant. In fact the premises were quite clean and the service prompt.  After a heavy and nice meal both of us left satisfied.

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