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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Readymade Momos from Prasuma now at your doorsteps

I have been fond of momos ever since my younger days. Those days the dumplings from Tibet and Nepal were not as popular in the cities as they are today. Availability of momos in Kolkata where I grew up were restricted to a small hole in the wall place called “Hamro Momo” (if I remember correctly) between Elgin Road and Exide Crossing (known as “Chloride” those days). The momos there came with a fiery chilli chutney and a thin meat soup which was divine.

As I started travelling to the mountains, I had more chances to try out momos, with different shapes and tastes. Ladakh to Himachal, Nepal to Sikkim and North Bengal, you have these beauties everywhere each with its own twist. As time passed, they travelled downhill to the plains with even small towns having their own momo places. Initially in Hyderabad, there was this small place Anne’s Kitchen in a lane next to Paradise. Now of course, there are many more choices.

Enough of rumblings and rememberances of this old man. What I want to talk about today is readymade momos at the convenience of your homes. If you are not adept at making momos yourself do not sweat, now there are options available where you can just give last touches to momos already prepared for you. Prasuma a company with a few decades of experience in meat products has come out with its own range which can be prepared in a jiffy and enjoyed or served to your guests. The momos are easy to “finish” – you can either heat in microwave for two minutes, steam them or pan fry with a little oil.

One thing I liked about these momos are their thin wrappers. Often when you try out the momos outside you find the dough cover quite thick. Here the wrappers are lightweight, and made using some Japanese technology as stated by Prasuma. The fillings are of moderate but adequate quantity. Each packet is accompanied by a Momo Sauce, a nice chilli based dip, though I would have liked it to be a bit fierier, as you get in the hills.

Coming to the flavours, they have the original plain vanilla versions as some adapted ones closer to the palate of people in the plains. My favourite was the Cheesy Spicy Veg, with the melted cheese, corn and veggies giving it a special taste. The Original Chicken version is again very good, much resembling the chicken momos you get in the hills. Then there is a Spicy Chicken version with a bit more zing than the earlier one. Somehow I did not quite dig the Chilli Prawn momos, maybe my expectation was a bit different.

Prasuma also has Classic Mutton and Original Pork versions which I have not tasted so far. At a friend’s house they did the momos in an air-fryer and the taste really turned out to be brilliant. If you want to prepare some dishes from the momos, you have some recipes available at their site (www.prasuma.com). The momos are available at major outlets as well as through food delivery apps.




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Restaurants Reopen and New Menus Are In

September and October has seen restoration of quite a bit of normalcy in the food and beverages sector of Hyderabad. Many of the old restaurants have reopened again much to the relief and joy of their loyal customers. Footfalls have returned to quite an extent, though it still has a bit to go. Some restaurants have launched a new menu to attract new customers. And what is most redeeming is the fact that many new restaurants have opened up to replace some of the casualties of the recent turbulent period. The green shoots of food festivals were also seen with couple of star properties introducing them for the festive season.

Of the few places serving cuisines of all the South Indian states in Hyderabad, Simply South by Chef Chalapathi Rao is definitely one of the most prominent. I have been a fan of multiple dishes here like Kamju Pitta (Quail), Peethala (Crab) Iguru, Kodi Koora and almost all the constituents of their Veg thali. The place had been temporarily closed ever since the start of Covid, and I was very happy to know from Chef Chalapathi Rao that they were reopening from September 10th after a long hiatus. A couple of days later I was invited for a meal here by Chef where I could taste some of the popular dishes after a long time.

An assorted thali mostly of non-vegetarian dishes from the menu was put together for me, with thali-size portions ensuring that I can taste many items. The dishes were as good as earlier times and I became especially drawn to three of them – Gongura Royyalu (with fresh prawns and chopped gongura leaves and very little spice), Telangana Pacchi Mirchi Kodi (a comfort green chilli laced chicken dish) and Vegetable Stew (with some lovely appams). I also had Kori Gassi (the Mangalore beauty), Chapala Pulusu (a regular favourite of mine here) and Mutton Pepper Fry. The peanut podi and ghee combo with rice was sublime and even the rasam served on the table rocked. Finally, the Badam Halwa somehow reminded me of Badam Kund, a Hyderabadi dish, though the taste is markedly different.

So the place is open again, and all fans can rush there. My order usually is a veg thali with select non-veg sides, but it may also be fun to choose a theme (like a Karnataka or Kerala meal) and order your items based on that.

Farzi Café is buzzing with the arrival of its new menu. Among a comprehensive selection of starters, mains, and desserts, the top draw was the brilliant Karampodi Tandoori Pomfret. Ambadi Fish, Smoked Pepper Chicken Tikka, and Creamy Marine Bisque were some of the other non-vegetarian dishes of note. This time, the selection for vegetarians is huge, with Aloo Snowmosa, Kadak Paneer Sheekh Kabab, and Tofu Medu Vada being some of the highlights. My pick in this section was the comfort dish Sago Pongal served with Paneer Ghee Roast. The presentation of all dishes was brilliant as usual.

Tawa Seared Meen Curry, Gongura Mutton Koora, and Broccoli and Lentil Biryani are some of the other newly introduced dishes.

Turquoise, the restaurant at Le Meridien Gachibowli has reopened with a new menu. At a tasting session, enjoyed the specially curated food put up by Chef Rahul Dutta and his team for the occasion.

Wasabi Salmon Tikka and Rock Prawn Tempura were my absolute favourites. The Mutton Shami and Balsamic Sweet Potato combo also deserve a mention. Vegetarians enjoyed the mushroom version of the shami. A tender coconut-based salad (Tender Coconut Creviche), Lemon Grass Cilantro Dumpling Broth and the dessert platter are some other dishes that can be recommended. Le Meridien has also resumed its Sunday Brunch with different themes in different weeks.


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Random Food Musings from Hyderabad

The second wave seems to be behind us, though many are anticipating a new wave soon. A new normal now is to jump around between the waves and enjoy a little before the panchi is back in the pinjra.  Revenge is the new buzzword with revenge dining and revenge travel ruling the roost. I am no exception to the trend, though some of my friends are predicting that the revenge jumping around going on will result in a big fat new wave. But now the attitude is Jo hoga dekha jayega.

But let us cast that aside for a while and look at the F&B scene in our favourite city. The mayhem seems to have ebbed out, and people are back to the outlets. For the street and small places, it is almost business as usual, whereas the larger restaurants have also started getting some traction. What is most redeeming is that a few new places have started to come up making the scenario much more vibrant.

I had just resumed dining out around December of 2020 but since April 2021 I have not been visiting restaurants much for obvious reasons. Though I had been feasting on takeaways and home deliveries all through the pandemic, lack of exposure to the outside world had kept throwing me into bouts of feeling low. It was finally around late August this year when I could muster the will and courage to finally venture out to a restaurant. 

My first meal outside after a while was in Mercure Hyderabad KCP in Somajiguda. Their coffee shop Cayenne had introduced a set of Executive Thalis for lunch. Coming in two variants - vegetarian and non-vegetarian, the thalis were sumptuous and attractively priced (Rs 400 (veg) & Rs 450 (non-veg) (plus 18% tax). The components had been planned to keep the local flavours in mind. Both the thali variants had some very tasty dishes. 

My picks were Chapala Pulusu (Fish Curry) and Kodi Vepudu (Chicken Masala Fry) from the non-veg thali and Gutti Vankaya (the star of the day, Brinjal in peanut masala) and Palakura Pappu (Spinach Dal) from the veg fare served with Bagara Chawal and Parathas. Then there were some nice Mirchi Bhajjis, Dahi Vada, and Gulab Jamun. The clean environment and quick service further added to my long-lost satisfaction of eating out.

In late August we went on a road trip to the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. During this trip, we savoured the signature tiffins from Kadappa/Ananthpur belt namely the Kaaram Dosas. On return I was pining for more of the same and remembered Panchakattu Dosa, a food truck in Hyderabad (their original shop is in Tadipatri near Ananthapur) serving Rayalaseema style dosas that I had visited and written about before the pandemic.

Enquiries revealed that now they have graduated from the truck to two restaurants, one in Banjara Hills and one in Madhapur. The Banjara Hills one is inside a lane opposite KBR Park, next to Ebony Hotel. One weekend, we landed up for breakfast and perused the short menu of around ten items. Ordered Neyyi Kaaram Dosa and Neyyi Kaaram Onion Dosa. Laden with ghee, laced with red chutney and served with another three different types of chutneys, the dosa was simply delicious.

My only complaint was they have brought down the spice level keeping in mind how cosmo Hyderabad is getting day by day. I like my chutneys fiery. The soft Ghee Idlies were again too good. They serve some refreshing Nannari (a local sharbat which is a must-try). I will be back to try more items like Upma Dosa and Junnu shortly. 

As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, while many restaurants were reopening after the second wave, a few places have expanded with new branches in the city. Sarita Sarkar of Sarkar’s Kitchen is one courageous lady. We, the Bengali food lovers this side of the town, were pretty disappointed when Oh Calcutta decided to close down their Begumpet outlet. But good news came in that Sarkar’s Kitchen, the Bengali restaurant with multiple awards, were opening their new 60-seater place in Banjara Hills. The restaurant is above Chinese Pavilion, bang opposite Vengal Rao Park.

All the signature dishes from them are available in this new place. The decor with red brick walls and pictures from Bengali art and culture was something to my liking. Mochar Chop, Chicken Cutlet, and Fish Fry brought much cheer as starters, whereas the main courses included Chholar Dal, Begun Bhaja, Mangsho (my all-time favourite here) and Luchi. We also had Chingri Malaikari with rice.  Look out for their Kolkata Biryani and Chaap too.

Overall, the F&B outlets in the city are limping to normalcy. Even the fine dines have started reopening, though promotions like regional food festivals have still not taken off. It is high time that our brave F&B warriors get some respite from the tough times they have been through in the last one and half years. I am among the ones who are very optimistic about the future of these businesses and wish them the best for the immediate future. 



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For The best Hyderabadi food in Hyderabad

Recently at a Facebook live show, I was asked about the culinary map of Hyderabad. The question set me thinking. Over the last few decades, Hyderabad has very much become a cosmopolitan city. With the city becoming an IT hub, we now have representation of most of the national and international cuisines here. Significant numbers of the city population originally hail from different states and this has a lasting effect on the food being offered by different restaurants here. However, the charm of the original cuisines from the city still remains as the major attraction to any visitor to the city of pearls.

Biryani
So, what all can be considered as the original cuisines of Hyderabad? In the recent chat with friend Rajesh Tara (you can see the Youtube video below), I expressed that Hyderabad is home to two-and-half different cuisines. The first and the most popular is of course Hyderabadi (Deccani) food, and this post talks about the leading places for this cuisine in the city. The food of the original inhabitants is what this city is known worldwide especially the signature Biryani. There are possibly a thousand places in this city that offer this dish, many in their own way. Hyderabadi biryani is prepared the Kachhi way (the marinated meat is not pre-cooked, it is cooked completely in the degh with rice and masala in dum), is known for its masala rather than the aroma, and is enjoyed by millions in the city. The most popular zaffrani variety has more than 90% market share and is made popular by restaurants such as Paradise, Bawarchi and Shadab.

Paradise is the brand that has played a key role in putting Hyderabadi biryani in the world food map. While these days it is fashionable to badmouth this establishment, I have had some of my best biryanis here. Their kitchen is modern with due diligence done and processes being followed. A small issue that I have always faced is with the takeaway packs, often the packed biryani does not have the right proportion of white rice, moist rice and meat. Still, I consider them the pioneers as far as the dish is concerned.

Shadab, Bawarchi and Meridian (a comparatively lesser-known place in Punjagutta) are my top picks from the restaurants that serve biryani in the city today. However, if I order at home I prefer the biryani served by some of the home chefs, Naaz Anjum, Zarina Shah and Dakhni Dastarkhaan in particular. Sofiyani Biryani, a completely different dish is available from Naaz Anjum as well as Aish at The Park. Of course, as most people agree, some of the best Hyderabadi food is available at the wedding feasts. 

Haleem

The next hugely popular dish from the Hyderabadi stable in Haleem, a pounded wheat and rice concoction with ghee and masala. Haleem is usually the best during the month of Ramzan, and it provides employment to many people during the holy month. Café 555, Sarvi, Shah Ghouse and Pista House being some of my favourites for this. Grill 9 at Karkhana is another place that has gained recognition for its superior haleem. There are a few places that serve haleem throughout the year, Chicha’s at Masab Tank, Green Park Hotel (a favourite of mine) and Firdaus at Taj Krishna are some that come to my mind. 

Marag

There is much more to the cuisine than the above two. Marag, a fine broth ((a fabulous meat broth, the best version of which you get at Sohail Hotel, Malakpet),  Talawa Gosht (go to Alhumdulillah for the beef and Meridian for the lamb version), Seekh Kababs (Shehran for the mutton and Kabab-e-Jahangiri for the beef), Shikampur (meaning belly full, try it from one of the home chefs), Chicken 65 (at Al-Akbar near Charminar) are some of the dishes that come to mind. Patthar Ka Gosht, Nizam’s favourite boneless meat preparation cooked on a stone is best at Bade Miyan in Upper Tank Bund. This is a special dish from the Deccani cuisine and must be savoured here. Chicha’s in another place where I liked the dish.

For a typically Hyderabadi breakfast, I suggest you visit Nayaab near Madina building. Reach there early in the morning and start with their Paya Nihari simmering in a huge degh near the entrance. While Bheja Fry, Bheja Masala and Bhaji Gurda are some of the known dishes here, do not miss Malai Paya the signature dish here. Their saffron tea or Kesar Chai is another attraction

Malai Paya at Nayaab

Some of the other Irani “hotels” are also known for their offal items too. Enjoy the Kheema at Alpha Hotel near Secunderabad station, or Gurda Bhaji at the Paradise breakfast joint on the ground floor of the restaurant complex. Among other popular dishes, Khichdi Keema Khatta is worth trying at Shadab or Shah GhouseShadab also makes a decent Paya Nihari.

Among the Hyderabadi breads, the most popular is Charkoni Naan, the square naan which has perforation marks to be shared by four people. Quite a few places near Purani Haveli in Old City roll out these naans exclusively, the most well-known among them is Munshi Naan.  The dishes which go well with this naan are particularly Marag and Nihari. In the wedding feasts you get a heart-shaped version of the dish, called "Dil Naan".

Biscuits at Nimra Cafe

When we talk about breakfast, we need to talk about the Irani Chai. Tea is consumed in high volumes throughout the day by Hyderabadis at the countless Irani Hotels in the city. Some of the best places known for Irani or Dum Ki Chai are Nimra Café at Charminar and Niloufer Café. Hyderabad has some fantastic biscuits to go with tea, including Osmania and Fruit biscuits that have been made popular by Karachi Bakery all over the country. At Nimra Café you can see a platter of many types of biscuits they make, among which Chand and Tye biscuits deserve a special mention. And do not leave the city without trying out the Dum Ke Roat at Subhan Bakery at Nampally, for me that is easily the best product in this genre.

Jouzi Halwa

Finally the Hyderabadi desserts. Khubani Ka Meetha made from apricot, and Double Ka Meetha, the Hyderabadi cousin of Shahi Tukra are available in any hotel. Then there is Badam ki Jaali and Ashrafi (fashioned after the coin of Nizam), mostly found in marriages, but you can order them from the makers in old city, they also put up a stall in Numaish, the Hyderabad exhibition during January and February. There are many variations of Hyderabadi sweets with dishes like Kaddu ka Kheer, Ande ke Lauz, the many versions of Phirni and more. The best place to visit for Hyderabadi sweets is Meethe Miyan, a shop exclusively dealing with Hyderabadi sweets at Filmnagar and Banjara Hills. Jouzi Halwa is a Turkish-Hyderabadi dessert which one needs to try at Hameedis at Nampally.

Badam ki Jaali

But Hyderabad’s native cuisine is not just what is known as “Hyderabadi”. A long stint as the capital of undivided Andhra Pradesh has given this city access to some awesome Telugu food from different regions of the state. Maybe I will cover that in another post someday. 

To the readers of this post, if there are your favourite places for Hyderabadi food in the city, please add in the comments below. I will love to visit them. 

Please see the youtube conversation below for more details on food in Hyderabad..




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