Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is a relatively young city, an amalgamation of villages (including one named Kalikata) formed after the English landed on the swampy shores of the Ganges in Bengal in the late 17th century. By the turn of the 19th century, the city had metamorphosed into a haven of private enterprise that drew people from around the world: artisans, traders, landowners — and the cooks and confectioners who fed them. Along with British colonizers and native Bengalis, the city was home to workers from across North India who filled the thriving port and jute mills, as well as Parsis, Marwaris, and Gujaratis from West India. There were also sizable communities of immigrants, including Baghdadi Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Portuguese, and Chinese.
Today, the culinary landscape is a tapestry knit from these diverse culinary traditions, and the city’s industrial roots continue to show through in pice hotels, utilitarian eateries that serve unpretentious Bengali food at reasonable prices, mostly to working-class customers. But as a buzzing magnet for the arts, Kolkata is constantly balancing the comfort of old favorites with the thrill of exploration. Pice hotels are increasingly opening their doors to tourists — about as close as visitors can get to eating in a Bengali home — and the fabric of the city’s dining scene often welcomes new threads, from burgers to Neapolitan pizza. It all comes together in a food culture that is steadfastly cosmopolitan and quintessentially Kolkata.
Priyadarshini Chatterjee is a food and culture writer from Kolkata. Her work focuses on the intersections of food, history, and culture, and has appeared in publications like Whetstone, Rasa, Conde Nast Traveller India, Scroll, LIVE Mint Lounge, and Lonely Planet India, among others.Read More