11 Foods to Try in Kolkata

Kolkata, fish thali.

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The cuisine in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal and former capital of British India, has been influenced by various migrant communities who settled in the city. When it comes to food, Bengalis are renowned for their love of fish and milk-based sweets. Fish is a staple that's eaten daily and even twice a day in many homes. The liberal use of mustard and mustard oil, along with a blend of panch phoron spices (cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, and nigella seeds) for tempering, make Bengali cuisine distinctive. Don't miss trying the following foods when visiting Kolkata.

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Kathi Rolls

Kolkata kathi roll.

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If you're looking for a quick on-the-go snack, you can't pass up a kathi roll. This celebrated Kolkata street food was conceived at Nizam's, a simple Mughlai cuisine eatery that opened near New Market in 1932. The original kathi roll was a meat kebab wrapped in a paratha (flatbread) with toppings and spices, said to have been made for the convenience of British bureaucrats who stopped by on their way to the Dalhousie Square business district. However, it has since evolved to have all kinds of fillings ranging from brain and egg to paneer (Indian cottage cheese). In addition to Nizam's, here's where else to get the best kathi rolls in the city.

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Kolkata Biryani

Kolkata biryani.

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Kolkata has its own unique style of biryani, which features potatoes and often boiled eggs. It's lighter on spices too. This type of biryani is a modified version of Awadhi biryani from the kitchens of royalty. The king of Awadh (present-day northeastern Uttar Pradesh, including Lucknow), Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, brought the dish with him to Kolkata after the British dethroned him in 1856. Legend has it that potato was added either as a substitute for costly meat or because it was considered an "exotic" vegetable at the time. Arsalan and Aminia are two restaurants famed for their authentic Kolkata-style biryani. However, the Royal Indian Hotel on Rabindra Sarani takes credit for introducing biryani to the people of Kolkata. It opened in 1905 and serves Lucknowi-style without potato, though.

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Kosha Mangsho

Kosha mangsho.

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Kosha mangsho is a fiery traditional Bengali mutton (goat) curry that's mainly eaten on weekends and special occasions. Mutton pieces are marinated and cooked in mustard oil with spices over low heat until tender. Those who don't like mutton can order the chicken version. Eat it with luchi (deep-fried puffed bread) or steamed rice. The hottest kosha mangsho can be found at 95-year-old Golbari at Shyambazar's five-point crossing. For a slightly milder version, try Koshe Kosha, or Aaheli at the Peerless Inn on Chowringhee Road, a fine-dining option that serves perhaps the best kosha mangsho in the city.

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Chelo Kebab

Chelo Kebab, Kolkata.

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A Kolkata restaurateur brought the chelo kebab all the way to the city from Iran in the early 1970s. This dish consists of minced meat kebabs served with a fried egg, rice, and a few scoops of butter. Many eateries have tried to copy it, but you can sample the original one at the iconic Peter Cat restaurant, just off Park Street. Be prepared to wait or book in advance if you go during busy times.

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Shorshe Ilish

Shorshe illish.

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Shorshe ilish (hilsa fish in mustard-based sauce) is the holy grail of fish dishes. A type of Indian herring, the fish is most abundant during the monsoon season when it swims upriver from the Bay of Bengal to lay eggs. It's revered for its soft, oily texture but be aware it is boney. Classy Oh Calcutta! in the Forum Mall on Elgin Road holds an annual Hilsa Festival with shorshe ilish featuring prominently.

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Daab Chingri

Daab chingudi.

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Daab chingri delights seafood lovers with its succulent jumbo prawns cooked inside the shell of a tender green coconut and given a hint of mustard. This technique was common in rural Bengal and made its way to Kolkata from there, surviving in the sprawling kitchens of the aristocracy. Daab chingri is the signature dish at 6 Ballygunge Place restaurant. Alternatively, it is recommended at nostalgic Bengali movie-themed Saptapadi on Purna Das Road in Hindustan Park too.

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Aloo Posto

Aloo posto.

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Bengalis are as crazy about potatoes as they are about fish. This simple yet tasty dish is a specialty of the region. It consists of potatoes cooked in poppy seed (posto) paste and spices and has a mild nutty flavor. Poppy seeds found their way into Bengali cuisine when the British East India Company began trading in opium, and workers took the discarded seeds home from opium processing plants. The poppy seeds produce a slightly relaxing effect, making the dish perfect before an afternoon nap! Aloo posto is a fixture on the menus of Bengali cuisine restaurants in Kolkata. Budget-friendly Kasturi on Marquis Street in the New Market area does a good version of it.

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This bitter vegetable stew prepared in mustard oil is usually served at the beginning of a typical Bengali lunch. It contains vegetables such as bitter gourd to cleanse the palate and get the digestive juices flowing. However, milk is sometimes added to it to offset the bitterness. The dish is thought to have been adapted either from the Portuguese cuisine that was prominent along the Bay of Bengal or ancient Ayurvedic traditions. Try it at Tero Parbon on Purna Das Road in Hindustan Park.

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Mishti Doi

Mishti doi.

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Served in clay cups to absorb moisture, misthi doi is a thick and creamy sweet yogurt dessert that's a favorite among locals. Although the rasgulla still rules in popularity, mishti doi is much more indulgent and addictive. It's made by caramelizing boiled milk with jaggery (unrefined sugar) and letting it sit and ferment overnight. Balaram Mullick sweet shop has been specializing in "mishti magic" since 1885. Its main branch is in Bhowanipore in south Kolkata, and there's also a convenient central branch on Park Street. Ganguram is another century-old option at Everest House on Chowringhee Road, Esplanade.

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Upon first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking puchka is the same as pani puri or golgappa sold on the streets elsewhere in India. However, any Bengali will tell you there's no comparison! These hollow little puffed wheat balls are stuffed with spicy mashed potato filling and dipped in tangy tamarind water. The vendor will make them according to your taste preference, including reducing or increasing the heat. Puchka stalls pop up all over the city in the evenings. Some local favorites are Vardaan Market on Camac Street and Maharaja Chaat Center at Vivekananda Park on Southern Avenue.

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Luchi and Cholar Dal

Luchi and cholar dal.

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Luchi and cholar dal is a classic Bengali breakfast combination that's also eaten for lunch. Lentils are cooked with coconut, spices, and sugar to make the dal, which may also come with small potato pieces. Putiram's at College Square (intersection of College Street and Surya Sen Street) and Sri Hari Mistanna Bhandar in Bhowanipore are renowned for their cholar dal.