Every student and book lover who has ever resided in Kolkata has been to College Street at some point of time, be it to buy test papers at a much cheaper rate than the average neighbourhood store, buy second hand text books and reference material at the beginning of a new academic session, or just browse an afternoon away rifling through pages with little inscriptions of love at a quaint little bookshop with walls that appear to be made of books. There is but one thing that could rival the love for books Bengalis have, and that is their fascination with food. No wonder, then, that these two major Bengali interests enrich each other, growing in close quarters at College Street.
1. Coffee House
Located on Bankim Chatterjee Street, opposite to Presidency University, Coffee House, a place immensely significant for its role in the revolutionary socio-cultural and artistic appeal of the Hungry Generation of Bengal, had gained popularity long before the famous Manna Dey song about it was conceived.
Regulars might affectionately (and jokingly) declare that the only thing to complain about Coffee House is the coffee, one does not simply visit Coffee House for the coffee. While they also serve other food varying from a boiled egg to sandwiches to accompany your beverage of choice, one visits Coffee House to soak in the cultural experience the artists, the revolutionaries and the intelligentsia of Kolkata have to offer, or perhaps to participate.
Whether you are seated on the first floor or are loftily looking down upon the first floor balcony tables from your seat in the second floor, the real reason for your visit to Coffee House must be your love for the ambience.
If you wish to have a firsthand experience of witnessing the vibrant intellectual community of Calcutta gathering under one roof, some, to brainstorm ideas, some to discuss ideologies or some to simply sit alone in a corner with a sketchbook or a notepad and create, walk into Coffee House, and you will surely find yourself in the middle of it.
When crowded, like it usually is, the food might take a little while to arrive. However, the patrons make the most of it by either engaging in artistic pursuits, or starting the never-ending Bangali adda session.
It certainly helps that they don’t just serve coffee at Coffee House but also cater to stronger needs for food with their lunch menu on the flip side of the menu, so if you need your morning dose of caffeine, or get ravenously hungry while shopping for books at College Street, or perhaps just hungry for some food for thought, do pay this historic place a visit.
As the name suggests, D’Ley Chinese Eating House is a Chinese eatery. It serves a variety of Chinese food; however, the various kindsof hakka noodles and fried rice happen to be the customer favourites. The variations include options like chicken, veg, egg or mixed among the two most selling dishes. The serving size of one dish is large enough to be amicably split by two people.
What makes this place truly unique, however, are the incredibly friendly people there. D’Ley is a family run business, and if you visit the place in the afternoon, around the time that schools disperse their students, do not be surprised if adorable little toddlers show up for a chat, making your otherwise dull wait for food interesting.
Not many people are aware of the existence of this eatery, which, perhaps, serves it well, for Gunjan Chinese Food is located on a narrow lane, and has a very limited number of tables. However, that does not stop it from still attracting a considerable crowd of people in the know, for the place has delicious food, and an enchanting ambiance especially when the lights turn on in the evening.
4. Porota Goli
This lane of College Street is renowned among the college students and office goers of the area for having delicious yet affordable food. The food is especially appetising because it is served hot, as it is made, right in front of you in the open kitchen.
One of the fastest selling items at Porota Goli is Porota with Chicken er Jhol, and for good reason, too, for the juicy, succulent meat and the aroma of spices accompanied by soft paratha comes at a pocket friendly price. Another favourite would be Luchi-Alur torkari, which has, with each serving, ‘phhulko’ luchi and a dish of potatoes in a Bengali style gravy.
Putiram is one of the most renowned names when it comes to the sweets scene of Kolkata. Located at College Square, this place is best known for its luchi-chholar dal and ice cream shondesh. It also sells a variety of other sweets, like chocolate sandesh, along with more traditional sweets such as rosogolla, pantua or madhukalash, a sandesh with a liquid jaggery filled centre.
One needs to get thirsty in Kolkata with the sole purpose of visiting Paramount Sherbats and Syrups. Located a minutes’ walk away from Presidency University, this place is famous for its sherbets and juices.
With its narrow, closely placed benches and mounted deer heads on the walls, the seating area of Paramount has a certain old world charm about it resembling the architectural styles of the ‘bonedi bari’s that makes one nostalgic of the old North Calcutta.
It is imperative that you try it all and find your favourite, whether it be the curd based creamy malai drinks or the classic coconut water drink (‘dub sarbat’) that you prefer, or the special passion fruit drink that is every bit as exotic as promised, or plain syrup based drinks. The dub sarbat has, in fact, been a customer favourite for a long time, the icy coolness of the drink cut by the flavour of the fresh coconut water, with a soft piece of coconut flesh or dub malai submerged in the tall glass of drink as a stark contrast to the crunchy fragments of ice chips with each sip.
You might even get to interact with the owner, if you happen to be the chatty type, and get to hear stories about the numerous renowned patrons frequenting this place.
If you fall in love with a flavour, you also have the option of buying a bottle of syrup to take back home to dilute and drink on hot afternoons or to serve to guests in summer evenings.