Sunday, November 6, 2016
ZAKARIA STREET; RAMZAN FOOD WALK
pic courtsey: Sikharendra Datta
Zakaria & Colootola Street area is the most sought after destination of foodies of Kolkata during this month of Ramadan. People who indulge themselves in the hallowed world of Mughlai cuisine swear by the street-food that’s on offer here. The ubiquitous Haleem rules in its many avatars but equally alluring are the wide array of kebabs, roasted and tandoored chicken and meat delicacies and even fish. And it doesn’t just stop at that. Sweet buns & cookies made in local bakery, Halwa and some out of the world kulfis are sold to quench your longing for deserts. A walk through the narrow crowded streets here is surely a sensory overload.
Like many Kolkattans, this season I was also out on the haleem trail. After the usual Royal, Arsanal & Aliah, I was targeting the much revered Aminiya, one of the oldest eatery on this street. On a late Sunday evening, I entered Zakaria Street from Central Avenue end, walking the entire stretch towards the other end where it meets Chitpore Road with the towering green domed Nakhoda Mosque dominating the intersection. The street was barricaded off within a few hundred meters for vehicular traffic. On the other side the whole street transformed itself into a huge bazar. Makeshift stalls popped up everywhere, on the footpath, on both sides of the street and also in the middle with a steady stream of people meandering through the narrow alleys in between the stalls. Colorful plastic sheets covered the top, obliterating the view of the sky and the late afternoon sun filtered through them in myriad hues bathing the place in eerie light. It seems I was suddenly transported into medieval times, of Alladin and Arabian nights.
The first thing that hit me as I entered was the aroma of food wafting through the air. Lots of food stalls, decked up in bright lights and dancing LED displays selling kebabs, roasted & fried chicken, biryani and other meat delicacies is set up everywhere. Iron skewers laden with meat and chicken were laid on coal ovens & tandoors or simply hung in rows. Whole roasted chickens anointed with spices hung from hooks or displayed in glass boxes. Loads of chicken pieces were being fried in huge woks filled with boiling oil on hissing gas stoves.
Some makeshift stalls sold haleem in degs set up on rickety wooden tables. Price lists, hand written on paper with sketch pen pinned or cello taped on red cloth covering the back of the stalls. People queued up with stainless steels cans and large dollops of the aromatic liquid were quickly being filled. Further ahead my attention was caught by the huge stacks of sweet buns, breads and varieties of cookies that are on sale. Large buns are stacked up over one another and balanced precariously in the open with honeybees buzzing around the thick sugar sap & cherry topping. Fruits, an integral part of the menu for breaking the day long fast were being sold, whole or sliced and peeled in a mixed array. Dominating the scene was the long rows of watermelons that were laid out in a spectacular display on the tables. Cut in half-moon shape and bright red they seemed to be the show stopper for the photo hunters as they jostled for space to capture the right frame.
pic courtesy: Sikharendra Datta
pic courtesy: Sikharendra Datta
I had to go forward trying to locate Aminia which itself had become a difficult task as the garment stalls were set up everywhere with their overflowing merchandise, completely blocking the view of the side of the street. I was wading through a sea of cloths, mostly in shocking colours and often with faux zari work glittering in the bright lights from the naked electric bulbs. Cloths seemed to be everywhere, all around me and those hung from above brushing my face, blocking the vision as I stumbled & waded through the maze.
I did locate Aminia at last, almost like a discovery, as I squeezed my way out through a narrow opening in between the stalls. The usual look of the eatery has changed. The wooden chairs and the stone topped tables have vanished baring the interior of the shop. Only the cash counter remained and action was shifted on the footpath where huge degs of haleem was set up. The ramzan menu is simple, just haleem and biryani and it’s all take way. Beef haleem came in three varieties along with mutton and chicken haleem. The haleem menu displayed on large green flexes al around. There is Beef Arbi Haleem @ Rs.115/-, Beef Special haleem infused with mutton kofta (meat balls), zuban (tongue) & Ghost came @120/- & beef magaz (brain) haleem was selling @Rs.120/- per serving and sold in white plastic bowls. Chicken (boneless) and mutton paya haleem was retailing at Rs.175/- per serving.
Paper coupons were flying off the cash counter and I jostled my way in and ordered for all three varieties. Deft hands picked up dollops of the aromatic liquid with the meat and quickly filled up the plastic bowls. Magaz is cooked separately and was put into the plastic bowl just before haleem is poured in. Back home I had the luck of tasting all three back to back and taste was great, with the right texture and flavor. I am no expert at penning down the intricacies of taste going into finer details but I can just say that the Haleem tasted really good. I did not like the magaz haleem as much as the other varieties. I believe addition of magaaz in the haleem is more from commercial interest than culinary excellence and it did nothing to enhance the taste. The fried magaz itself is a good dish but mixed with haleem It tasted like a foreign object and no way gelled with the overall taste.
What I missed is the haleem from Bashir Hotel, which is walking distance from Aminya and on Colootola Street. I was told that they are essentially the caterers for many prominent muslim families in Kolkata for their social and religious occasions. In a recent survey ‘The Telegraph’ rated their haleem as the best of the lot. Sadly by six PM it was over an out at Basheer’s and I had to return empty handed. But then I had vowed to go back there before the Eid just to indulge in the taste their famed haleem.
It’s just so amazing here which becomes the epicenter of the festivity during Ramadan months. Immersed in the sights and sounds you discover just another face & character of Kolkata. There are so much of Kolkata within Kolkata and this is where you feel it.
Some of you had been there some not. I am poor with my words which I felt is not enough to describe the ‘feel’ of this place. So I had also shot this small walkthrough video which will give you some essence of the place, particularly to people who had missed so far. Please watch and see if you like it.