Sampling Kolkata Winter Cuisine from 7 Home Kitchens
National Geographic Traveller India|January 2021
A BEVY OF HOMEGROWN CLOUD KITCHENS HAVE CROPPED UP IN THE CITY OF GASTRONOMIC JOY, RUSTLING UP EVERYTHING FROM PORK CHILLY TO PAD THAI
SOHINI DAS GUPTA

Rare is the Kolkata winter that doesn’t seduce with a bouquet of lavish smells. Even without a map you’re well-fated to run into the possibility of plum cakes down this street or tehari along that... nolen gur at the sweet shops, and carts of breakfast dumplings.

Now the seasonal feast has extended to gourmets in the form of cloud and home kitchen services that boomed into being when the pandemic hit. Guided by market and the think-time that lockdowns afforded, chefs—young amateurs, seasoned matrons, and former hotel professionals—have put their money on remote kitchens. Suddenly sharing one’s love for good food, or monetising it, isn’t limited by the logistics of space, resources or culinary degrees. We sample seven spoonfuls of Kolkata’s home-food frenzy as it hits a sweet spot this winter.

OUT OF THE BOX

Whether it is her writing or her food, former journalist Shrutanwita Chakraborty prefers to keep things brisk. So when the 29-year-old paired up with sister-in-law and IIHMgraduate Sayeri Pramanik to start their cloud kitchen What’s in a Box?, the menu reflected her love for clean, minimalistic flavours. “A small bunch of classics that we’ve come to master” is how she describes WIAB’s gorgables—delivered on pre-ordering in and around South Kolkata.

So what is in the box? For starters, there’s crispy, buttery fish fry, succulent enough to scald your tongue for. “Quality fish, usually the day’s fresh bhetki from a trusted local supplier, is half the wonder,” reveals Chakraborty. If it’s larger than your palm, it will cost ₹90, and a palm-sized treat, still fat enough, is priced gently at ₹60. Once a week, the variants make their way to the North, where special deliveries are rolled out via online food delivery services, typical of many home kitchens.

Bengali-style baked bhetki (Asian seabass) flavoured by the hiss of mustard is another hot seller predicted to persist. Festive picks like pan-seared chicken with grilled greens may have taken over her winter menu, but Chakraborty’s dream remains to innovate around the city’s chronic love for fish. Think rich coconut notes of a chingri malai curry, or a prawn cutlet, goldened to perfection.

Facebook: What’s in a Box?; Instagram: @whatsinabox2020; 7076055433.

SLOW BUT STEADY

Helmed by Angad Kapoor, formerly a chef with The Westin Gurgaon, Soy Kitchen is the new kid on the block. Started with friend Akshat Tulshan only last November, the cloud kitchen based out of rambunctious Park Street serves up some equally jazzy Southeast Asian fare. Patrons hooked to top draws like chilli pork and chicken/pork momos might mark down the items as house specialties, but Kapoor insists that Soy Kitchen’s edge lies not just in their dishes, but the manner of cooking them. Whether it is the Tibetan noodle soup thenthuk to traditional Chinese siu mai and pot stickers, great care is taken to ensure slow cooking, “so each flavour is enhanced.”

While Kapoor hopes to capitalise on Kolkata’s massive crush on Chinese food, he has travelled to Thailand in the hope of introducing his city to authentic som tam and pad thai—dishes he reckons get lost or bastardised amid louder, spicier renditions. Stir fries, sweet-and spice prawns, silken Thai curries, winter soups and smokey tandoor items will rule the roost in the fleeting chill. Open all seven days, Soy Kitchen’s profitability admittedly hinges around “being able to gather a dedicated customer base,” something Kapoor hopes to achieve with “good quality, good quantity, and doorstep delivery at a time when people aren’t looking to step out.”

Facebook: Soy Kitchen; Instagram: @soykitchencal; 9831637316.

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