Calcutta, the city of palaces, is also known for its delicious, yet pocket friendly street foods. From various fries to shakes and juices, Indian Chinese to Kathi Rolls (both of which originated from this very city), kebabs to littis – you will find everything on the streets of Calcutta, round the year. But there are some special items which are sold only for a month, in a specific place only. Welcome to the Ramzan special market set around the Nakhoda Masjid, Calcutta’s largest mosque.
The Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for an entire month, known as the Ramzan or Ramadan month (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar). After sunset they break their fast with the Iftar. The area around the Nakhoda Masjid turns into a bustling bazaar of makeshift stalls selling items like kurtas, ittar, stones, lachchhas, fruits and ofcourse varieties of foods. The food items become available from around 2 PM and are sold till 3:30 AM, the time of Sehri (the last meal before fasting).
The most popular item during Ramzan is the Haleem. Available mostly during this time only, it is a stew made of wheat, barley, lentils and meat. They are slow cooked with various spices for hours. The result is a delicious dish with melt in your mouth meat. Also, the Haleem available here is a lot soupy, unlike other places known for it, like Hyderabad. While the Hyderabadi version is like a thick paste, here it is soupy with mostly boneless meat chunks. Having tasted both, I personally think they should be treated as separate dishes, as they are so different in terms of texture as well as taste.
Around the Nakhoda Masjid you will find several varieties of Haleem. Everyone will find something according to their choice. There are beef, mutton as well as chicken haleems. Normal Haleem as well exotic ones with Koftas (meatballs), Magaz (brain) or Zuban (tongue). One of the best places is Sufia (on your right, if you are entering Zakaria Street from Rabindra Sarani). They start selling from 2PM and the dining hall remains open from 2-4PM. It then reopens at 7 after iftar, but the Haleem generally gets over by 5-5:30PM. So, the best time to have it is between 2 and 4 (unless you are packing and taking it home).
But Sufia serves only the normal Haleems (beef, mutton and chicken). To taste the exotic ones you need to visit Aminia located bang opposite the Nakhoda Masjid main gate. But again, visit early. Two more places for good Haleem are Islamia and Bashir, both on the lane of Colootola Masjid, next to Zakaria Street, if you are coming from M G Road.
But if you want to taste a Haleem that is a mix of the Calcutta and Hyderabadi types, you must visit Bihari Food Corner (further down Zakaria Street towards Central Avenue/ Chittaranjan Avenue) and try their Irani Reshadar Haleem. Priced at Rs. 50 per plate, this beef haleem is not too soupy, not even too thick, and the meat here is not served in chunks, but is mixed with the stew, like the Hyderabadi version. It tastes great too. A must try if you are a Haleem lover and consume beef.
Haleem is a pretty heavy dish, and if you want to have something light, kebabs are a good option. You can start with the Kheeri Kebab (made from cow’s udder) from Haji Abdul Hamid’s stall (details here). They are famous for kheeri but also make gurda (kidney) kebabs. But, I personally am not a big fan of gurda kebabs for their strong taste.
After having a sheekh or two of kheeris here, move on to the stall of Dilshad Ahmed (details here). Dilshad bhai prepares some very special kebabs called the dahi (boti) and malai (sheekh) kebabs. Both are awesome, but I personally like malai kebab the most. The best beef kebab stall in the entire area according to me and also the variety of kebabs served here is good. He also makes kheeri and gurda kebabs.
Take the lane opposite Dilshad Ahmed’s stall and on your left you will find a stall selling sheekh kebabs with strings warpped around them. These are called Sutli kebabs. The minced meat used is so tender that a string or sutli is used to keep them in place. Try one here, they are really good.
Moving up, crossing the Colootola street enter Phears Lane and here you would find Adam’s Kebab Stall. This is the most famous and, according to me, most over-hyped kebab stall in the whole area. The media attraction and the subsequent footfall have helped them to revamp their literally hole in the wall stall, but the already quite ordinary quality have gone southward steeply. The kebabs here are priced the highest, but the sutli kebab comes loaded with onions and should be renamed onion kebab. The boti here is far better (which also comes wrapped in sutli) and if you must, you should try this one.
To those no-beef please people, Zakaria street have lots to offer for you too. From Aminia move towards Central Avenue (Chittaranjan Avenue) and just at the crossing of the first lane to your right is Taskeen. They are famous for fried chicken (Chicken Changrezi) and fish (Mahi Akbari). Sold according to weight, you need to choose your piece of meat or fish first. They will then weigh it and let you know the price. Pay for the piece and they will fry and serve it. Although they are pretty popular, I personally found their fried chicken pretty ordinary. The fried fish was worse. They are pretty overpriced too.
Right beside Taskeen is Dilli 6 and it is another place to savour some fried chicken. If you feel thirsty, both Taskeen and Dilli 6 serve lassi. Try them in between meaty meals and you will feel refreshed. They are heavy too. I personally tried the one at Dilli 6 and quite liked it.
Entering the lane on your right from Taskeen keep moving ahead, and on your left you will see a stall with a huge fish hanging in front of it. Welcome to the Muradabadi Laziz Kebab Stall. Their Chicken fries (Muradabadi Laziz Chicken) are cheaper and they have more varieties as far as fish is concerned. From Rooh Afza Fish Fry to pomfret and prawns to fish heads, you will love this stall if you are a fish lover.
Continuing on our Chicken journey, let us return to the Bihari Food Corner. Take a seat here and order their Chicken Pakoras and Pyare Kebabs (chicken sheekh kebab). The Pyare kebab was excellent and a must try item. The Chicken Pakoras were decent too (much better than the Chicken Changrezi, according to me).
Just before Bihari Food Corner, on your right, is another stall called Afghan Chicken. They sell varieties of kebabs, KFC style fried chicken, chicken Changrezi and even burgers. The items look promising and delicious. The Changrezi here was OK. Almost tasteless, but juicy. The KFC style chicken fries were juicy inside but the outer covering was too hard. Everything else was pretty bad. The kebabs were hard and had a peculiar taste. My opinion would be to avoid this stall.
If it is already 7 and the iftar is over, I would suggest you to quickly enter Aminia, book a seat and order their Ramzan special Beef Awadhi Biryani. Order the half plate, which is more than enough for a regular eater. It comes with a juicy potato, four small koftas, a juicy piece of meat and one egg – first boiled and then fried. The biryani was a spicy one with overpowering taste of garam masala, specially laung and the koftas were tasty and soft. The potato was also juicy and I loved the concept of frying the boiled egg.
Once done with the Biryani let’s return to Taskeen for a glass of Faluda. Your tongue will welcome the sweet, cool taste after the Biryani. I liked the sweet and creamy base. If you want more sweet dishes visit the stall in front of Sufia. They sell bhajis during day and after iftar starts making Shahi Tukra. The flavoured and thickened milk here might not be thick enough, but I loved the taste as it was not too sweet. Also do not forget to taste the firni from Sufia. It is the best available in Calcutta, according to me. Not the coloured yellow one, the firni here is white and not too dense. Feels a lot like our Bengali payesh (rice pudding) and tastes awesome.
Between Aminia and Taskeen there are few stalls selling breads and biscuits. These are integral part of Ramzan and lots of varieties are sold. While the biscuits are sold as per weight, the breads are priced per piece. From bakarkhani to sheermal, they come in small and large sizes. The quality also varies along with size. The large bakarkhanis have two variants. The most expensive one of 80 rupees is made with khowa and milk, while the other big one, priced at Rs 60, is made with coconut. The smaller ones priced at 20 each are made with dalda. The Sheermals or Sweet Naans can be bought at Rs. 40 for the sweeter ones and Rs. 20 for the less sweet ones. I would suggest buying the most expensive Bakarkhani and take that home. Enjoy it for breakfast or as a tea time snack.
Between the kebab, fried chicken and haleem stalls are the ones selling fresh and dry fruits, dahi vadas, veg and non veg fritters and samosas, and glasses / bottles of rooh afza. I am not a person who loves dry fruits, so I avoid these stalls. But if you love dry fruits, specially dates, there are lots of varieties available here. Just make sure you know what you are buying. The red glasses of Rooh Afza look inviting, and have a mild taste.
If the lachcha stalls make you crave some, visit the doodh lachcha stall bang opposite Dilli 6. What you get at Rs. 20 is awesome. Warm milk, lachcha (fried vermicelli), sugar and malai – what else do you need for a bowl of happiness? You will get these post iftar. Another sweet dish to try is halwa paratha. You will get this after 8PM in front of Taskeen. Just look for a man with huge parathas in front of him. When I first saw them, from a distance, I thought they were huge omelettes. Those are non flaky parathas which are torn into pieces and sold along with Sooji (Semolina) Halwa. At Rs. 10 per serving you can give them a try.
Once you are full for the day, return to Phears Lane to pack something for home. This time stop few shops before Adam’s Kebab, as soon as the smell of ghee enters your nostrils, to enter Haji Alauddin. Choose from Karachi, Gajar, Doodhi or Gond Ka Halwa. These are made from pure ghee and sold by weight. Gond ka Halwa is my personal favourite and the Karachi Halwa is also decent. Their Jalebis are quite tasty too.
As the place is full of stalls it is easy to miss some. And that is the beauty of the place too. Every time you are here, you will be able to discover something new. Also it is almost impossible to eat everything at one go. My advice is to visit the place as many time as possible and try different things each day. With only about two weeks remaining this year, just go and enjoy the amazing food around Nakhoda Masjid. Happy eating 😀
Disclaimer – If you are hygiene conscious these stalls are not for you.