Best Places to Eat in Kolkata

  • Cultural influences on and evolution of food in Kolkata And a list of Best Restaurants in Kolkata that serve Bengali, Haka Chinese, Mughlai, Marwari, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil and Continental cuisine.

Food and the Bengali are never too far away. And so, it was a long dream of mine to present a guide to the best eating places in Kolkata. Here is my attempt as a guide to a culinary galaxy. 


After almost 200 years of evolution, the cultural influences of Kolkata are five cuisines i.e. Bengali or Bangla Ranna, Mughlai, Awadhi, Chinese, Rest of India and Continental and Anglo-Indian Cuisine.


A major cultural influence of Bengali cuisine is widows cooking, driven by the strict monastic routine of widows who lost their aged husbands at a young age. This paradoxically gave rise to a wealth of cookery, using only certain vegetables and eschewing the usage of onions and garlic. Even thirty years ago Bengali cuisine was strictly confined to the household kitchen. With time, things have changed. There are many restaurants serving Bengali food – driven by influences both from West Bengal and Bangladesh.


Another major aspect of food philosophy in Bengal is the mixing of all flavours and the gradual progression of a meal from bitter to sweet. No food is wasted and local, seasonal produce is consumed as much as possible. The composition of the menu varies with the weather and calendar at all times.


The best Bengali restaurants in Kolkata today are Aaheli, 6 Ballygunge Place, Oh! Calcutta and Kewpies. (run by the scion of the Dasgupta family, food connoisseurs for years).


At the middle end, there are value for money chains like Bhajahori Manna, Sholo Anna Bangali and Saare Chuattar. At the lower end are hotels which offer wholesome meals for as little as Rs 10, comprising rice, dal, vegetables and fish curry. Such hotels are found in suburban railway stations and the court premises at Alipore Judge Court and Police Court.          

Chop cutlet

Included in the gamut of Bengali cuisine is the street food and jalkhabar (mini meals) which are evening snacks. A major aspect of Bengali cuisine is deep frying in mustard oil, which has led to the ‘chop cutlet and roll’ sub culture of Bengali street food. The Bengali has always thrived on adda where the cup of Darjeeling/ Assam/ Dooars tea needs snacks and accompaniments. This has led to a variety of much loved fried snacks such as fish fry, fish fingers, vegetable chop, chicken cutlets, mutton chops, prawn cutlets.


Another much loved snack is the Mughlai Paratha (pronounced porota by Bengalis) which is similar to the Turkish gozleme. Anadi Cabin off Esplanade is synonymous with Mughlai Paratha for years. The Kosha Mangsho (Pot roasted mutton) of Gol Bari (Shyambazar) is now a brand name in itself, served with plain paratha. A big item of jalkhanar is ghugni (curried chickpeas at times served with mutton mince). Unlike its Punjabi cousin, it is non vegetarian at will and served with toast or paratha.       


The profusion of cabins (essentially private dining rooms for families with wooden partitions) set up in the early 1900s in North and Central Kolkata are storehouses of culinary excellence. It would be right to mention the names of Mitra Cafe and Dhiren Cabin (Sovabazar), Allen’s kitchen (known for its prawn cutlet deep fried in ghee), Barua and De (off Khanna cinema in Shyambazar noted for its Pantaras or Pan rolls), Niranjan Agar (off Girish Park). It would be also worthwhile to mention the name of Dacres Lane off Esplanade, which evolved as a street food hub over eighty years.  One of the most celebrated hubs belonged to Chitta Babu whose stew and toast was legendary and prized by Anglo Indian secretaries for their light yet nourishing mid-day meals. Likewise in South Kolkata, the name of Bijoli Grill was synonymous with high quality fish fry and fish fingers.

Fish Fingers.  

Jhal Muri. 

Street food  is also part of the repertoire of Bengali cuisine. The humble jhal muri has also become part of the adda culture, a value for money paper bag of diverse flavours, fully vegan and now called instant food. Vivekananda Park in South Kolkata has evolved as a hub for street food – whether jhal muri, bhel puri, phuchka (also called golgappa and panipuri) and papri chat. Another chaat hub is opposite Victoria Memorial in the maidan and off Vardan Market in Camac Street mainly for North Indian Street food.  


One cannot leave the discussion without touching upon the roll. The ROLL  evolved from a basic snack into a mini meal with a simple structure – a paratha freshly mixed with dough and shallow fried on a griddle, then filled with diverse fillings such as vegetables, paneer, egg, chicken and mutton before being topped with masalas and sauces. As its international cousins the Doner Kebab and Shawarma have evolved in Germany, Turkey and the Middle East, the roll has evolved as a brand ambassador of Kolkata.

The best rolls are found in Nizam (off New Market), Badshah (one of the original creators of the roll), Hot Kathi roll and Kusum (Park Street). The South has also evolved as roll hotspots with Campari (Gariahat), Bedwin and Bawarchi (at Gariahat crossing). Competition in Rolls is probably the toughest in the Kolkata Gastronomic circuit. With time and inflation, the cost of rolls has gone up from Rs 5 in 1989 to Rs 15 in 1999 to Rs 50 today.


The conquest of Bengal by Islam left an indelible footprint of Muslim cooking style and process. Communal eating, evolution of mini meals and diverse culinary influences from Turkey, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan marked the onset of Muslim cooking. The fusion of Muslim and Hindu cooking resulted in vegetables and meat which became part of Kolkata cookery. The advent of Muslim culture and Nawabi court etiquette (known as Adab Kayda in Urdu) started with the bustling cities of Murshidabad and Dhaka in the early 1700s, followed by the exiled king of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah in 1856. The riverfront of Metiabruz (literally mud fort) was transformed into a mini-Lucknow. The food of Lucknow now came into Kolkata.


Mughlai Cooking

After Wajid Ali Shah’s death in 1887, many of the Khansama’s and Rakabdar’s set up their own eating places. Today, Kolkata is known as a hot spot of Mughlai and Awadhi cooking. The most popular dish must be Biryani – a dish of chicken/ mutton cooked with rice. The best places are Shiraz (off Mullick Bazar), Aminia (New Market), Arsalan and Zeeshan (Park Circus), Manzilat (behind Ruby Hospital). Some quixotic names like Dada Boudi Biryani (Barrackpore) abound.

Biryani with Aloo  

The differentiator of Kolkata Biryani is the humble Aloo which absorbs all the flavours of the meat broth. Other famous restaurants are Royal (Chitpur with specialization in Chicken Chaap), Shabir (Esplanade with specialization in Rezala), India Restaurant (Kidderpore with specialization in Biryani and Galouti Kebab). In each of these restaurants, the preparation of the dish is through a time-honoured process which is closely guarded. It is not unusual to see three key tasks in any restaurant: Preparation of fresh atta for making Naan/ Sheermals, mass chopping of onions for making thick gravy and preparation of fresh ginger garlic paste in any Muslim eatery. A recent entrant into the Mughlai restaurant scene has been Oudh 1590.

Chelo Kebab.

Hakka Chinese 

The evolution of Kolkata to a trading outpost led to the entry of one of the most enterprising communities–the Hakka Chinese. The first settler into Kolkata was Yong Atchew. Gradually a vibrant Chinatown evolved in Kolkata. The philosophy of Chinese food was usage of almost everything be it vegetables, chicken, mutton to pork. The mastery of boiling oil in a wok is something which only the Chinese have mastered, and starting the meal with green tea and ending with fortune cookies.


With time a unique version of Kolkata Chinese has evolved. Chinese cuisine in the form of Fried Rice, Hakka Noodles, American Chopsuey, Chilli Chicken and Garlic Pork has now become staple for the foodies of the city. The rest of India also has adopted Chinese food from the 1970s.


The best restaurants are Eau Chew (off Central Avenue and known for Chimney Soup as well as Josephine Noodles), Chung Wah (same locality), Waldorf and Bar BQ (Park Street), Tung Fong (Free School Street).


Over the last 15 yrs, many Chinese Restaurants have evolved in South Kolkata too. Mainland China has now evolved as a chain all India and is represented in malls and Gurusaday Road in the posh Ballygunge area. The top end is dominated by global chains Hakkasan and Yauatcha who have made a fine art of Edamane and Dim Sums. Basic momos with fiery sauces are available at Suburban Hospital Road, where Hamro Momo is a steady name for 30 yrs.  


Pan Asian

Pan Asian has been slow to take off, but Tom Yam finds takers for its hot spiciness, as does Tom Kha for its comforting mellowness. The ubiquitous Red curry, Green curry, Yellow curry, Panang/ Massaman curry, Satay have many fans. However, the big stars of this food are Khow Suey and Mohinga.


The best place to have these is a Buddhist temple (Central Kolkata) with monks from Myanmar. Sushi, Teppanyaki and Tempura are finding gradual takers too. But Kolkata remains a bastion of Chinese food, or specifically Indo Chinese food!  


Marwari cuisine

By the turn of the 20th century, the rail connectivity with the rest of India was established. The first community to come to Kolkata were traders from Shekhawati region in Rajasthan and were called Marwaris. They soon established a stranglehold of business in the city in specific areas like jute. Crossing the river, they made the erstwhile locality of Sutanuti their home and it soon became known as Burrabazar. Marwaris adapted typical hardy root vegetables such as sangria, gawarphali, keria and fogla as the staple vegetables.


Cooking was done with liberal dosage of ghee, yoghurt and garam masala (a spice mixture incorporating pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, bay leaves and cardamom). The dominant grains lent themselves to a variety of breads. Today, Marwari restaurants are few but have given the city high portion of street food, vegetarian meals and snacks. No Marwari meal is complete without papad and this has been established in the citys culinary map as well.


Prominent are Gangaur (Russell Street), Rajasthan Guest House (Zakaria Street), Girnar (MG Road) and Pawan Putra (Beliaghata). It would be also worthwhile mentioning the names of Vineet and Abhinandan (vegetarian fine dining restaurants set up in the early 80s which are still remembered by the gastronomes of the city). Amongst other communities from Rajasthan are the Seharwali Jains who have adopted the vegetarian food of Bengal with joy and are known for their fanatical love for Mangoes.  


Punjabi cuisine

The other community which established itself in Kolkata were Punjabis. The Hindu Punjabis established a stranglehold on the electrical goods market, while the Sikhs dominated the transport sector. The pattern of a Punjabi meal was simple but hearty. It started with a green salad and then went to a thick black dal, wholesome multi grain roti and ended with a tall glass of lassi spiked with salt and sugar.


The first Punjabi restaurants were Ballygunge Dhaba (1939), Amber (off Bentinck Street 1942), Bachan Dhaba (near Gurudwara Jagat Sudhar) and Azad Hind Dhaba (Ballygunge Circular Road). Post independence, the Ghai family set up Kwality Restaurant in Park Street which became a standard for North Indian food. Gradually, the all-India empire of Ice Creams and Restaurants set up by the Ghai and Lamba families became known for good naan, butter chicken and malai kulfis.  


Gujarati and Tamil cuisine

It would be also worthwhile mentioning Gujarati and Tamil cuisine, which has given the city some amazing cuisines. The entire gamut of vegetarian cocktail snacks has come from Gujarat, who have made the city their own from far off Saurashtra, Kutch and Palanpur. The tea and timber trade are entirely the preserve of the Gujarati community.


Saurashtra Namkin House (Southern Avenue), Anna Ras (Shakespeare Sarani) and Annapurna (Elgin Road) are known for their high quality Dhokla, Khakra, Theplas and a variety of chivda and bhujia.


Likewise, South Indian vegetarian food finds an all-India market with the ubiquitous Idli, Dosa, Utthapam and meals. One can name the erstwhile South India club (Hindustan Park 1926) as one of the pioneers of good tiffin and meals. Other big names are Raj (Bhowanipur), Banana Leaf (Lake Market) and Jyoti Vihar (Harrington Street). Another well known name is Rao Udipi (Lake View Road) operating since 1969.


Continental Food 

The last to come in were the British in 1757 and it was they who gave rise to the Continental style of cookery. The Sahibs mixed their bland food with local produce. And so, dishes like Mulligatawny soup, Chicken Clear soup, French Onion Soup, Sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken, pork chops, mutton stew, fish meuniere (fish with a thin coating of flour grilled to perfection) and of course great desserts like souffles, caramel custards and parfaits – gradually entered the Kolkata food scene by the 1900s.


A unique evolution was Anglo Indian cooking, with incorporation of local spices and western culinary practices. Typical dishes were yellow rice, mutton koftas, pan rolls, railway chicken curry and unique dishes like kedgeree (a derivative of the Bengali khichuri), chutney. While local ingredients were used, the redeeming feature of Anglo-Indian cuisine was the etiquette and pomp of ‘propah’ British food.


Amongst the most popular dishes in Kolkata is Chelo Kebab–an offering from Iran dating back to Firdousis era. The best place for Chelo Kebab is Peter Cat in Middleton Row.


Other good continental restaurants are Mocambo. Many names have faded away but still draw gasps of wonder: Blue Fox, Moulin Rouge and Skyroom (shut down in 1993) Amongst the newer names are Corner Courtyard (Maddox Square), Chapter 2 (Southern Avenue), Café Mezzuna (Elgin Road) and Chilis (serving modern American food in malls). A host of cafes serving new age continental have also come up in Southern Avenue. 


Kolkata Clubs

Kolkata has had a big club culture. Amongst the well-known clubs are Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Tollygunge Club, Calcutta Club, Bengal Club, Saturday Club, Calcutta Swimming Club and the rowing centric Lake Club, Calcutta Rowing Club. Some club dishes like smoked Hilsa (the original recipe came from Myanmar in 1826 courtesy Mogh cooks) are legendary but run the risk of being lost. Calcutta Club used to be known for rice crispy soup (nowadays rare to get). The club culture in Kolkata is one of the biggest attractions in the country.   



Kolkata has always been the haunt of the serious drinker, not the pub crawler. There are the famous bars like Saqi (Dharmatala), Tripti (Bhowanipur) which are great places for adda over a glass of whisky and basic snacks like salted peanuts, juliennes of ginger and shallots in vinegar. Then come the legendary Olypub on Park Street which serves good steaks with the usual Royal Challenge and Old Monk. In 1994, Kolkata got a great venue for live music in Someplace Else – part of Park Hotel. Of late, the Broadway Hotel (Ganesh Chandra Avenue) is a great place for drinks, snacks, pub food and some amazing live music.


Many newer pubs have come up with upmarket offerings for drinks and snacks, but the ambience of an older pub in a 1930s art deco building is something difference. Trincas in Park Street has had a great history in live music, spawning acts like Usha Uthup, Pam Crain, Louis Banks and initially Biddu who went on to make a name for himself internationally in the 1970s.  


The average mortality rate of restaurants is around 85-90% so a restaurant is not expected to last more than a year. However, most of the restaurants mentioned are long lived. Am sure that the essential food culture and the philosophies mentioned will sustain and flourish into the future. And so, the foodie continues to salivate in the culinary galaxy.



Mr Sujoy Roy Choudhury, SXC batch 1986

Mr Soumitra Chatterjee, SXC batch 1986

Mr Neelkanth Chatterjee, SXC batch 1986

Ms Chandrima Roy

Ms Jaya Ganguli

The Calcutta Cookbook, Minakshie Dasgupta and Jaya Chaliha

The Calcutta Kitchen, Chef Udit Sarkhel

Rannar Boi, Lila Majumdar

Anjums New Indian, Anjum Anand

Indian Food: A historical companion, KT Achaya


Author, Kaushik Ganguli is a Fellow Chartered Accountant cum Management Accountant with 28 yrs experience in Corporate and Entrepreneurship. He is now a Professional Counsellor cum Career Mentor running his own company, a bestselling author and a long standing resident of Kolkata. He is also a foodie with exposure to local, national and global culinary trends.


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