Rahul Verma rediscovers the joys of eating out in Kolkata

There was a time, if you remember, when Calcutta was the food hub of India. Delhi was a sleepy babu-town those days, Bangalore and Chennai were still to emerge as trendy cities with good eating places, and while Mumbai had its share of good restaurants, they paled in comparison to those in Calcutta’s Park Street. I remember from my early visits to Calcutta that the standard of food in most restaurants was as high as the prices were low.

But that was then. Now, in the last decade or so, Delhi has emerged as a haven for food. A neighbourhood shopping area called Khan Market has turned into a veritable food arcade. You throw a stone in South Delhi, and you’ll hit a restaurant. And while some of them do need to be stoned, quite a few, I must admit, serve some seriously good food.

Calcutta, on the other hand, is not what it used to be. It still has a plethora of restaurants, and new ones are opening every day. But I think it’s got left behind somewhere in the race for the best restaurants. Some restaurants in the city are, indeed, excellent. But most are so-so.

But during my visit there last week, I got a chance to eat at a restaurant that I had been hearing a lot about. This is a nondescript place called Eau Chew on Mission Row Extension, near Chandni Chowk in Calcutta. A friend had told us about it several years ago. The food was excellent if it was ordered in advance, he’d then said.

A couple of my friends— who also swear by Eau Chew— did just that when they took us to the restaurant one evening. The place is famous for its chimney soup— a huge dish (a full meal, really) of clear soup with chicken, pork, shrimps and veggies. I love this soup, and remember having had some delicious portions at this small restaurant near New Market years ago. So the friends ordered a medium helping of the soup (which was so large that we ate to our heart’s content, and there was still some left), along with some other specialities of the restaurant. There was a plate of Josephine’s Noodles, stir fried spinach, pork ribs and roast chilli pork.

But before I talk about the food, let me describe the restaurant to you. It’s one of those quiet, non-glitzy places that you only know about if you are a very serious foodie. My two friends are such serious foodies that they breathe, eat and sleep food, and have been old fans of Eau Chew.

The place is bare— with laminated tables and simple chairs in clusters. Josephine, the lady who runs the restaurant (which was started, according to her son, by his granddad some 80 years ago) approved of our order, and the chimney soup came within minutes to our table.

And it was simply delicious— very, very light, but full of goodies. I loved the noodles too, which were part crispy and part soft, and came heaped with shrimps, pork, chicken, lamb and veggies. Both pork dishes were excellent; the meat was soft and juicy, the sauces were piquant, and the seasonings just right.

And the prices! Everything is so inexpensive that you actually feel you are cheating the owners. Two people can happily eat there for Rs. 500-700.

So if you are planning to visit Calcutta in the near future, I would suggest that you try Eau Chew out. It brought back my faith in a city that I once loved.

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