Iconic Restaurant Food

A mini China in Calcutta

“Anirban!” The middle-aged man has already called the name out thrice before alloting the table to the next person. The group of women in line are pleased at the unexpected promotion. Just then, Anirban appears out of nowhere. “You called me, sir!” he pants.

“You are late. Please wait for the next table,” the man rebukes. Helpless, Anirban joins the queue again. No, this isn’t a scene out of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film; it is an everyday story at Bar-B-Q. The highly sought-after Chinese restaurant stands bang in the middle of Kolkata, a city known for its passion for food.

The city is known for something else too — its authentic Chinese cuisine. “Kolkata, according to Calcuttans, has the best Chinese food in the country. Some would say even the world. One would think these are presumptuous claims, but when you eat at a place like this, you know they are right,” says Rajat Mitra, who’s grown up in Kolkata, and is a regular at Bar-B-Q, quips, even as he chews on a large batter-fried prawn. The golden-fried king prawn is incidentally one of the most loved items on the menu.

A mini China in Calcutta

“When my father, late Shailendra Shivji Kothari, set up the restaurant in 1960, it served continental, Indian and Chinese. Since the demand for Chinese kept rising, we eventually turned it into a Chinese place, but we do serve a small selection of Indian food too,” says Rajiv Kothari, youngest son of the founder and current owner of the restaurant.

Designed by German architect Messerschmidt, Bar-B-Q is spread over three buildings on the upmarket Park Street. Its vintage décor with large windows, winding staircase, solid-wood furniture, low-ceiling fans, and indoor balconies, transports one to the glamorous 60s. The din of the customers, interjected now and then by hearty laughter, tells you how popular it is even today. Livered waiters are quick and courteous, and, if you are new, they even help you decide what to order.

A mini China in Calcutta

The hub of Chinese food

The fragrance is enticing, the food inviting and it is not hard to imagine why the place has been so popular for over 58 years.

Manager Steven Chou recommends Bar-B-Q special chow mein, stir-fried Chinese greens, golden-fried prawns and konjee crispy lamb. The golden-fried prawns are crisp, tender, hot and juicy all at the same time. Served with fresh and crispy fried peppers, they are lightly coated and beautifully fried. The konjee crispy lamb is crunchy, chewy (in a good way), full of flavour and goes brilliantly with beer and soda.

A mini China in Calcutta

Something for everyone

The tables around us are packed with large groups: friends, families, youngsters and the elderly. While one is celebrating a birthday, another has come to meet old friends; some are bidding farewells and some are welcoming guests.

“This is the first place I come to whenever I am in the city. If I come by train, I take a direct taxi to Park Street and even wait outside till they start service; if I fly in, I dump my luggage in the hotel and head here before I do anything else,” says Akshat Srivastava, who lived and worked in Kolkata until a few years ago. “While you are here, you must have the double-fried pork and moon fan rice; it’s brilliant,” he recommends.

A mini China in Calcutta

Our main course arrives in the meantime. The quintessential Calcutta staple — chilli chicken — is fantastic, the greens are fresh and crunchy, but the showstopper is the Bar-B-Q special chow mein — a bed of pan-fried noodles topped with a wholesome mix of chicken, prawns, pork, and vegetables cooked in a flavourful white sauce. Topped with fried egg and full of umami, the preparation is a meal in itself.

The food is great, and the portions are enormous, and we have barely been able to finish when Chou sends us the trademark darsaan — deep-fried, honey-coated flat noodles, served with ice cream. And even though we can eat no more, we instinctively reach out for the crispy golden noodles. And that, perhaps, makes Bar-B-Q what it is.

In this weekly column, we take a peek at the histories of some of the country’s most iconic restaurants


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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 3:58:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/a-mini-china-in-calcutta/article23977516.ece

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