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How Kolkata got its parantha

Mughlai parantha in a Kolkata restaurant. File Photo   | Photo Credit: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

It has been an enigma, how Kolkata got its special ‘Mughlai paranthas’ or the fine Mughlai cuisine that’s even better than that of Lucknow, Hyderabad, Delhi and Bhopal. “Calcutta’s Mughlai paranthas are just celestial. I’ve never tasted anything better than this,” wrote Iranian writer Ali Disti, who later became a vegetarian.

The Mughlai parantha originated during Jehangir’s time. Bored with simple paranthas with qeema (not kheema: that is a corrupted form of the Arabic qeema), he gave his cook Adil Hafiz Usman 10 days to think up something unconventional. On the ninth day Usman made zabir-fala or anda-roti ( zabir is egg and fala is bun in Pehlavi) which came to be known as Mughlai parantha. Jahangir was delighted and gave Usman 1,001 gold coins.

Usman was originally from Burdwan, now in West Bengal. He didn’t teach other chefs the complete process of making Mughlai parantha: he kept that for his son. When Burdwan became the Mughal empire’s official revenue-collection centre for Bengal at the time of Shah Jahan, eateries serving Mughlai cuisine came up.

Usman told his son not to go and work in Avadh (Lucknow), Dilli, Agra or Dakkhan (Bijapur, Aurangabad, Hyderabad) after a chef from Lucknow insulted him. Usman’s son Farogh began to experiment with Mughlai paranthas at Burdwan and never shared the formula with the chefs of Lucknow and Dilli (from Barbara Mansfield: History of Mughal India and its Cuisine). It remained with the seven sons of Farogh. When their descendants began to work as chefs in 19th century Calcutta, Mughlai paranthas became Calcutta’s own dish. It was relished by Bengali gourmets as also the men of the East India Company.

Hotel Nizam, Aminia (at Esplanade), Shiraz and Regent became hot-spots for Mughlai paranthas. The crispness you find in Calcutta you don’t find elsewhere. Nizam’s rolls and Mughlai paranthas are still enjoyed by the staff of Writers’ Building. Chief Minister Bidhan Chandra Roy would religiously have a Mughlai parantha each day. In the 1940s, Shiraz on Park Street had a chef whose paranthas were unbeatable. He was a descendant of Adil Usman.

Though many from the Usman clan migrated to Pakistan and opened eateries there, they couldn’t make a parantha as tasty as that of Calcutta. There should be something in the water and air of Calcutta that aids the reputation!


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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 10:25:03 AM |

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