Ever wanted to explore Kolkata in India? This week, we have a local sharing her experiences of living here and what you should see when you visit…
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and where you come from?
Hi, I am Tania Banerjee. I come from Kolkata, India. I have lived in my hometown for 25 years and only recently shifted my base to Mumbai. My mother and father have lived in the outskirts of Kolkata and their parents – my grandparents – saw colonial India and its struggle for independence. My paternal granddad used to live in what is now Bangladesh. During the partition of India, he fled Bangladesh, entered Kolkata and lived for many years in the refugee camps.
2. What do you love most about Kolkata?
I would recommend travellers visit my hometown, Kolkata, for its sumptuous food. The people of Kolkata are predominantly Bengali by ethnicity, so the local cuisine is Bengali. Bengalis love to eat and feed. Fish curry and rice is a staple in all Bengali households. However, river fishes like Rohu and Katla rule the platter here. Unlike the rest of India, Bengalis are big on non-vegetarian food. A typical Sunday afternoon lunch is incomplete without mutton curry and rice. The dessert options involve sweets like Rosogolla, various types of sondesh, sweet yoghurt (misti doi) and a plethora of other sweets. I love my hometown the most for its sinful desserts!
3. Is there anything that frustrates or annoys you when tourists visit your hometown?
Often tourists visit my hometown, Kolkata, and leave without having the most essential experiences which are integral to the city. Kolkata is not big on natural beauty, the most beautiful piece of nature Kolkata has is the Hooghly riverside. Kolkata is a city for culture-vultures, people who are eager to listen to the millions of stories engraved throughout the city. Kolkata is a lifestyle – it’s not possible to love Kolkata overnight. It takes time. Naturally, when tourists come to Kolkata with a 1-2 day itinerary, they leave disappointed.
4. In your opinion, which places should be on every visitors’ wishlist in Kolkata?
Rabindranath Tagore, the noble laureate, is in the heart of all Bengalis. Kolkata revolves around the music, poems, songs, stories, novels, and dramas composed by the bard. It is futile to visit Kolkata without reading Tagore’s works. A visit to Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral home in Jorasanko, north Kolkata, is absolutely mandatory. However, visiting his home after reading his childhood memoirs “My Boyhood Days” would be pure joy.
5. What foods should visitors enjoy when in Kolata?
Kolkata is heaven for food lovers. No doubt India is considered the land of Biryanis but do you know the taste of Biryani varies significantly in different cities of India? Kolkata Biryani is subtle, has an addictive aroma, and is served with a big chunk of potato, chicken/mutton and a boiled egg. A proper Biryani meal ends with firni. Some of the delectable Bengali dishes include rice with Hilsa fish, rice with mutton curry, shukto (a special vegan curry), alu posto (potato with poppy seeds). Bhojohori Manna is one popular restaurant chain serving authentic Bengali food. The desserts include a range of sweets like rosogolla, pantua, chomchom, roshmalai, various types of sondesh. Bhimnag, K.C Das are some of the famous sweet shops. If you can digest spicy food then try out different street food like Fuchka, Jhalmuri, Rolls (wraps).
6. What’s your favourite Bengali word?
My favourite word in my local language, Bengali, is ‘Mishti’. Mishti means sweet. I’m assuming by now you realize I have a serious problem of being sweet toothed! Kolkata is the capital of the state of West Bengal of India. In the promotional adverts of West Bengal Tourism, the state is termed as ‘the sweetest part of India’. No doubt it indeed is the sweetest part of India. We are sweet lovers; unlike the rest of India we even put sugar in all the curries we prepare.
7. What should expats know if they want to move to Kolkata?
If you are moving to my hometown Kolkata from another country, be prepared for the following:
- You will be pried on by the neighbours but eventually they will develop a bond with you and care about you and probably cry when you move out.
- People are generally well read, so you can talk with them about anything and expect meaningful intelligent conversations.
- You will be baked during the summer and in winter season, you will find the entire city in a picnic mood.
- Forget dieting, the city will ruin your diet plans!
8. If you had to describe Kolkata in just one sentence, what would you say?
I love my hometown Kolkata because people of my town know how to live a fulfilling life; they may be poorer in terms of money but richer in terms of intellect.
9. What should tourists know about the Bengali culture?
The Bengalis of Kolkata are infamous for the afternoon nap they mandatorily take, particularly on Sunday afternoons.
10. Do you have any interesting traditions you’d like to tell us about?
In the months of September/October, the entire state of West Bengal celebrates Durga Puja. Kolkata, being the capital, leads the pack. The entire city and its suburbs erect themed pandals. The entire city is bathed in twinkling lights. The main deity, Goddess Durga and her divine children are worshipped in the pandals. Almost all the city dwellers dress up and wander on the streets for the whole day and night long, checking out the pandals and the idols. Competitions of best pandal, best idol are held. The festivities know no bounds. You will never see another festival celebration on a larger scale and fervour anywhere else in the world.
Thanks Tania – we’ve loved getting to know you and Kolkata better!