Chaotic is the operative word to go by if you ever find yourself lost in the lanes and bylanes of Colootola during Iftar. An unfailing melting pot, Calcutta has always been a place where differences in cultural narratives are not only embraced and celebrated but also shared, often over food. Thus, it comes as no surprise when thousands throng the Ramadan celebrations around Nakhoda Mosque, sharing tables and opinions as they wait for the siren to mark the end of the day’s fasting. Nobody asks you your religious or ethnic identity. Nobody asks if you are a believer or not. You join the locals around rickety makeshift tables, perspiring and praying for a cool draught of wind while sipping on glasses of milky kesari chai. All around you, in brightly lit shops people holler for the best bargain and owners of street food stalls hang skewers of marinated meat from hooks, arrange delicate rolls of lachha, stir cauldrons of haleem in preparation for the evening. Nobody can tell at what point this chaotic come-together floods the confines of a religious ritual to become a carnival, a celebration of life, under the summer skies of Calcutta.
It’s raining in Calcutta and traffic on MG Road has been standing still for the last 20 minutes. I get off the bus and take what used to be called Harrison Road and wonder if this practice of changing the names of cities and streets is the right way to escape history in order to respect your culture. I walk briskly past the row of Tasa Party’r Dokan, front offices of marching bands for hire, and wonder how out of character the up and coming buildings look with their neon signs and shiny exteriors. But I don’t have time to muse today. I’m on a mission and I know where I’m heading.
Join me for a food walk through Boi Para, our beloved College Street!
The key to powering through winter mornings on the weekend is a filling breakfast and being the North Calcuttan kid that I am, breakfast floats a scene of hot radhaballabi (fried flat-bread stuffed with dal) with chholar dal and jilipi or sondesh for dessert. I turn right on College Street More, outhustle the busy boipara book-hustlers, and squeeze through the narrow entrance into College Square beside the very square-jawed Hindu School building and exit on Surya Sen Road, across the street from Putiram, my first stop on this food walk in College Street.
The radhaballabis and accompanying chholar dal, and plates of alur dom are gone quickly. Since no Bengali breakfast is ever complete without a little mishtimukh, I order malpua. Malpuas are similar to pancakes made of flour, milk, grated coconuts (sometimes they contain ripe bananas, but those varieties are hard to find in Calcutta) seasoned with cardamom, fried in oil, and served in syrup. I add in a few chhana’r sondesh for good measures. Now, I have had better malpuas elsewhere but the sondesh is just divine. Low on sweetness, but delicate, fragrant, and melt-in-the-mouth.
It’s a pity we aren’t singing to market, to market to buy a fat pig, I think aloud as a little girl balances herself astride Rachel, the bronze cast piggy bank, the mascot of Seattle’s bustling Pike Place Market. It is named after Rachel, a 750 lbs pig that had won the Island County Fair in 1985. “Follow Rachel’s bronze hoof-prints, rub her snout, and make a donation for good luck,” Jake, our guide, announces. It’s my first morning in Seattle and I’m out with Seattle Free Walking Tours for their Market Walk. Thankfully, the sun is out and Pike Place Market is pulsating with energy.
With a crumpet from The Crumpet Shop in hand, I stand outside the crowded Pike Place “Original” Starbucks. It isn’t the oldest but it’s the longest operating Starbucks, Jake tells us. The original store was destroyed in a fire in the early 1970s. The Pike Place location has been there for 41 years and still has the original logo: a wood-cut illustration with the words “Coffee, Tea, Spices” around the Starbucks siren. It’s understandable that their logo is a siren and not a mermaid, someone quips, since not many can ignore the call of a Starbucks on a typical Seattle morning.
Our first instalment of Walkin’ It takes you on a walking tour of Fontainhas, popularly known as the ‘Latin Quarter’ of Panaji, a neighbourhood that William Dalrymple rightly called a “small chunk of Portugal washed up on the shores of the Indian Ocean”. It was established in the 18th century by Antonio Joao de Sequeira, a Goan who made his fortune in Mozambique. This area is a distinct reminder of Goa’s tryst with the Portuguese. The houses, painted in bright primary colours have white trims and terracotta tiled roofs. Narrow lanes, overhanging balconies, and an abundance of azulejos tiles give Fontainhas its quaint Mediterranean feel. The area is dotted with eateries selling fresh seafood and feni and old-world bakeries laced with the mouthwatering aroma of buttery bebincas and the ubiquitous Goan pao. Many of Fontainhas’ oldest residents trace their ancestry to Portuguese seafarers and traders who settled here and speak the language of their ancestors to this date.
Grab your comfy-est walking shoes, a bottle of water, your camera and notepad, and put on your sunglasses as we hit the streets! Photo-ops other than the stops themselves are marked with a ♣.
Fonte Phoenix: Located at the base of the Altinho Hill, Font Phoenix or Fountain of the Phoenix gives Fontainhas its name (fountain, fonte in Portuguese) and thus its the perfect starting point to our walking tour of Fontainhas. We wanted to see if the image of the golden phoenix wearing the viceroy’s crown still exists but we couldn’t climb down as the façade was being renovated. The current structure around the natural spring was constructed during the tenure of the Portuguese Governor, Joaquim Jose Januario Lapa in 1885. (Here, we would like mention that Fontainhas was built on reclaimed land rich in natural springs. Only two– Fonte Phoenix and Boca de Vaca– survive to this day.)
Maruti Temple1: The most important landmark in the Hindu district of Mala is this bright orange temple that is decked with lights every night. It is located on the Altinho Hill. Huff and puff up the slope and you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of Fontainhas and its red-roofed cacophony of maroon, yellow, and indigo houses shimmering in the sun.