In our search for authentic Bengali cuisine we made our way towards buzzing Crawford Market, in search of Howrah. The 'search' is literal; the elusive entrance we find is one that Howrah shares with a Mughlai restaurant and an Italian restaurant. Though the signboard says Zaffran, we walked up the staircase, where the waiters led us to a longish common seating area that serves all three eateries.
The Howrah Signature Thali is a value-for-money meal in itself.
The brainchild of chef Chetan Sethi and hotelier Munib Birya, the triad restaurants were set up in 2003 under the banner of Retro Foods Pvt Ltd. Earlier, Sethi says, the restaurants were in separate directions of the same building, but now it's possible to eat anything at any part of the two-storey structure.
Without getting too ambitious, we order for a Howrah Signature Thali (Rs 395), as the menu seems to have everything we’re looking for. Promptly, the waiter says, “You look Bengali. So, non-vegetarian thali, I assume?”
The service was prompt and the food arrived within five minutes of placing the order. It was a sumptuous treat, served in a plate made of banana leaf. Cooked in typical Bengali spices like paanch foron and gota masala, the food reminded one of the warm touch from a grandmother's kitchen.
The thali consisted of Luchi, Begun Bhaja (fried aubergines), Dal (lentils), Alu Bhaja (fried potatoes), Bhat (rice), Alu Posto (a potato dish), Rui Macher Jhol (Rohu fish), Kosha Mangsho (chicken curry), Chingrir Malaikari (prawn curry), Roshogolla and Chatni (sweets). The winner for us was the prawn curry that was cooked with coconut and milk. “That dish draws everyone to this place,” reveals the waiter. The Mango Chatni (a sweet paste of raw mango) also won our heart.
After a bite into the Luchi, Begun Bhaja (Rs 75) and a helping of Rui Machher Jhol (Rs 245), we were curious about the sourcing of the fish, and the spices too, as also the chefs behind these authentic preparations. Buoyed by our questions, the waiter returned to our table with an elderly man who manned the counter and also co-managed the neighbouring New Bengal Hotel. He reveals, “Every morning, the head chef, Chetan Sethi goes to the docks to buy fresh fish. The spices are sourced from Kolkata while the cooks are a mix of Bengalis and Oriyas. You should talk to Sethi.” Curious, we got our answers from the chef himself, “The menu has remained the same over years, because nobody wants anything else. We don’t have a variety yet we people come here to savour our authentic food especially the Signature Thalis,” says Sethi.
Open: 12 pm to 4 pm, 7 pm to 12 am AT B/C Sitaram Building, near Police Commissioner’s Office, DN Road, near CST.
Call: 23401951/ 23401976
Howrah didn’t know we were there. The guide reviews anonymously and pays for its meals