Soumitra Ghosh, the man who brought Kolkata street food to Mumbai, no more
Renowned photojournalist Soumitra Ghosh, who passed away at 53 on Sunday, was the one who introduced Kolkata street food to Mumbai through his popular fast-food chain Hangla's
Those who dropped in to meet the ailing Soumitra Ghosh, founder of the popular fast food chain Hangla's, at his Calcutta residence, have a bunch of bitter-sweet anecdotes to share. One of them is about how a severely debilitated Ghosh, battling diabetes, would lean on his friends and limp to a parar dokan (neighbourhood shack), known for its dim kosha (spicy egg dish). On one such occasion, the shack owner warned him that it would take at least an hour to prepare the dish. "I'll wait," said a determined Ghosh, almost collapsing into a makeshift seat on the footpath.
Hangla's at Linking Road, Bandra
Cooking up a storm
The late photojournalist, who had had eventful years at Hindustan Times, DNA, and as a chronicler for Akhilesh Yadav, spent the last decade of his life creating the popular Calcutta street-food takeaway chain - Hangla's. It fired its way up to fame, with its version of the Calcutta roll and other street-side staples.
When it first popped up at the corner of Lokhandwala Market, Hangla's created quite a stir. The city, with its robust Bengali population, was no stranger to its cuisine, albeit in its sophisticated or pedestrian avatars. But Hangla's was what marketing and branding gurus would call a delicious disruption. As Pritish Nandy had apparently observed, the name - playful slang for a glutton - would resonate with anyone who understood the language and the Bengalis' obsession with food.
Those who did not, simply fell for its quirkiness. While Oh! Calcutta was busy serving velveteen prawn malai curry in a colonial club-inspired interior, or a Calcutta Club was cooking up a storm over its kewra-infused biryani, Ghosh paraded finger foods in all their glory. And the star of his repertoire was the Calcutta roll - with chicken, mutton or egg filling. Ghosh had also ticked the first box in the must-haves for a successful food business: Location. Even as he expanded to nine locations later, he stuck to his roots - areas with a predominantly Bengali or more youthful, adventurous demographic.
Food for thought
No two Bengalis will ever agree on what they are passionate about. And Hangla's food always managed to bring out their argumentative, opinionated avatars. Food bloggers dissed his mutton dishes, but swore by his rolls. Food enthusiasts argued it was not genuine street food. And yet, the serpentine queues would only get longer, as managers struggled to keep pace with the orders across the outlets.
One had heard various accounts of how Ghosh had practically crowd-sourced the funds to start his pet project. Friends, well-wishers had pitched in to augment the small bank loan he had taken in 2007. Over the years, he sometimes struggled to stay afloat, even as the brand grew. Since then, Kolkata street food has made its appearance at many five-star venues and other snazzy venues. But credit must be given to Hangla's for setting the chicken (or the egg?) on a roll.
P.S. In case you are wondering, Ghosh did have his dim kosha that day. Spicy, greasy, piping hot - just as the 'Hangla' in him liked it.
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