Food and Drink in Kolkata (Calcutta)
A blend of sweet and spicy, subtle and fiery, West Bengal's cuisine is as rich, colorful, varied and fascinating as its people. River fish (mach) abounds-- served with rice (bhaat) -- and is a staple of the local diet.
Most popular is hilsa, a firm-fleshed, oily fish served up on special occasions; other fishy favorites include koi, pabda and rohu. Chops and cutlets -- a hangover from British rule -- also feature in the local cuisine, while veggie lovers can try offbeat options like water lily root and gourds alongside plantains, potatoes and beans.
Whatever you order, your dish will be enhanced with a large dash of phoron, a blend of spices. Phorons vary according to ingredients, the most popular being panch phoron, a robust mix of fenugreek, nigella seeds, mustard seed, aniseed and cumin. To finish, try a creamy spiced yogurt called Mishti Doi, served with deep-fried Luchi bread.
Oh! Calcutta: This eatery offers traditional Bengali cuisine. (3rd Floor, Silver Arcade, 5 JBS Halden Avenue, T-1, T-2 (EM Bypass); +91-83349-95444; open daily, noon to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
Flurys Traditional Tea Room and Bakery: This dates from 1927 and is said to be the best place in Kolkata for an English breakfast or old colonial tea party. The rum cakes come highly recommended. (18A, Park Street; +91-33-4000-7453; open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Peter Cat: Try this restaurant if you want an "East meets West" experience. (18A, Park Street;
+91-33-2412-5680; open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Best Cocktail in Kolkata (Calcutta)
The best sundowner if you're in old colonial mood is, of course, a classic gin and tonic (featuring Bombay Sapphire gin, naturally). But in the land of heat and dust, a large and refreshingly chilled bottle of Kingfisher beer is a better choice for washing down Indian food.
Don't Miss in Kolkata (Calcutta)
Victoria Memorial: This huge, dazzling white marble building was built to commemorate Queen Victoria's reign after her death in 1901. It lies in the Maidan and is one of the great buildings of India. Highlights include a high-vaulted central chamber and a permanent exhibition tracing Kolkata's colonial days. There is also a pretty park to explore where, in the winter months (November to March), there is a sound and light show in English every evening. (Maidan; +91-33-2223-5142/1890/1891; open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance: 200 rupees)
Colonial Architecture: Your Ganges river cruise will likely drive by some of the highlights, including the former headquarters of the East India Company (which sparked British interest in India) and the Anglican St. John's Church, where the grounds have a memorial to the Brits who died in the infamous "Black Hole of Calcutta."
Mother Theresa: The "Mother House," where Kolkata's -- and probably India's -- most famous modern advocate for the country's "untouchable" caste lived, has a small museum and the room where the saint lived. It's quite moving and worth the visit; most Ganges river cruises include this on the tour. You can also make a donation to her order, the Missionaries of Charity, if desired. (54A A.J.C. Bose Road; open Monday through Wednesday; Friday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Gariahat Road and Its Lanes: This is THE place to shop for silk and home to some of Kolkata's best boutiques, while the lanes surrounding it house art galleries, specialty shops and some good cafes and restaurants. You can also pick up bargains from street vendors selling clothes, accessories and jewelry. Be prepared for crowds, but the best shops are air-conditioned if you need a respite.
Botanical Garden: The park, which dates from 1787, spans nearly 110 hectares and is a lovely escape from the city bustle. Highlights include palm and cactus houses, a vast and ancient banyan tree and a boat lake embellished with gigantic water lily pads, as well as more than 12,000 species of plants. (Open Tuesday to Sunday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance costs 100 rupees)
Kolkata's Indian Museum: The largest and oldest museum on the subcontinent is famous for offbeat exhibits like a pile of jewelry found in a crocodile's stomach, whale skeletons, nearly 40 different types of opium plant, Egyptian mummies and 2,000-year-old sculptures. Set in a palace built around a verdant lawn, it's fascinating but can get particularly busy on Sundays. (27 Jawaharlal Nehru Road; +91-33-2286-1702/1699; open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from March to November, 10 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. from December to February. Entrance 500 rupees plus 50 rupees if you take a camera)
Tagore's House: Rabindranath Tagore is revered as India's greatest modern poet and his 18th-century house -- part of the university campus -- is now a museum featuring paintings, personal affects and inspiring quotations from his poetry. (Dwarkanath Tagore Lane; open Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; entrance 50 rupees/25 rupees for students)
Mullik Ghat Flower Market: Huge consignments of flowers arrive here daily for distribution to local retailers and buyers. It's a spectacular experience, not least for the glimpse it offers into the lives of the flower sellers, who live in shacks and bathe in the waters of the Ganges from a ghat overlooking Howrah Bridge. (Southeast end of Howrah Bridge; open daily, 24 hours)