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It may seem inappropriate to talk about low budgets in Kolkata, a city of almost 20 million inhabitants where wealth and poverty are such extreme yet closely bound concepts.
However, since the rupee has the benefit of a favourable exchange rate with nearly all other currencies, affordable "luxury" is actually a feasible proposition in Kolkata: a Western foodie will be able to explore the fine dining scene and frequent the best restaurants without feeling too guilty about it.
The cuisine of this East Indian region is called Bengali and is characterised by artfully blended spices and high-calorie desserts. Here are a few suggestions to where to eat in Kolkata, to help you choose from the city’s most enjoyable gourmet experiences, presented in three price ranges: under 25, 50 and 100 Euro.
Where to eat in Kolkata From 0 to 25 Euro
For an exploratory first encounter with Indian cuisine and to familiarise yourself with its sweets and desserts, try the historical cake shop called Haldiram, in the Ballygunge district. It is one of the legendary cake and pastry shops for which Kolkata is renowned throughout India: here we recommend the sandesh, a sweet made from curdled paneer cheese, rose water, pistachios and cardamom; kajubarfi, diamond-shaped sweets wrapped in silver foil for eating during the Diwali festival; lal doi, a steamed red yogurt with jaggery (palm sap); and laddoo, balls of dough with clarified and aromatised butter.
A small sweet is priced around 500 rupees (about €6/ $7.5), so you can treat yourself to at least four on this budget or accompany it with something to drink. After an energy-packed snack like this, you will need to take a walk on the banks of the Hoogly, the river skirting the city.
It may seem ridiculous to go looking for Italian food in Kolkata but, should you get the sudden urge for a good pizza, mushroom risotto, or trenette with pesto sauce, we can recommend one of the best places to satisfy your palate: Fire and Ice, where a Milanese lady, already quite famous in Katmandu, has replicated her restaurant format in the Park Street Area (1000 rupees for two courses, about €12/$15).
Where to eat in Kolkata From 25 to 50 Euro
The best fine dining experiences are to be found in five-star hotels such as the Taj Bengal with its four restaurants. The Sonargaon is one of the best and offers authentic Bengali cuisine along with top notch service and exceptional ingredients. One of the pages of its vast menu is given over to “non-vegetarian curries,” which confirms the fact that in India meat dishes represent an exception to what is normally a vegetarian cuisine. Here I tasted two very interesting dishes during my trip – two signature dishes by chef Swapan Giri.
The first of these is called Amla Nalli Gosht, tender pieces of lightly spiced lamb in a blackcurrant infusion (1300 rupees, about €18/$20). Another dish well worth ordering is Dhania Murg, succulent chicken with a curry sauce aromatised with fresh coriander leaves (also priced at 1300 rupees).
You may like to accompany these dishes with one of the most fragrant varieties of basmati rice I have ever tasted. I was impressed by the Parat Pulao: a basmati rice with peas and seasonal vegetables, cumin and saffron (approximately 1000 rupees, €12/$15). Otherwise, choose from the 10 types of bread on offer, each one more original than the last in terms of flavour, shape and leavening method (about 220 rupees).
Where to eat in Kolkata From 50 to 100 euro
The cuisine and atmosphere of the Ballygunge Place restaurant represents the quintessence of Bengali cuisine outside of five-star hotels. Here, of the dozens of dishes listed on the menu, you can try the ilish, a very popular freshwater bony fish prepared in six versions: I particularly like the smoked one (about 1200 rupees). The Baan Thai inside the Oberoi Grand Hotel is possibly the best Thai restaurant in town so any dish you go for will be a good choice.
On this budget you can order a couple of courses such as the steamed bhetki, massaman curry and rack of lamb, but I suggest you order one dish only and use the rest of your budget to enjoy one of the two gourmet experiences offered by the luxurious Oberoi: the Spice Route and The Indian Wine Train. The former is a gourmet trip through the world of spices, a joy for the nose and palate guided by a chef de cuisine with relative tasting session and explanations imparted with each course. The other experience takes you through the ancient grape varietals with a professional tasting session in the company of a sommelier: to do both will cost you a total amount of roughly 6000 rupees, about 41 Euro for each tasting session ($45).