No amount of biryani handis or the mass-produced momos can bring out the true and authentic flavors of Kolkata. Neither those fancy ‘Bangali’ restaurants that claim to have unearthed grandma’s secret recipe will ever be able to live up to Kolkata Pice hotels.
History Of Pice Hotels
Pice comes from the word ‘paisa’, which was considered the lowest denomination in Indian currency. These hotels emerged sometime in the 1930s-40s during the British Raj.
They offered cheap and comforting meals to people from all walks of life. One can never go hungry in the city of lights. They even offered accommodation to several migrants and youngsters who have come to ‘find themselves’.
The food served was strictly traditional catering to homesick bachelors, serving homely meals, it became a symbol of a home away from home. The method of service was slightly different in those days before it became known to the buzz world.
These pice hotels served their customers food on banana leaves, who would be seated cross-legged on mats on the floor, instead of plastic furniture as seen nowadays. The concept of menu cards didn’t exist, the food was made on the basis of the catch of the day and the seasonal vegetables.
Items available would be handwritten on the blackboard and changed almost every day. Dishes were even memorized by the waiters, who would also remember all the dishes one ate, as customers had to individually pay for all the items ordered. Meals were served for 1/16th of a rupee. Customers left feeling full and happy with the bill.
Despite the commercialization, some of these pice hotels have managed to stand their ground and show that good food and friendly pricing can go a long way, all these hotels sell food for a minimum of Rs. 3 and the price goes up to Rs. 200-250. The price of seafood dishes may vary from different kinds of species as some are quite expensive compared to the rest of them.
Here are a few of these unique eateries.
Tarun Niketan Hotel
This is one of the oddest pice hotels in the city, it was established in 1915 by the late Eshan Chandra Deb and is currently managed by Arun Deb. This place is famous for its meat and fish dishes, particularly their hansher dim (duck egg) curry and mutton curry.
This is located near Lake market, they had to change their seating arrangements and had to introduce onion and garlic to their meat and fish dishes, in order to keep up with the changing times and tastes. But they still prepare all their dal and vegetarian dishes in the same traditional way.
This place managed to draw filmmaker Imtiaz Ali in, he too was tempted to try out their curries.
Jagannath Ashram Hotel
This place is a complete madhouse. With its almost non-recognizable signboards, the only way to find this place is to look for a mad crowd going in and out of this place. People literally fight their way through it just to have a taste of their ilish and vetki which is served whole in mustard gravy.
This hotel was established in 1952 by Gobordhan Palui, this place has changed a lot in terms of its interiors but they take pride in their untouched authentic menu.
This eatery is just beside Ghosh Cabin on College Street. It has been a hub for young migrant students, academicians, and workers who look for homely food at cheap rates.
Back in the day, this restaurant served a renowned author Mahashweta Devi and veteran singer Manna Dey. With their light and flavourful fish dishes and watery mutton curry served with rice, it’s going to be worth anyone’s time and fight.
Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel
This is a 60-year-old pice hotel. Established in 1927, present owner Prahlad Chandra Ponda is 96 years old. This is a pretty famous joint among locals, students and not to forget the foodies. Located near Presidency College, it brings in a fair amount of hungry mouths.
What makes this Bengali eatery stand out is its impressive variety of vegetarian dishes. They have 28 veg items. People who complain about not having good vegetarian food in Kolkata should surely give this place a visit.
This place leaves no one unsatisfied. Their non-veg section is blooming with options too. They have fish curries made with rare magur maach, koi maach, sing maach, and many more freshwater fish.
Their chitol macher muitha (fish balls cooked in spicy tomato onion gravy) is a must-try. Their macher dimer bora (fish egg pakoras) and mutton curry are to die for.
Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram
This place has been serving locals for the past 93 years. It’s famous for its special kobiraji jhol, which is a rohu fish curry cooked with raw banana, potato, papaya, and very little oil. It’s quite healthy, the regulars who live nearby have been eating this dish for the past few decades, every day.
Fish is constant in their menu, a few being bhapa rui (steamed rohu with mustard), mocha (banana blossom), and kancha aamer chutney (raw mango chutney), machher mathar kalia (fish head gravy), and mutton.
The current owners Rita and Debjani Sen have made a number of changes to the interior giving it a more polished look than other regular pice hotels. They have added wooden furniture, made a different section, and added an AC. All this is to attract more international tourists.
A few prominent figures have visited this place, such as the late actor Chobi Biswas, Tulsi Chakraborty, Shishir & Subhendu Adhikari, and even Bollywood star Dia Mirza.
This Pice hotel is any fish lover’s paradise, with over 10-12 fish items to choose from- flavors unmatched by even some of the most famous restaurants. It was established in 1960, owned by Souvik Daso.
He takes pride in the exhaustive menu of fish curries and bhajas (fries). This is even the most affordable, among all the pice hotels. People from all around the city come to this place for their simple yet delicious mustard hilsa curry.
In today’s age and time, many pice hotels are struggling to survive. Places like these don’t care about fancy decor or high price tags, but they want to keep the nostalgia alive through pure ingredients and authentic flavors. They guarantee a full belly on a low budget.
Do give these places a visit. Bon Appetit everyone!
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This post is tagged under: Pice Hotels, biryani handis, Kolkata, India, food, paisa, lowest denomination, currency, British Raj, migrants, youngsters, homesick, bachelors, banana leaves, Tarun Niketan Hotel, commercialization, vegetarian dishes, Lake market, traditional, Imtiaz Ali, Jagannath Ashram Hotel, mustard gravy, Ghosh Cabin, College Street, Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel, Presidency College, Bengali, Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram, fish, mutton, Rita and Debjani Sen, fancy decor, high price tag, budget, ingredients, authentic flavors