If you’d asked any self-respecting Calcuttan what their idea of affordable food was five years ago, you’d probably have received the age old combination of fried rice and chilli chicken or that of biriyani and mutton kosha as an answer. But the scene has changed quite a bit in the past few years. People have grown to appreciate seafood. Don’t get me wrong, Bengalis have always been great lovers of fish. This ‘craze,’ as a food website put it, is nothing new. But a few things which are different this time are-
- The category of seafood has expanded. We now talk of lobsters, squids and octopi (for the millionth time, it’s never octopuses!) in the same breath as traditional seafood which includes bekti, prawns and pomphrets, standard Digha beach stuff.
- These so-called new and exotic varieties of seafood have been available in Kolkata for quite a long time, stretching beyond the period under consideration. But this ‘new wave’ features affordable seafood, the kind that broke college students can indulge in. Not the upscale restaurant food that burns a hole through your pocket.
What are also being repeatedly highlighted these days are the health benefits of seafood over traditional non-vegetarian dishes. Last year, WHO officially declared processed red meat as carcinogenic to humans and advised the public that they restrict the consumption of the same. Most people I talk to these days, especially those who are interested in food, complain about the overall blandness and insipidity of chicken. And the same group is tired of the usual machher jhol that’s a norm at home. What to do then? How do we salvage our taste buds from this ‘culinary apocalypse’ (I’m exaggerating here)? Seafood is the answer, matey!
The Restaurant in Focus : Santa’s Fantasea
They specialize in seafood, and also in Indian tribal food. Their menu features such delicacies as the Bansa Pora Mutton and chicken (mutton or chicken stuffed in a hollow cylindrical section of the bamboo and cooked in the tandoor) from Orissa and the Voksa Meh (an aromatic mutton dish with bamboo shoots) from Nagaland. And these were just the highlights from the tribal food section.
Next we look at the seafood section which is more relevant to the topic I’ve chosen to write on. It features Squids and Octopi in a variety of preparations. There are soups and salads which are surprisingly good. I should tell you beforehand that I wasn’t much of a salad person to begin with, but the Cheese and Tuna Salad, which is highly recommended, was one of the first salads to force me to reconsider my opinion. The salad is delicately flavoured, with cool lumps of cheese mingling with the tuna and the crunchy and copious greens. It’s a meal in itself, the salad. The Smoked Crab is another one of my favourites. The flavours are absolutely mindblowing. It’s an extremely aromatic dish but eating the crab isn’t an easy task as you have to get through the shell. Warning: it could be extremely messy, but the sweet, beautiful crab meat is worth all your time and effort.
The squids and the octopi have similar preparations. Their meat, as connoisseurs would know, is chewy and slippery, but it also has a beautiful texture. This is complemented by the lemongrass based aromatic sauce in the Smoked Squid/Octopus. Most dishes barring the butter garlic squid are spicy with a distinct Indo-Chinese influence. The fish dishes include, aside from the usual tuna and pomfret, horse mackerel and king fish preparations.
Apart from all this, for those who want to stick to the basics, there’s a whole section at the back sporting usual chicken and vegetarian dishes. There are rice and noodle options for the carb-lover as well.
Interestingly, the décor reflects the division in the menu by having a seafood-inspired space adjacent to the tribal culture inspired space. Why the former has blue walls with fish painted on it resembling an underwater scene, the latter features a jungle with a huge face of a tribal man peeping out of the leaves. Stereotypical much? The furniture is all bamboo – bamboo chairs and bamboo tables. I remember back in 2014, the glass tabletops all had newspaper cutouts on display, cutouts that reported an iconic saying of a certain political leader which involved ‘baansh,’ and people on the receiving end of said ‘baansh.’ Humour, you see?
Last October, the popular Golpark restaurant opened up another branch in Salt Lake which has been doing pretty well right from the beginning (Guess who went and had all the free food on their opening day, guess!).
P.S. A decent meal for two people would probably cost you around 600 bucks. Happy days!
Written By: MD Mahasweta