Last week when I was in Kolkata, a buddy Food Blogger, Alokeparna Ghosh invited me for dinner. I was to be hosted by a descendent of an erstwhile king. I was quite excited about it. A couple of hours before the meeting, she warned me through a message, “Just be ready to brave 50 meters of non existent lane and a flight of stairs. She is on 3rd floor terrace. No elevator”.
I whispered in my mind,” Oh, good gosh !! But then anything for good food”.
That was the prelude to my enjoying a Royal Feast, at this small and cosy Pop Up place run by Manzilat Fatima, a fifth generation direct descendent of Wajid Ali Shah, the last King of Awadh.
A dimly lit, narrow, lonely and silent alley in a residential colony of South Kolkata leads to a dead end. There you bang into an unassuming building and a small signpost declaring, “Manzilat’s; 3rd Floor”. You approach the staircase and a standee describes her story. You take the flights ,which are quite comfortable though, and intermittently you would have some information or the other about her.
As soon as you enter the terrace, it appears you are at the rooftop of your own home. Before you even realise anything, you are greeted with a warm ‘hello’ from the window overlooking the staircase. This is ever smiling Manzilat Fatima working in her kitchen. The neatly done terrace has some potted plants, just three tables to seat about 12 people, a wall displaying a signpost of the place, a Black & White picture of hers with her father and uncles, a board displaying bookings of the day and a music system. The adjoining rooms has a display of her accolades and an open kitchen where she’s working with one help. She’s the boss here. She’s the hostess, order taker, Chef, server and the bill presenter. In a way, the place is formal yet informal, it has love and affection and you are pampered.
“Would you like to order from the menu or would leave it to the Chef’s Choice,” asked Manzilat, fondly addressed as Manzie by her friends. Even before I could reply, Alokeparna nodded that we shall have her choice. I was more than delighted with this reply. We were now all set to enjoy the food from the kitchen of royalty.
While we waited for the food to be served, a bit long wait though, we were served her trademark Green Colour Khus Sherbet (a drink made out of Vativer Grass). That’s my favourite. I almost pounced upon it and started sipping that I forgot to take a picture. Looked like, the dinner was going to be exciting. And yes, I wasn’t wrong.
First came in a plate of Mutton Awadhi Galawti Kabab. These four Kababs (one plate consists of two pieces) sitting pretty in the plate seemed peeping out of the roundels of onions. These beauties with hues of golden brown gave out an aroma of meat in typical masala. Try to pick up the kabab with a spoon and it disintegrates. I couldn’t wait further. Having quickly transferred a portion in my plate I tasted the first spoonful. Ola!! It was granular yet silky soft. It was moist yet almost no oil. It had flavours and aroma of spices yet not spicy. And yes, before I could understand the taste, it was gone; melt-in-mouth like a magic. It had the real taste of meat, aptly done with spices. It was soft and yet not paste type. My all attempts to transfer a full kabab to my plate failed. This was the consistency.
Next was Mutton Pasanda Kabab; again a royal treat. The chunks of meat came wrapped in a gravy like paste which had the consistency of a sauce and yet not dripping. The aroma once again was royal. On tasting, the meat was super soft and the gravy amazingly flavourful. One could decipher flavours and yet there was something which tricked you. Sometimes you felt the aftertaste was a bit tangy and sometimes a hint of sweetness. Once again, the dish had minimal oil, balanced flavours and the meat aptly done.
Both of us polished off the dishes clean with Ulta Tawa Parantha. What you see in the picture here is a quarter of the whole. This huge goldenish parantha had ghee on it and had a consistency which is slightly thicker than a Rumali Roti and yet thinner than a Tawa Parantha. You could easily tear off a morsel with fingers as it was silky soft and flavourful. In fact I tried a few bites of it even without any curry. Both the Kabab dishes went very well with this amazing parantha.
How can one have Awadhi Mughlai and not have Biryani ? So, in came the Kalkatta Shahi Mutton Biryani. A serving dish with a reasonably good portion landed on our table. Long grained basmati rice with the Kolkata Biryani trademark Aloo (Potato) sitting atop and mutton pieces playing hide and seek were the first looks. The aroma coming out of it was divine. One couldn’t wait. It was served with a decent portion of Boorani Raita (or Burhani), a coriander based raita seasoned with cumin and other spices. So quickly a few serving spoons of rice with a piece of mutton and of course the Aloo were transferred to my plate . Abiding by my habit, I took a portion of rice in my fingers and dropped into my plate. Each rice fell apart. The mutton piece when drawn out from the midst of rice grains, came out almost clean with minimal rice grains stuck to it. A sign of perfect Biryani. First spoon in the mouth and it told you it was delicately flavoured. Had almost no oil yet was aptly moist. Each grain had the coating of flavours of spices yet there was no trace of any masala. Aloo was full of flavours. The meat was soft as ever, succulent and full of flavours. The after taste of Biryani hinted of Kewara which was quite soothing. Between both of us, we polished off the whole portion albeit not before asking for an additional pieces of meat. well, this was one of the best biryani I had in the city, so far.
Our meal was almost over and we had over stuffed ourselves. But the wrap up was still a dish away. Manzie brought us the dessert of the day, Makhane Ki Kheer. Frankly, I have never relished Makhana but don’t know why I didn’t resist. And then, I am glad that I didn’t. For it was a rich feast of Fox Nuts in milk and khoya which had a very balanced sugar content. It had a thick yet granular consistency with lot of dry fruits and a hint of cardamom.
Our royal feast was complete ! We said goodbye to Manzie, to meet again, but not before she getting clicked with us and me writing my experience in her visitors’ book.
Frankly, it was a royal treat fed by the royalty herself. However, despite the recipes being from the royal kitchen, Manzie’s dishes are not heavy, are low on oil, have a bouquet of delicate flavours, styling is not over the board and the portions are not very large, in fact just right. Mine was a memorable evening there which I feel is a beginning. I have to go there quite a few times more along with my local friends to enjoy many more offerings of this cozy place and the warm host.
Bon Apetitte !!