Lounge Loves: The best winter foods in Kolkata

The city may not really get cold, but that's no reason not to enjoy nolen gur, nihari, mince pies, and more

Winters in Kolkata are something akin to a warm familial embrace—comforting and endearing. The weather is fantastic and spirits high. Impromptu picnics in the maidans or at the zoo and al fresco meals, fairs and exhibitions, Christmas shopping in New Market, evening walks under the dazzling lights in Park Street, all have their fans but the highlight of the season is quite definitely the array of select winter delicacies on offer. The top picks:

Nolen gur’er mishti: Nolen gur (date palm jaggery) is now available almost round the year but its goodness is best realized when the temperature dips. The rich, fragrant jaggery continues to be the flavour of Bengal’s sheet kal (winter) and the traditional nolen gur’er sandesh remains strictly a winter treat: melt-in-the-mouth kachagolla, crumbly karapak’er jalbhara and soft narampak’er ghoti sandesh filled with runny gur, and spongy roshogolla soaked in nolen-gur-infused syrup. Head to heritage sweetshops like Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy and Bhim Chandra Nag. In recent years, nolen gur has also made its way into cheesecakes and soufflés, besides the ubiquitous ice cream.

Joynagar’er moa: This delicate, cardamom-scented sweet prepared with nolen gur and khoi (puffed rice)—made only from the kanakchur rice variety—is a culinary heirloom peculiar to Joynagar, a town in the South 24 Parganas. In fact, it earned a GI tag last year. Crammed with raisins and khoya, it is sold out of makeshift stalls or traditional sweetshops.

Phulkopi’r shingara: Shingara, the Bengali version of the samosa, acquires a whole new dimension every winter when the traditional potato stuffing is livened up with fried cauliflower florets. The best phulkopi’r shingara is to be found in small shops in the narrow lanes of north Kolkata. Putiram Sweets in the College Street area turns out a stellar version.

Pithe/Patishapta: Pithe are sweet dumplings, fried or steamed, while patishapta are thin crêpes stuffed with jaggery-laced coconut or cardamom-scented kheer, sometimes served in a pool of thickened, nolen gur-flavoured milk. Making pithe—there is a vast variety—and patishapta, especially on Makar Sankranti, is a long-cherished winter ritual in many Bengali homes, but they are now available in sweet shops as well. At Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick, you can savour warm patishapta straight off the griddle or take home an assortment of pithe, like the sesame-crusted til’er pithe, the pillowy moog daal’er pithe or the ever popular gokul pithe with its sugary crust.

Plum cake: The onset of winters in Kolkata also means gearing up for Christmas, synonymous with the rich, spicy plum cakes from Flurys, the legendary Park Street bakery. The dense plum cakes, crammed with almonds, cashew nuts, figs, raisins, black currants and walnuts, soaked in a concoction of rum, brandy, whisky and orange juice for over six months, is easily the best version of the treat in town.

Mince pies: Come winter, and there are long queues at Nahoum’s, the century-old Jewish bakery in New Market, for their Christmas puddings, rich fruit cakes and mince pies. The recipe for the mince pies, as old as the shop itself, is quite simple: butter-laden crumbly tart shells stuffed with a mince of rum-soaked raisins and apples and jazzed up with just a hint of spices.

Nihari: As soon as the temperature dips, hungry breakfasters throng the traditional Muslim eateries around Nakhoda mosque for piping hot nihari. A meaty broth enriched with aromatic spices and obscene amounts of clarified butter, the dish is a lesson in the virtues of slow-cooked food. The meat, typically beef shanks (or goat), is simmered in giant pots of spiced stock overnight. The juices and marrow from the bones enhances the rich broth. Islamia and Sufia, the top contenders for serving the best nihari, open shop at 5am and sell out by 7am.

Chinese sausages: All year round, many queue up on Sun Yat Sen Street in central Kolkata for breakfast of fish ball soup, crisp wontons and sweet pork-stuffed bao. During winters, the highlight here is easily the slender, home-made pork sausages, a delicious red, speckled with blobs of white fat. The air-cured, fatty sausages spiced with typical Chinese herbs and spices, and a dash of wine, are sold by weight. Take a few kilos home, fry and devour with some steamed rice and greens

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