With the first ray of the sun, the street is set up. Little tables and chairs line up on either sides of the lane with the comfortable hum of an early morning market place. Within minutes, you can smell the delicacies as they lift the steamer’s lids to invite you, revealing the treasures within. Sweet buns, dim-sums, fried sweet bread, meatballs, fishballs, prawn wafers, spring rolls and Chinese sausages. This is the spread of Chinese breakfast in the Tiretta Bazaar of 73, Old Chinatown, Calcutta.
The dishes line up on Sun Yat Sen Street is some of the best comfort food I have ever come across. The light dim-sums stuffed with chicken, fish or prawn fillings are one of the popular attractions. Then, there are the meat balls and fish balls that dance in pots of boiling broth. Pork, chicken and egg stuffed buns that are streamed to perfection and are ever so subtly sweet. Steamed momos, fried balls covered in sesame and some of variety of authentic Chinese cuisine.
I have so many memories attached to these treats, which is probably why I felt compelled to write about it. For me, this unique culinary experience reminds me of Sunday mornings when my father would wake me up while it was still dark outside. We would take some of the biggest containers we had, to pack as much of the dim-sums and meatballs possible. I remember waiting impatiently in front of the vendors, while they served me a taste of what I would end up eating that day for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It reminds me of family gatherings in our living rooms when our cousins would pour in to share a few hours out of their busy lives, laughing and chatting over a steaming hot bowl of soup.
The experience isn’t just about food though. It’s about visiting one of the oldest parts of the town, among people who have seen the city change over the years. Every person has a story there…from their local traditions to stories of drug lords during the 1970s. All you have to do is strike a conversation.
Though Chinese breakfast has gained popularity over the last few years, the traditional spread has been around since the 18th century, when a Chinese tea trader fell in love with the city and decided to call it home. There after, it has been home to the Chinese community in Calcutta. This community later expanded to an area in the other side of the city which is now called Tangra. It is home to what we know now as Indian Chinese and is another culinary goldmine everyone should experience. But that my friends, is a whole different story!
So the next time you visit the city of joy, you know the first place to head for the best breakfast ever…