A new cookbook celebrates the culinary traditions of Kolkata. We ask its author about Bengali cuisine both on its home turf and in Britain.
Though she was born and raised in England, Rinku Dutt’s childhood memories are filled with the fragrances and aromas of home-cooked Bengali food — her parents had moved here in the 1960s from Kolkata, where her grandfather owned one of the most popular restaurants in town. After a three-year stint in Kolkata working with fashion designer Debarun Mukherjee, Dutt returned to Britain with a heightened appreciation for the city’s street food, a passion that eventually led to the launch — first in Chartham, Kent, then in London — of a Bengali food stall named Raastawala.
More recently she has published Kolkata: Recipes from the Heart of Bengal (Smith Street Books), a beautiful cookbook filled with family recipes including Raastawala’s signature kati rolls.
When in Kolkata, what are your go-to spots for local street food?
“Hmm, so many options! I just returned from Kolkata, and my favorites, as always, were Nizam’s for their kati rolls, Arsalan for the mutton biriyani, and Maharani for a breakfast treat of kochuri (fried flatbreads stuffed with spiced green peas) and singara, or Bengali samosas. These institutions never get old.”
What is the top-selling item at Raastawala?
“It has to be our tandoori chicken kati roll, which we wrap in naan bread rather than paratha to make it more of a meal. Our loyal following includes some longtime customers who’ll drive an hour from Kent to get their ‘Raastawala fix’ once a month.”
Do you have a favorite recipe in your new book?
“They’re all my favorites! But today, I’m feeling the prawn malai, a creamy coconut curry with jumbo prawns. It’s a showstopper dish on the dining table, and as a child, whenever my parents held a dinner party, I always hoped that there would be leftovers so that we could relish it with steamed rice the next day. The gravy in itself is so comforting.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2022/February 2023 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Bengali Bounty”).