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R for rosogolla. R for rolls. Who knew a small innovation for a quick takeaway by a cult place – Nizam’s at Hoggs market – will turn out to be the biggest invasion for Kolkata, just like the East India Company a few centuries ago. Now every para (locality) in Kolkata and West Bengal has a roll shop, and this is one form of street food that has demolished all class barriers, being equally affordable for the rich and the poor. One can safely say that this is one of the food inventions in recent times that can be considered revolutionary.
The name ‘kathi rolls’ or ‘kati rolls’ originates from the fact that juicy, chunky pieces of chicken and mutton kababs were roasted on metallic skewers, which eventually got replaced by bamboo sticks locally known as ‘kati’. If one visits a reputed roll shop, one will find these skewers adorning the shop; the smaller shops have these prepared beforehand. While the skewered kababs are the main ingredient in the rolls, the make or break element for the dish is the paratha or the flat bread. The flat breads are little different from the normal ones: they are crispier on the outside, soft on the inside and are probably a bit thicker than the normal parathas. Once the paratha is done, depending upon the selection available, one can get a chicken roll, egg roll, egg chicken, mutton roll and so on and so forth. While vegetarian varieties are now also available, such as the paneer roll and others, the bulk of the business comes from the non-vegetarian clientele.
Is there a best place for rolls in Kolkata? It is the same as asking what the best kabab shop in Lucknow is or which is the best vada pav shop in Mumbai or the best dosa shop in Chennai. Every roll shop has its own loyal clientele and its own variation on the roll, which is what makes them unique. However, there are a few joints that have made their mark in the city and are here to stay. Nizam is the place where it all originated. Thus, it goes without saying that this place is a must-try – one of the oldest biryani and kabab joints is still a favourite to many, despite internal problems due to which it remained shut for years. Park street has got two legendary roll shops in the same lane and both have unique rolls. While Hot Kathi Roll at the entrance of Park Street after the Asiatic society has the oily, crunchy parathas with juicy chunks of meats (making their rolls delicious and popular about 30 years now), Kusum Rolls at Karnani Mansion rolls out all the possible combinations, including vegetarian varieties. A little ahead on Theatre Road, the small roll shop Parijat has been a delight for office-goers in this area. Check out both Bedwin, famous for its well-made crispy and not-so-oily paratha, and Campari, famous for its tandoori fish roll in the Gariahat region. In New Alipore, there is Anamika Roll Centre, which has egg chicken potato roll as their speciality. Other than these stand-alone shops, established giant mughlai joints such as Shiraz, Zeeshan, Arsalan and Aminia also serve rolls across their various outlets in the city.
We kolkatans love debating and love duels. Usually, it is on who is a bigger star, Uttam Kumar or Soumitra Chattopadhyay, or it is on the football giants, Mohun Bagan A.C. and East Bengal. But it would be interesting to debate on who numbers greater than the other – the roll shops or the chowmein shops. Smarter are those who sell both at the same time and at the same place.
A true blue Kolkata foodie, Anindya loves cooking and eating his Kosha Mangsho. Anindya weaves stories around food as he believes exceptional food is an emotional experience. Previously a restauranter, now a passionate photographer and traveller, he runs a successful blog called Pikturenama and contributes to other publications.