You will at least meet one Bengali in your life time who will tell you about his utter disappointment at being served fried fish on ordering for fish fry, while travelling outside the state. To a Bengali, especially the Kolkata-bred, fish fry is almost sacred, strong emotions are attached to this crumb-coated, deep-fried fillet of pure Calcutta bekti, a Bengali version of the English batter-fried fish. They also have something closer to the original fish and chips – it is called butter (batter, actually) fry.
Fish fry is essentially made of Calcutta bhetki (bekti). crumb fried basa, does not, (must not) qualify as fish fry. Not even Bombai (Bombay) bhetki would do. And, it should be accompanied with the obligatory kasundi, the potent mustard relish Bengalis are proud of. Ketchup is not enough. And, the thickness of the fillet is not to be trifled with.
In recent years, numerous new eateries have cropped up here, the best fish fries are still available at old cafés and cabins and hole-in-the-wall eateries. Here are a few favourites.
South Kolkata favourites
Apanjan – This nondescript hole-in-the-wall take-away joint, tucked in an equally unremarkable lane in South Kolkata’s Kalighat area, is easy to miss, if not for the throng of eager patrons outside. They have an array of crumb-fried delights on offer, but their fish fry steals the show. Shaped into almost perfect rectangles, it is a chunky fillet of fresh Calcutta bekti, deliciously juicy and flaky, in a crisp, spiced crust of breadcrumbs. They have a regular and special (thicker fillet) variety.
Campari – For the typical South Kolkata Bengali a shopping spree in Gariahat (the busiest shopping district this part if the town), is incomplete without a quick bite at Campari on Dover Lane. Their chicken cutlets and kathi rolls have their fans, but Campari makes an equally delicious fish fry with pure bekti, deliciously fresh – easily one of the best in the city.
Bijoli Grill – Bijoli Grill in Bhowanipore (they have other branches too) is easily one of the best known eateries in South Kolkata and it is their crumb and batter fried fish delicacies that they are famous for. The popularity of their fish fry rides on the quality of the fish they offer. However, while their fish fry has hordes of fans, there are many who argue that the fish roll is even better.
Sankar’s Fry – Be prepared to be jostled about, because things tend to get a little chaotic outside this small chop-cutlet stall near Triangular Park in Gariahat. The chief draw at Sankar’s, the fish fry comes with a thin crust (unlike other places where the crust is thick and spicy), so the focus remains on the thick fillet of Calcutta Bhetki inside.
Central and North Kolkata legends
Adi Malancha – When it comes to fish fry the name Malancha strikes a special chord. Malancha in Hatibagan split into Adi Malancha and Naba Malancha, years ago, and most fans flock to Adi Malancha hoping for the good old taste of their pure bekti fries. One of the oldest eateries in the area, the fish fries here come with a very potent kasundi and a heavy dose of nostalgia. Go early in the evening, the fish fries are the first ones to go.
Mitra Café: Almost a century old, Mitra Cafe (Shovabazar) is one of Kolkata’s best known chop-cutlet joints and their fish fry is stuff of legends. The speciality of their fish fry is that they are shaped into perfect diamonds (the diamond fish fry became quite the rage in the wedding circuit and caterers across the city tried and emulated it). Spicy, with a crisp breadcrumb shell, the fish fry here is to die for.
Niranjan Agar: Not much has changed in the nine-decade-old kitchen of Niranjan Agar, another vintage North Kolkata eatery near the Girish Park Metro Station on Central Avenue. But, its shabby interiors do not come in the way of its iconic reputation. Every evening the place spills over with people feasting on their Dim’er devil and old-school fish fry with a spicy crumb coating, Niranjan Agar’s best items.
Chitto Babur Dokan: Suruchee (popular as Chitto Babu’s shop) on Dacres Lane, off Esplanade, in Central Kolkata’s business district, is famous for its chicken stew served with soft, buttered toast, particularly popular with hungry office-goers, out for lunch. But those in the know would also add a fish fry to their order, because they make remarkable ones. The quality of fish is good and the crust perfectly crisp.
So, roll up your sleeves and set out on a fish fry trail, perhaps.