Seafood has never been a favourite of the Bengalis. The thought of seafood had always been associated with a fishy smell and the ‘bangali bhadrolok’ has always preferred the fresh water variety, with the exception being shrimps, prawns, pomfret and some mud crabs. If Bengali households have been very rigid about their tastes and preferences, then the restaurants in Kolkata have also never ventured into the deep waters. They stuck to serving beckti and the crustaceans.
In recent times, however, one can see the trend of seafood rising, right from the fish market to the restaurant to a few homes in the city. With the advent of new hospitals and IT companies, the city has seen a huge change in the population diversity and, with it, one can find fish such as tuna, mackerels, snappers and some other varieties, as well as a wide variety of crustaceans (ranging from shrimps, tiger prawns, scampi to lobsters) in the fish markets. The new-age restaurants have quickly caught onto this trend by adding seafood to their menus. Restaurants such as Smoke House Deli have quite a number of seafood dishes on their menu, including Cambodian basa fingers and lehsun chutney marinated red snapper. Salmon is very widely used in certain upscale restaurants such as Smoke House Deli, Au Bon Pain, Chili’s, TGIF and five-star restaurants; it is either smoked and grilled and placed in sandwiches, salads and main dishes.
Then there are the regular Chinese restaurants that have boldly added octopus, lobster and squid to their menu. Chowman, a popular Chinese joint with several outlets, has some innovative seafood dishes such as Chinese barbecue-style wok-fried lobster (where the lobster meat is rolled into dumplings, batter-coated and fried and then slightly tossed in a barbecue sauce). They have an annual seafood festival during the summer, where one can try out anything from a chilli mountain octopus to honey fried chilli squid and chilli lime steamed crabmeat. The calamari at Serafina is one of their most popular appetizers, and they also have some tuna marinated using an Italian method (called tartare di sofia). Chili’s, the very popular Tex-Mex restaurant, serves blackened fish with a choice of sole fish or basa. Japanese-speciality restaurant Fuji has an enormous variety of seafood available in their menu, such as yakikaisen moriawase skewers (which, simply put, is an assortment of seafood on skewers). They serve sashimi and sushi with a potpourri of seafood such as seabass, scallops, mackerels, octopus, flying fish roe, and grilled eel. There are now stand-alone seafood-focused restaurants such as Santa’s Fantasea that have everything from fried king fish to pomfret to chilli basil squids.
As Kolkata is price-sensitive and seafood is very expensive (in terms of the product itself as well as its procurement and transportation), and bearing in mind the freshness of the product is a major challenge, it will be interesting to see how the seafood business sustains itself and grows in the city as more and more restaurants venture into this area.