Kolkata Series: Cabin Culture

Bengalis are known to be ambitious eaters, whether its a luchi in the morning, Mutton in the afternoon or a fish fry in the evening - the mouth of an average bong is seldom empty. Thus, through the rich three hundred years of this city, food got intertwined with the history of the city.

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Since the early 20th century, Kolkata has seen the emergence of small cabins something that would be described as a “hole in the wall joint” serving food, especially evening snacks to the average working-class Bengali. Since this was catered to the middle class, the prices were mostly reasonable.

These dingy 10 seater cabins sat in very well with the ethos of the city even in the post-independence era - they were not a fine dining restaurant. One can imagine the usual employee getting out of his office after his extremely demanding 9 to 5 job fully famished and looking for a quick fix. The solution to these cheap quick fixes would be these cabins.

The most famous of these cabins is Mitra Cafe - an institution that still survives to this date. It was founded in 1920 by Mr. Sushil Roy. This modest man always treated his customers as his friend hence the name “Mitra”. Most of these cabins serve European-influenced Bengali food such as Fish Fry, Chicken Cutlets, etc. These were the indigenous take on the German Schnitzel.

Schnitzel was basically a piece of meat (chicken or pork) that was crumb fried. It was without much seasoning and would be pretty bland to the average Indian taste. Thus, when we adapted it we added a whole lot of salt, pepper, chilies, onions, Lemon, garlic, coriander leaves and mustard to the meat and made the infamous Fish Fry.

A bite into the famous Mitra Cafe Diamond Cut Fish Fry would trigger senses and emotions that people are usually unaware of. It is meaty, spicy and zesty all at the same time. Apart from this Mitra Cafe is also famous for its Brain chop. The name is exactly what it means.

Most of these joints are situated near old North Kolkata which was traditionally the hub of servicemen. Another joint which is very famous is called Allen Kitchen. The joint got its name from a scot called Mr. Allen but the late Mr. Jiban Krishna Saha made it what it is. Allen Kitchen is famous for its cheap and affordable prawn cutlets. The main cook at Allen Kitchen has worked for over 50 years which makes the quality of their food consistent even after 130 years.

As the city got developed and expanded into other areas, service sectors got diverse and spread across the city - it was no longer clustered around North Kolkata. Similarly, the Cabin culture also died off, the advent of fast-food chains all across the city was a major cause for this tragedy. Some of these cabins are still there serving out quality food laced with years of heritage.

Prawn Cutlet at Allen Kitchen; Image Source- LBB

Prawn Cutlet at Allen Kitchen; Image Source- LBB

Mitra Cafe in North Kolkata; Image Source- mitracafe.co.in

Mitra Cafe in North Kolkata; Image Source- mitracafe.co.in


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