Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bibi of Taaja’s


Bibi of Taaja’s is the most ‘unusual’ restaurant (if I may use that word) you could find in ‘The City of Joy’. It is tucked away in a quaint lane near Jodhpur Park. Just a stone’s throw from দখিনাপন (Dokhhinapon) shopping complex. If you are driving in from the North – you need to go over the ‘Dhakuria’ flyover. Past Dokhhinapon, it is located in the third lane on your left hand side.

I first read about Taaja’s in an article in The Telegraph by foodie and musician - Nondon Bagchi. Ever since then, I had been wanting to eat here. Done with Diwali dinner the night before, the foodie in me was craving for just what I got to eat. It was a languid Saturday afternoon, I had lunch and movie plans.

When you walk inside the building it is housed in, it feels like you are entering an old South Kolkata house. Which it incidentally is, but not a restaurant. I was greeted by the signage below. And I instantly knew – this wasn’t your typical restaurant !


I had only had some fruits for breakfast and the hunger brewing within was challenging my senses. I could not spot the bell. I spent a few moments bumbling around and ultimately found the bell on the top-left-hand-corner of the door frame. ‘Hence the up-arrow on the sign’, the lady who stepped out judging my inability to decipher basic instructions, said :) . It didn’t start-off too well for me. But oh well – don’t we all have our ‘blonde’ moments. No offence meant here, but just a figure of speech. I very much doubt though, if very many blondes are reading this post, anyway :)

Moving on. A soft-spoken lady, dressed in a Chef’s hair-net welcomed me and gestured for me to sit where ever I wanted. I sat myself in one corner on a four-seater. She handed me the menu.

06112011083 06112011084


The menu was overwhelming to say the least. I couldn’t make up mind as to what I wanted. However being an absolute lover of middle-eastern food, I was scanning the menu for some thing middle-eastern. On the reverse, I found – Falafel, Lebanese breads with assorted dips, Shawarmas. My joy was short lived. These were ‘special’ items only made by 'appointment’ a.k.a on a 24 hours pre-order. The soft-spoken lady once again came to my rescue, as she approached my table, with a gentle stoop. Incidentally, by then I had spotted a ‘Mediterranean Lemon / Garlic Chicken’. This caught my fancy. I went ahead and placed the order for it. It comes with a side of steamed vegetables and rice/sesame bun. The menu has everything from Dimsums to Shrimps to Prawn Cocktails to Au-Gratin to Lasagna to Thai Currys to Indonesian Peanut Chicken to Greek Mousaka to  কাতলা মাছের ঝোল (home-style fish-curry) ! Nondon had actually counted the number of different cuisines, they all added up to 20 !


A few minutes before my order was served, I let the proverbial cat out of the bag. I confessed to the soft-spoken lady about that I clandestinely ‘write-by-the-night’. ‘Oh how lovely !’ . She exclaimed. ‘Who do you write for ?’. There was a pause. ‘I write for myself’ – I replied, in other words ‘I blog !’. I am yet to win my first multi-million-dollar book deal yet was the inference :)

There were 2 other set of diners, other than me. I didn’t want to be hogging all her time, so I just asked for a few minutes either before or after lunch. So that we could sit down and talk ! She joined me in a few minutes, while I sipped on my sweet-n-salty-fresh-lime soda. We started chatting and there was instant chemistry ! A foodie and a chef, nothing gets deadlier than that now !

She introduced herself as Bibi Sarkar, hence the name. Bibi has been in business for about 25 years. It all started out in the year 1986 in Golpark, selling Momos and Thukpas. 1986 – I still used to wear suspenders to school back then, and had a lot more head hair !  She slowly branched out to other cuisines, expanded her repertoire, including catering for private parties. She moved to a Ballygunge Circular Road, where she ran a 50+ seater restaurant. Cut to present day. Due to some unavoidable circumstances and union trouble, she had to shut her business down at that BCR location. However she has fond memories of that place, as that is where she catapulted to fame. She re-opened this new location, either late last year or earlier this year. Sorry my memory seems to be failing me on this, I should have made notes.

06112011094Bibi Di, hesitatingly allowed me to take a picture of her ! 

I was completely engrossed in a conversation with the enigmatic Bibi di, when she reminded me of not letting the food get cold. I started chowing down. The preparation was an aromatic experience. Soft yet chewy chicken in subtle flavors of garlic, herbs, crushed red-pepper took over my senses. While I relished my lunch, Bibi Di went around talking to the other patrons and taking their orders with a soft-pat on their back and a pleasant demeanor. It seemed more like a private-sit-down-lunch where Bibi di playing the perfect hostess. All the diners seemed to be regulars and knew her personally. Bibi Sarkar is ‘Bibi di’ to some, ‘Bibi Mashi’ to others. Partial transcripts of some comments, that were overheard were as following :

বিবি দী কী খাব যায়ে বলো তো (Bibi di, what can I have today. Why don’t you suggest something ?)
বিবি দী সেই দীন আমরা কী সুপ খেছিলাম গো (Bibi di, what soup did we have the other day ?)
বিবি দী মায়ের জন্য কিছু একটা ফিস starter suggest  করো না, please ! (Bibi di, can you please make Mum, a Fish-based appetizer)

* Bibi di, sorry for eavesdropping but I had to do this :)

You get the drift, this is the sort of place you can go to with your kids and little ones, and Bibi di would rustle something up from her kitchen to suit their palate, while they fish out a Disney Classic. It is the sort of a place where you and your kid can pick a book from neatly lined book-shelves while you wait for your meal to be served.


By the time I finished my main-course, I was craving for some starters. So I took Bibi di’s help again and ordered myself some *Lahem bin Azin – Lamb stuffed baked puffs*.


These babies are served with small bowls of Hummus and Baba Ghanouj. I absolutely relished these and licked the ‘dip’ bowls clean with my fingers.  Bibi di, is into catering as well. Me and her discussed the possibility of her helping with my annual ritual of Christmas BBQ. Bibi’s is open through the week from noon to 10 and also takes reservations for lunch/dinners. If you are just in mood for that Spanish Paella, one fine morning - just call ahead and book yourself a table !

By now, the movie plans had been shelved. The food was just too good for me to consider otherwise. As I overstayed, I wrapped it up with a Mocha Gateau for dessert. Below is an aerial shot of the Gateau !


Done with the meal, Bibi Di and I got talking - about food, schooling, family, and about life in general. I complimented Bibi di and promised to return. It would take me at least a couple of dozen visits, if not more; to try everything on her menu. So now you know where to find me during weekends :) I now have a NEW friend and ‘Thy name is Bibi di’ :)

Fun Fact: Bibi’s is a family run business. Her husband actively participates in running it. They together have a 10 year old fairy who already cooks and helps her Mum. So there you go, Bibi di does not have to worry about her legacy :)

I clicked some more pictures with Bibi di’s express permission and they are re-produced here to give you an idea of what this place is all about !






Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vidisha’s Lifestyle Boutique

Vidisha’s store would remind you of the ‘Shop Around The Corner’ run by the affable Meg Ryan in the movie You have got mail !. And the comparison does not end here, it is quite literally a shop around the corner on the stretch of road commonly referred to as ‘Kwality Bus Stop’ in common Salt Lake parlance. For any one from Salt Lake, this location needs no explanation or introduction. For others, it is a common landmark on Salt Lake’s busiest thoroughfare – The First Avenue !

My wife and I had chanced upon this store by sheer luck. Had it not been for their ‘Diwali Spread’ as Bidisha likes to call it, I might have missed it completely. Diwali being the ‘Festival Of Lights’ that it is, this store am sure is lighting up more than a few homes. I visited it on a Sunday evening and they were quite busy.

I saw a charming woman elegantly dressed in a white sari talking to the customers in the store, and answering all their questions without a crease on her forehead. It took no genius to figure out, that the lady was Bidisha the store owner.


I went around the store and reviewed what it had to offer. Especially attracted to the different types of floor lamps and hanging lamps on display. The lighting created the perfect ambience. You needed to be here to see, how appropriate lighting can set up the mood. 


All the lamp shades in this store are hand-made with organic materials like hand-made paper and/or threads. They are both ethnic and chic at the same time. I had personally been looking around a floor lamp to light up my den (my study/workplace/SoHo) . It seemed this was the closest I was to get something I wanted. After all writing is all about appropriate lighting :)


This was an interesting hanging lamp-shade, with cave-paintings on hand-made paper. These shades are lined with heat-proof fabric.  They have on display a number of other ‘Diwali’ knick-knacks on display other than an interesting array of lifestyle products. Some pictures are included below.






After spending more than few minutes to see what was on offer. It was time to buy something, to justify my presence in the store. Taking the opportunity, I enlisted Bidisha’s help. I walked up to her and asked her suggestion about which lamp would best suit my needs. After several ifs and buts, below is the picture of the one that I decided to go in for. Sorry, Bidisha for being such a tough customer :) I always prefer dimly lit environs, rather than in-your-face lighting and this-baby has livened up my study ! Feel free to blame my cheap camera phone for a grossly under-lit photo. 


While I was at it, I also picked up some decorative candles, ‘diyas’, floaters and tea-lights. Bidisha’s a fixed price store, so don’t go haggling over prices. But in keeping with the festive spirit, she is offering a gift on purchases over a certain amount, I would think. I got my gift a nice terracotta table-top portrait of ‘Ganesha’.


Finally, I thought it might be a good idea to chat-up with Bidisha. I told her about AllThingsCoolKata and what I do for a living. I asked her how she got started ? She obliged gleefully by taking a few minutes out of a busy Sunday evening, while her phone rang incessantly. Bidisha went to Loreto Bowbazar and got started with candle making while she was in middle school. She cultivated her flair for this art, with support from her mother. Once she was out of school and later college, she undertook a professional course in candle making. There has been no looking back from there. At some point her mother suggested that with some effort she could make this her profession and so she has – from candle making to really beautiful lamp shades to cane furniture to other lifestyle products.


In this picture you see Bidisha and Ratna di(Left to right). Bidisha runs her enterprise with unrelenting support from Ratna di - her cohort. Whom she proudly introduced to me as some one without whose help this was not possible. Ratna di has stood by her through thick and thin !

During my conversation with Bidisha, I kept on switching to ‘বাংলা’ occasionally. No Bengali can ever resist the urge to ask another fellow Bengali, if he/she was one too. Now given my cherubic looks, I often get mistaken as ‘অবাঙালী’ :) . However my chaste accent almost always does the trick ! But to be truthful, I tell people what I always do that - I am ‘বাঙালি’ by ‘Karma’ as I am married to a card-carrying one.

Bidisha was very gracious all through and all my attempt at slapstick humor and tongue-in-cheek remarks, kept falling flat on it’s face. I stopped short for the fear of committing a ‘Bushism’ :)

She asked me to bring my wife to her store. I promised, I would.

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