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.
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.
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 !