Paramount, Aminia, Dilkhusha Cabin, Mitra Cafe, Royal India Hotel Chitpur are some of the names which come together when we speak about old eateries in Kolkata. There are many more. Some of the above names are more than 100 years old. Some will cross the century mark soon. However, rarely one considers naming the pice hotels in this category, especially Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata and I wonder why.
What is a pice hotel?
This is one of the most common theories but not confirmed. When these hotels started the bhat dal maachh priyo, one could get a pet chukti (limitless rice dal and vegetables) food at 1 paisa. This is unpretentious eating at its best. When they started, the pice hotels were a saviour for many Bengali folks settling in “Calcutta” for work and livelihood. It was simple cooking in a humble setup and a meal that reminds one of the home food. For most of these places, time stands still and can be a scene from old black and white movies.
A story that has a legacy of its own – An ode to India’s independence
Most commonly known as Bhaat er hotel when they started, the pice hotels have definitely faded away into the glamour and glitz of Bengali fine dining restaurants. However, no one can take away history. Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel in the famous College Street area of Kolkata was once started by Mangobindo Panda. Some of the names who enjoyed the food here are Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das to name a few. The hotel was also a meeting place for the freedom fighters and Swadhin or independence was attached to the name after India gained its independence.
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The Guide to glide through a Pice Hotel.
There is chaos which is intimidating enough but you will be soon taken care of. Uniform-wearing wait staff will seat you at a table which may have others too. Unless you are in a group, you need to share your table with unknown food lovers and isn’t food a great leveler? The menu card is missing but the black painted menu board is placed at a strategic corner that won’t miss your eyes. The menu gets updated daily depending upon the fresh catch of the day.
For two consecutive days, you may not get the same dish. It is this doubt that makes these places unique and distinct. The non-availability of a dish assures you that you are eating what is cooked fresh and nothing gets stored. Hat tip? Rely on the staff to suggest to you. He will also be kind enough to let you know the speciality of the day has finished. We faced that with the Topshe fry last time. If you are a regular, you can be shown all the dishes together and you can take your pick.
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Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata
Bhaat er hotel is very common in the office para or the business hubs in the city. It’s not only north or central Kolkata but Sector V the IT hub of the city, Dalhousie and B.B.D. Bag area too. Each one has few Pice hotels. Some of them are relatively new and the food cannot be compared with the old ones. Amongst the old ones, Jaganmata Bhojanalaya in Kalish Bose Street, Tarun Niketan in Rashbehari Avenue, Young Bengal Hotel in Kidderpore are some of the torchbearers of the golden past. Then there is the Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata.
Why Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata is our favourite
We don’t need a reason to visit Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata. In all the glamour and glitz, here stands one eating house like an institution. There are few Pice hotels left in the city and this is definitely one of them. A place near our erstwhile office, we used to visit often for a quick break for a sumptuous lunch. The entrance is almost a blink and you miss it lane. It is more than 80 years old and situated in Jan Bazar beside Rani Rashmoni’s House. A narrow entrance between the row of shops and the busy street has an equally simple signboard but the year of establishment is what shines brightly.
Once you experience Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata, you can never forget that signboard and the old marble staircase leading to the main dining area. On the landing at the corner, you can find the cashier who has a jugalbandi with the waiter when the bill gets finalized. It is a sight to behold. The waiter rattles the dishes which is only understood by the cashier and the final bill value is told to you. Don’t worry, it’s a century-old practice and rarely one has gone wrong in this.
There is an AC section too, however, the real deal is enjoying the meal with an unknown person. The food is served in a plantain leave or Kola pata with salt and lemon at the corner. Remember the olden days community eating in a social function? Your fellow diner can be a reporter, an actor, an office worker or a labourer. Each one has his own reasons to come to Sidheshwari Ashram.
Looking for some legendary street food joints of Kolkata beyond the obvious? Check out this list which we made for Culinary Culture Co. Some of the videos from Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata is there too.
Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata is special where three women are carrying the legacy ahead.
Did you know that this place is run by 3 ladies from the same family? It is now into the 5th generation till Late Sujit Sen took over the reins. His untimely demise meant a big question mark on the future of the hotel but his wife and sister joined hands to keep the legacy alive. Titash Sen, Late Sujit Sen’s daughter has joined recently in the business and that perhaps completes the full circle. There is always fun of a meal over here and getting soaked in the energy and buzz. Earlier when we went, we often saw Rita Sen, Titash’s mother. Every day she is seen moving around, overseeing the orchestrated chaos and ensuring no guest is dissatisfied. She acts as the bridge between the thakurs (the cooks from Odisha who normally cooks here) and the serving boys.
The Microbrewery, Rooftop restaurants, contemporary gastropubs, chic cafes, all make Kolkata a happening place but places like Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram Kolkata remind us of what it was in the past. Who said the past is not important for the present?
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