As the major riverine port of a nation that's home to more than a billion people, Calcutta hardly lacks for culture. The city's cuisine—a multicultural mishmash of Indian, British, Jewish, Chinese, and other culinary traditions—is but one example of its stunning diversity. A Calcutta Affair's menu captures this diversity in dishes such as the fish fry and the Calcutta Chow, the latter a mixture of noodles, veggies, and meat that's reminiscent of stir-fry.
Despite the competing influences, Indian traditions still hold the greatest weight in the Calcuttan kitchen. This explains why many of A Calcutta Affair's dishes are prepared with Bengali flavors such as five-spice (a mixture of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, kalonji, and mustard seed) and freshly ground mustard paste. The tandoori dishes are billed as the restaurant's specialties, and one taste of the chicken marinated in sour cream and spices will tell you why. An exotic selection of beverages includes mango lassi and litchi juice with rosewater, though guests can also bring their own beers, wines, and nonalcoholic bathtub gin.
Hand-woven Persian carpets drape from the ceilings at Khyber Grill above guests enjoying meals set to a soundtrack of Indian instruments. Hand-hammered utensils and custom-cut plates cover the rustic tables to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional Indian outpost. Like the decor, the menu, created by Akshy Jhanjee and Dipam Patel, takes special care to recreate the feel and traditions of India, earning the restaurant the Critics' Pick for Indian cuisine in New Jersey Monthly's Jersey Choice Awards. Regional dishes from the North and West range from wok-sautéed shrimp to Punjabi-style mustard greens to lamb rogen josh cooked with onion, tomatoes, yogurt, and a special blend of spices. The master chefs prepare their spices from scratch each morning to make sure the dishes are as fresh as possible and that the spices don't turn sour.
Just as Rilke wondered to the young poet if the answer to "why do you write?" is resoundingly "I must," chef Jasbir Singh has built his life around his passion to cook because "those with passion do not know another way to live." In other words, he must. As owner of Guru Palace, Singh spends most of his time in the kitchen, where he puts his many years of experience to use. But that experience is also a jumping-off point for experimentation. The result is a vast menu of aromatic Indian and Thai cuisines, many of which are prepared in the traditional methods (such as tandoori), while others serve as evidence of Singh's open-minded interpretation of well-executed dishes.
The key to great Indian food, according to the chefs at Pooja Restaurant, isn’t its spiciness, but its spices. Roasted, fried, or ground into pastes, the culinary team’s handpicked spices are carefully deployed to bring out each dish’s strongest aromas and flavors. Spices marinate okra and succulent lamb, heat up shrimp cooked in honey and vinegar and add zest to cream sauce coating vegetable balls stuffed with homemade cheese. Besides spices, Pooja’s cooks rely on curry powders, meats, and veggies—all fresh, never canned or packaged—for the restaurant's other 160-plus traditional options, which range from goat curry to sag paneer.