There are sudden turns and spots that you come across in your life where you can smell your lost innocence and the essence of your roots that you have somehow left behind in this mad rat race or in the quest to achieve something that brings quantified satisfaction. We are forgetting how to stare at nature or at the playing kittens, how to pluck an aromatic flower or to play with the leaves while humming a Rabindrasangeet. All these thoughts suddenly rushed back into my otherwise confused and pre-occupied head and teleported me couple of decades back when I was a little kid and used to make clay idols and spend afternoons reading Bengali ghost stories! Lokahaar takes you back to your roots – that’s the definition of this eatery to me! I have never seen a restaurant so homely, so much grounded. There is honesty sculpted in every brick of this peaceful and serene ‘Bangali’ restaurant.
There are no flashy stuffs, no marketing gimmicks, no strategically served dishes (in lesser quantity) and no indifferent servers (forget about the owner) like you get in most renowned eateries across the city, or maybe across the country. Here the owner Mr. Basudev Ghatak is one exceptionally humble and gem of a person who loves cooking and gets immense satisfaction if his guests like the food that has been served.
Frankly speaking I was touched since no where in the city I experienced such personal care and homely treatment in a restaurant, maybe because this place is way more than just another restaurant. It stresses on the lost glory and cultural traits that we disregard these days.
It tries to unify Lok-Krishti, Lok-Shilpo, Lok-Sanskriti and finally Lok-Ahaar. This means it tries to bring together various aspects of our rural life – like the daily work of a farmer, the regular art and craft work that is being produced at various rural areas, the different cultural events that are still going strong in the remote villages all across Bengal or maybe in the neighboring states, and finally the food – that has got its origin in rural undivided Bengal – here comes the term Lokaahar that signifies the age-old dishes which maybe our grand parents or great grand parents used to have regularly but very rapidly they are vanishing from our plates and from our kitchens. But before they vanish from our minds or memories of our tastebuds, Lokaahar tries to step forward to save this amazing dishes and old rural cultures and art forms. This is an effort which first needs to be applauded. And then we can delve deep into the details of the interior décor and other elements that build this place.
The place is located in a serene para (locality) of Jodhpur Park and if you are near South City Mall then you can take the alley beside the Leder land shop (opposite South City) to reach this place. It is infact the ground floor of a typical south Kolkata house that has been converted to this eatery with utmost care. The iron gate has welded art forms that depicts the four aspects (Lok-Krishti, Lok-Shilpo, Lok-Sanskriti and Lok-Ahaar) which has been discussed above. We find the fourth aspect ‘Lokahaar’ is further depicted in details when we step inside the eatery. The hand painted figurines (poto-chitro) and floral designs on the walls along the framework of the door will surely grab your attention. The paintings have been done by a rural painter couple who came down to Kolkata only for this purpose.
The paintings depict various stages of a countryside Bengali marriage and how it used to be, it shows the shikaar porbo or the hunting activity, the celebrations and processions, the paalki ride, and then the ‘paat pere khawa dawa porbo’ or the feasting episode where everyone is enjoying the food that is being served at the wedding ceremony where everyone is seated on the floor in a line like it used to be at rural weddings years back; the servers are serving with buckets in their hand that contain the food – maybe dal, curry or rice.
All these pictures make me feel so pleased deep inside, they are so calm, so peaceful, and so much rooted. The walls are painted in a typical clay color with two shades that give this place the perfect feel along with those wall paintings. Them comes the tables where you dine and the chairs along with it. Both have been curved from solid and heavy wood and have been prepared by skilled artisans from Burdwan. It just can’t get more authentic! But the glass top with these finely crafted tables somehow goes really well but I guess typical wooden top with more paintings on it could have been more interesting, though that might have been bit difficult to maintain and clean. The entrance has more interesting elements that interest me – like the colored glass walls or the Tulsi plant that’s near the gate. The dining area is basically divided into two rooms including the living room portion.
There is one room which is basically an office but it is a treasure trove for a collector who is interested in collecting rural decorative items and food items from distant villages, etc. But this section is basically to promote the artists and talents from far-away villages who have produced such gems, and there is almost no margin to make profit from this section. The owner Mr. Ghatak also said that they wish to go to the distant villages and record local folk or baul songs and bring the recordings back to play them in his restaurant, this is such an innovative idea and I hope I will be back soon and then this amazing background music will be playing.
Now let us discuss a bit about the food which is surely the showstopper at this place. It gives you reasons to come back to this place again and again. I was invited with couple of my Panch phoron team members to taste the Poila Boishakh dishes. The place has got nearly 100 food items on its regular menu, out of which they have carefully selected 40 items for Poila Boishakh. And we were served few of these items from the special menu. Here are the items we tried –
- Aam porar Shorbot – This is not a new drink to us, but the preparation here spelled magic with the first sip. The mild refreshing appetizing drink had solid mango pulps and pieces in it that was great to have besides sipping the optimally dense juice. Perfect one to order for if you are in on a hot summer day, the correct mix of spices in there will build your appetite and overall it will cool you down and help you settle down real fast.
- Bhaat (steamed rice) – Mr. Ghatak had already informed us that he stocks different varieties of rice from various parts of the state and beyond (including black rice from Manipur) which are also for sale and these go out of stock real fast. That really speaks volume about the premium quality of rice we were served, the quantity of rice served was more than sufficient, which were perfectly prepared to go with Bengali curries and dal.
- Shuktoh – Truly speaking I stay away from shukto since I do not like a bitter tasting dish, I know it’s my weird personal opinion and many do love shukto which is perfectly fine. But here I was pleasantly surprised to taste it, it was bit bitter but the strong aroma of ghee and other ingredients eclipsed the notion that I had with shuktos, in general. It was surprisingly very flavorful and I was blown away with the first morsel, Mr.Ghatak was extremely pleased when he found a satisfied smile on my face after tasting this dish! The generous amount of veggies, ghee and posto in there made it taste heavenly. This is a must try dish!
- Narkoler Daal – Again a flavorful basic Bengali dish that had no flaw in it, the proportion of grated coconut in it was just perfect, the aroma was perfect, the density was perfect, everything was amazing! And yes, I ate one full plate of rice with this dal, so you can well imagine its taste now!
- Aloo Bhaja – And yes, the one plate of rice with dal was aptly accompanied by thinly sliced fried potato or as we call it, jhhur jhhure aloo bhaja. It was very crisp and tasty and there was a sprinkle of chaat masala on it making it exponentially flavorful.
- Echorer Dalna – Oh boy I loved this, I know I am repeating the same words but seriously I can’t help myself. All the dishes were cooked so well. The jackfruits were well cooked and cut into small pieces, the gravy was bit rich and spicy, but not too oily or soggy. The proportion of garam masala was just right and I felt like tasting some chicken or mutton dish, just too good!
- Dhokar Dalna – This dish was served specially for my vegetarian friend but I tasted a bit of this and found the dhoka was extremely fresh and soft, the gravy was again tasty and had sipped well inside the pieces of dhoka. Nice option for vegetarians.
- Bori diye Pabda Maachh er jhol – The big piece of fresh pabda fish was awaiting for my first bite when I realized this is another gem of a preparation! The well cooked gravy with well soaked bori was dense and packed with flavors, since the fishes are bought daily so they were found to be very fresh and the garnishing with coriander leaves and overall presentation was also top notch.
- Aam-er Chatni – It was served in a cute little bowl. The chutney was not too runny and neither too thick, just the perfect density to be honest. The piece of mango was tangy and fleshy and the dish was sweet and sour, it had just the right amount of sweetness according to my old-school tastebuds!
- Kaalo Chaal er Paayesh – This was an out-of-the-box dish to add some punch to the whole meal. I had never tasted this before, it is prepared by cooking black Manipuri rice (which is soaked in water overnight) with milk and sugar in it, The milk is boiled again and again so that it thickens and forms a semi liquid substance with the boiled black rice in it. We could still feel the rice when we had this dish, it was still not over-boiled. Overall the taste is subtle, not overtly sweet with a nice aroma and taste. Really an innovative sweet dish. You should try it if you visit Lokahaar.
But one thing is for sure, it is better to book your table and menu by calling them an hour ago, or even better if you can call a day ahead your visit. All the dishes are cooked after you place the order. The vegetables, meat and fish are bought everyday in the morning, so if you do not book in beforehand you might feel annoyed finding your favorite item is not available.
As I said above, apart from these few items there are many items there for the Poila Boishakh menu, also there is INR 649 all inclusive buffet menu (available from 14th till 24th April), here are the items –
Aam Panna, Sada bhaat, Polao, Lal Shaak, Kumro fuler bora, Narkol koraishutir mug dal, Alur dom, Potol bhaja, Echor dalna, Bhetki Bhapa, Chicken/Mutton Kosha, Chutney, Papad, Mishti Doi/Kalo Chaler payesh, Dorbesh/Mihidana.
Overall, at Lokahaar it is recognized that it’s not only the taste that matters but it is also the ingredients that go in to those recipes making them more memorable. The team takes pride in carefully selecting each of these ingredients from the wholesale market to give you the fresh taste and the genuine experience of authentic Bengali cuisine! For people coming first time to Kolkata and looking for a great joint to taste the local Bengali food, this is your place to be, you will straight-away be introduced to the basic age-old dishes of Bengal, the dishes, the food which were shown in the old Bengali movies. People of this generation haven’t even tasted everything which our grandfathers used to relish in their meal. Remember the scene where Tenida was gorging on Bengali dishes in the movie Charmurti? The sheer innocence and love for food displayed in those few minutes portrays the true love for food still present in a Bengali and with these basic age-old dishes vanishing from our menu it’s really concerning, to say the least.
Hopefully Lokahaar can stop this golden elements of Bengal and these golden dishes of Bengal from fading away. I wish Mr.Ghatak and the entire team of Lokahaar the very best and I am sure soon people will realize the essence of Lokahaar and the authenticity of the dishes it offers!
I wish everyone happy dining at Lokahaar, try their Poila Boishakh menu and try their various interesting dishes and stunning flavors that will amaze you everytime, hope you keep on hogging like Tenida at this place! Surely no one wants to be like Pyalaram who is left only with ‘potol diye singhi maacher jhol’ and ‘bashok patar rosh’!! 🙂