A Chinese Love Affair

Before the popularity of Tangra as Kolkata’s China Town sky-rocketed, it was Tiretti Bazaar and the narrow archetypal lanes of central Kolkata around it that used to be the hub of Chinese migrants and the city’s first China Town. Resplendent with the original and authentic flavours the Chinese had brought with them, the Old China Town at Tiretti Bazaar now dons a heritage status with scores of people queuing up every morning for its famed Chinese Breakfast. Nestled amidst these lanes, perhaps a bit overlooked but certainly not forgotten, are some of the best Chinese eateries in town serving a taste unlike any other you’ll find in the city. In an age of impersonal over-publicised multi-cuisine restaurants, let us revisit a couple of old-school Chinese eateries in the heart of Kolkata’s Old China Town. Sei Vui What used to be a 120-year-old dormitory built for the physically-taxed working-class bachelor migrants from China has now been transformed into an exquisite restaurant. Voiling Club, one of the many Chinese clubs of Old China Town, used to house the dormitory that served as a shelter to the Chinese who migrated from China. With the dwindling Chinese population in Kolkata, the Club received very few lodgers for the better part of nearly three decades which left the building in a dire state. To save the property from decay and to pay for its maintenance, club members led by Chen Yao Hua and James Lee transformed the dormitory into an elegantly-designed restaurant that serves some of the best Chinese and Asian cuisine in the city. The interior of Sei Vui is a fascinating Oriental odyssey of colours. From cherry red bricks, gorgeous lanterns, wooden furniture decor and Korean table-tops to a giant painting of the Great Wall of China in a room reserved for special bookings, Sei Vui is a sight to behold. The President of the Club Chen Yao Hua has a panache for interior designing – his works adorn many Chinese restaurants in the city - and he has done something truly admirable with Sei Vui. What to Eat The menu at Sei Vui is a finely curated affair and would appeal to the palate of every Chinese cuisine lover. For starters, the Sea Food Combination Soup and Mixed Sui Mai is a winning combo that would tantalise anyone’s taste buds. The thick broth of the soup is filled with bits of crab, fish and prawns and is extremely appetising. The Mixed Sui Mai (Chinese Dumplings) comes with a filling of chicken and prawn and is served with a signature sauce that compliments the steamed dumplings perfectly. For the main course, Sei Vui serves a signature noodle called the Hokein Noodle – think Cantonese noodles that had an intense love affair with Hakka noodles – that is loaded with fresh vegetables, chicken and prawns. It is a semi-gravy noodle and is undoubtedly a revelation with each ingredient contributing towards its unique taste. Crabs are a specialty at Sei Vui and we were served their signature Crab in Singapore Sauce – a delicately sweet chilli-flavoured sauce that compliments the sweetness of the crab while adding the much needed spicy zest to it. Apart from Chinese, a lot of attention has also been given towards the flavours of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Nasi Goreng, the Indonesian variant of the fried rice is a wholesome serving and was paired with a Chinese staple, Szechuan Chicken, which made for a toothsome combo. The wok-tossed flavour of the Nasi Goreng coupled with Szechuan spice was delightfully new and comes highly recommended. For dessert, Sei Vui’s Fried Ice-Cream drizzled with chocolate sauce is an exceptionally delicious concoction of double-coated breadcrumbs and vanilla ice-cream – an uber-happy ending to a mouth-watering fare! 17, Blackburn Lane (New CIT Road), opposite Telephone Exchange, Poddar Court, Kolkata 73 Timing: 12 pm – 10 pm Seating Capacity – 66 Cost for 2: Rs 500 Contact: 9874718756   D'Ley There’s something very nostalgic and intriguing about old-school Chinese eateries. While glitz and glamour aren’t their forte, the warm home-like environment draped in layers of nostalgia and serving mouth-watering Chinese delicacies is what drives people in numbers to these outlets. D’Ley, situated on the bustling and busy New CIT Road is a no-frills eatery that wraps around the old-school charm like a fur coat! Ku Shih Fong started the eatery some 40-50 years ago and it is presently being looked after by Ku Chi Choi, the third generation of the family. Large portions and fresh ingredients are their USP and they have skilfully preserved the authentic Chinese taste. Wholesome Goodness Wonton Soup, a house specialty, is served in a huge bowl and is more than enough for 3 people. Succulent chicken wontons, fresh greens and a warm broth make for a refreshing appetizer. Pair it with the Fried Chicken Momo that is served with their special house sauce and you’re good to go. D’Ley has an elaborate menu and is packed with some of the best Chinese dishes one can ask for. The Roasted Chilli Pork and Prawn Yam Mein grabs the majority of the limelight for the simple fact that these are probably two of the best-known Chinese dishes out there and D’Ley makes them better than most eateries in town. Yam Mein is a specialty Chinese noodle wherein unlike the Hakka variant where everything is stir-fried, the noodle here is steamed and tossed in oil and salted to taste. It is a simple and basic dish but one that is immaculately flavourful. Topped with roasted prawns, Yam Mein locks the flavour of the noodles with the delectable prawns and is quite possibly the pick of the lot. Dry Roasted Chilli Pork is again a favourite among many lovers of Chinese cuisine and D’Ley does not disappoint here either. The meat retains its tenderness and the dry spices hit like a flavoured cannon sending your taste buds into a delightful ecstasy. If you’re more of a rice person then opt for the Mixed Fried Rice that comes delightfully packed with chicken, prawn, pork and eggs. Shredded pork fats add a scintillating effect to every bite that are so very luscious! The best part of eating at Old China Town is their inherent cultural appeal which is difficult to get elsewhere. For food lovers and culture connoisseurs, eating out doesn’t get any better than at the eateries at Kolkata’s Old China Town. So next time you’re up for some Chinese delicacies, ditch the corporatized eating glamour you’re used to and explore the flavours deeply rooted in the culture of a community that has preserved its roots over centuries. 16, Blackburn Lane (New CIT Road), opposite Telephone Exchange, Poddar Court, Kolkata 73 Timing: 11 am – 9:30 pm Seating Capacity – 16 Cost for 2: Rs 300 – 400 Contact: 9831553502/9830683227

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