Many are familiar with Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's literary works and songs, but ever thought of tasting the bard's favourite dishes?
Now Kolkata can boast of a cafeteria-cum-restaurant, Cafe The, where people can get a taste of Tagore's culinary indulgences - all under one roof.
"This is the first cafe-cum-restaurant in India that is exclusively dedicated to Tagore cuisine," Ratikanta Basu, promoter of Broadcast Worldwide Pvt Ltd in Kolkata and who conceived the project, told IANS. The restaurant, which opened late January, is located on Ho Chi Min Sarani in south Kolkata.
Tagore would encourage the 'thakurs' (cooks) in his ancestral palace in the northern part of the city to introduce variations in the platter, by including desi versions of continental and Peshawari cuisine. Thus, the cross-over culture ensconced silently in the kitchens of 'Thakurbari' was launched, much before the clamour for cross-cultural traditions actually started.
The poet's innate wanderlust took him to places like Italy, Spain, England, Turkey and he imbibed the food traditions of respective countries. Since he was very much exposed to both oriental and occidental cuisine, a penchant to blend the two forms came naturally. The Thakurbari kitchen underwent a culinary revolution with the cooks toiling hard to recreate the magic of the food which lingered in Tagore's tastebuds.
"There are not many documents to support that Tagore was a diehard food lover. But he actually was one, and whenever he attended a lunch or dinner abroad, he used to collect and bring back the menu cards. These menus were even tried at the Tagore family kitchen here, along with Bengali delicacies," Basu said.
British chef Shaun Kenworthy has made sure that the dishes served at the cafe are made with the same ingredients and spices that were used during Tagore's times.
"We have collected almost all the menu cards from different sources and archives and then done research on the recipe. People will be able to get the same flavour which drew Tagore to the particular food," Kenworthy said.
Even the tea served at the cafe will be the one that Tagore used to drink.
A part of the menu card will be a facsimile of the menu laid out for the dinner party hosted by India Society, London, in 1912 to felicitate Tagore on the occasion of the publication of 'Gitanjali', a collection of his poems.
The main highlights of the menu are Vichyssoise, Prawn cocktail, Eggs Florentine, Quiche Lorraine, Chicken a la Kiev, Shepherd's Pie, Fondue, Fish Veronique, Lasagna al forno, Ratatouille, Vegetable Stroganoff, Black Forest roulade, Sherry Trifle and Apple strudel.
The restaurant is quite affordable, with a thali of five-seven dishes priced at around Rs.100.
Even the decor of the cafe in south Kolkata has been designed to suit the ambience, with large portraits of Tagore at various lunch and dinner parties across the world, his framed write-ups on food, and of course softly played Tagore songs.
"These are just the nuggets, we are planning to arrange weekend soirees in our cafe. The old-timers will recall the swinging '60s when the evenings in Park Street in south Kolkata used to wake up with jazz. Albeit in a different way, this place will soon become a destination for visitors from all parts of India and abroad, who are hooked to Bengali songs and of course Rabindrasangeet," said Reshmi Roy, who helped Basu with the project.