The Great Bengali Pice Hotels

Calcutta is one city, where there is no dearth of good food, great restaurants and brilliant eateries. But this was not always the case. Growing up during the early 2000s, I distinctly remember that there were not a lot of options in terms of cuisine and the number of restaurants or places to eat out were relatively very low. Eating out at a proper restaurant for a middle class family like mine was no less than a rare occasion. There were a few restaurants serving North Indian and South Indian food. Out on the streets, the street food was limited chaat, egg/chicken roll and Chowmein. The only places serving continental food were at Park Street, like Mocambo, Peter Cat and Flurry’s. Hatari at Gariahat is one of the oldest serving Chinese restaurants in Calcutta and the Bengali cuisine was taken care of by places like Oh! Calcutta and Aheli, both being high-end places. Bhojohari manna and Sholo Ana bangali have been around but of late its best to avoid them as the quality has drastically deteriorated.

Gradually, due to the growth of the city, a rise in demand for more and newer things, and more entrepreneurs coming into the equation, the food scene in Calcutta has changed drastically. First came the Biryani and Momos and soon these were being sold on the streets and not just in fine dining restaurants. Then we were introduced to the Shawarma, Italian, Thai and American cuisines and by the end of the first decade of the new millennium, Calcutta became the proud owner of more international food chains like Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Mc Donalds, KFC and so many newer restaurants opened here. Slowly Calcutta has taken the shape of paradise for hard core foodie.

A carnivore from a vegetarian family, I am lucky to have been born here where great food is so varied, affordable and easily available. I have always stressed on the fact that my palate is very Indian and I  cant really eat too much of continental or food from other cuisines. And if there is one Indian cuisine that I am absolutely crazy about, it is Bengali.

 

For me, rice is not just comfort food, it is life. I cannot go one day without rice but the problem is that my taste is very different then that of my family’s. They prefer Chapatis more and even the vegetable curries and daals have that typical Heeng-Jeera Tadka which I am not very fond of. Why I developed a different, more bengali and non vegetarian palate is a very long story but to be breif about it, born and brought up in a Bengali para in South Calcutta, I was regularly fed Sheddo chaaler bhaat, aloo sheddo, daal, eggs and fish for the first few years of school by my neighbour, whose daughters were of my age and I would spend a lot of time at their place, playing, studying and eating together. We were the first non-bengali family to reside in that colony and my neighbours were completely unaware of the concept of “strict vegetarianism”. My mother on the other hand was unaware of the concept of eating animals as food. I am referring to a time nearly 25 years ago. A great confusion ensued and by the time both parties found out, it was already  too late to get me to give up Sheddo Chaal, Moshur Daal, Pona maachher jhol, and Chingrir Baati Chorchori. From then on, it was a regular thing for my mother to make Sheddo chaaler Bhaat and Moshur daal for me while the rest of the family ate Chapatis, Moong Daal and Govind Bhog Rice (with Ghee and Sugar). My supply of non-veg food was taken care of by my ever generous neighbors.

And then we moved.

I was in college, broke and always looking for ways to save money for my next non vegetarian meal. I was done with eating daal bhaat aloo bhaja every day for lunch and I really missed a piece of fish or chicken with my meal. At that time getting an invitation for a bengali wedding or annaprashan used to make me jump with joy (and it still does!). That was a time when the Great Bengali Pice hotels came to my rescue.

When I first found out about Pice Hotels through a college friend, I was so disappointed with myself for not having known about them earlier. Fresh, homely food with so many varieties of fish and vegetables, the indulgent chicken or mutton jhol at rock bottom prices, I thought I had hit jackpot! Pice hotels were the only places where I could actually afford more than one portion of Shorshe Illish or Chingri Malai Curry back in the day.  So that is when my love affair with Pice Hotels began. I have been frequenting pice hotels for about seven years now, sometimes with friends but mostly alone. What might be a staple meal for most, is an indulgent, luxurious feast for me, and I prefer to enjoy my weekly, sometimes bi-weekly pice hotel visits by myself, in silence, away from my phone, savoring every bite, every flavour.

Pice hotels have been around since the British era as i have been told. While I have never been able to find out much about the exact definition of the word ‘Pice’, the owner of Tarun Niketan, a 100 year old pice hotel at Rashbehari, told me that Pice System means that everything is individually priced, from the vegetables, fish, chicken to every extra ladle of rice, lemon wedges, onion pieces  and even the banana leaf you are served the food on!

Nothing makes me happier than a fulfilling meal at a Pice hotel – Steaming hot Rice, Sona Moonger Daal, Aloo Bhaja, Maachher Tel diye Laal Shaak and a strong, fragrant, fresh piece of Illish Maach coated with fine mustard gravy and a single slit green chilli.

The most important thing that has always drawn me towards Bengali food is the way a meal is planned to be balanced, wholesome and nutritious. There is Sheddo Chaaler Bhaat which has been known to have good carbohydrates and lesser fat in comparison to other varieties of rice. The Daal, Bhaja, Shobji provide the good proteins, iron, vitamins and fiber to the body while the Teto or bitter flavour from the Uchhe in the Shukto or Neem Pata Bhaja cleanse the palate to prepare the tongue for the robust and spicier protein in the form of fish, egg, chicken or mutton. Paanch Foron or the five spice comprising of Jeere/Radhuni, Kalo jeere, Methi, Mouri and Shorshe, not only changes the flavour of the dish, but aides the digestive system and actually has all the various tastes the tongue can Identify – Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Astringent & Bitter, The science behind a complete Bengali meal baffles me.

I have never ever felt heavy, gassy or bloated after eating a wholesome meal at a Bengali Pice hotel, which is why Pice Hotels are a major part of my life now.

Before I list my personal favorite Pice Hotels, here are a few things you need to keep in mind before visiting one for a sumptuous Bengali meal –

  • The best time to go to any busy Pice hotel is before 2 pm for lunch, because post that, they run out of most dishes on the menu.
  • For dinner rice as well as Roti are available.
  • The Pice hotels are not restaurants. Tables are clean but you won’t get a dining ‘ambiance’ , or professional waiters, or fancy seats. Pice hotels are eateries, with basic seating, mostly without toilets or air-conditioning with few exceptions.
  • Don’t expect to be given a separate table all for yourself. During rush hours, you will have to share tables with other customers.
  • Packaged drinking water is always available on demand.
  • Most customers you will see at Pice hotels are regulars who eat there at least five days a week so if you see others getting served ahead of you, in a steel plate instead of a banana leaf, don’t be alarmed. You can also ask for a steel plate if eating on a banana leaf is not your thing.
  • The menu and prices of fish and meat change every day, according to the price of the items at the local market. Vegetables, Daal and Rice mostly cost the same everyday.
  • At most Pice Hotels the menu is handwritten on a board in bengali, so if you are not good with reading handwritten Bangla like me, ask your server about what is available. They  show you a portion each of all fish curries before serving so that you can pick and choose what you like.
  • Albeit the above points, You can be rest assured that the food will always be fresh and home-like. The servers are friendly, helpful, generally very hospitable and polite. You will leave satisfied with a full stomach and a happy mind.
  • A small tip of INR 20 or INR 30 to your server will ensure that he remembers you on your next visit and will serve to the best of his ability.

Here a few brilliant Pice hotels of Calcutta in no particular order – 

(You can click o the name of each pice hotel for more details, like address, phone number & location.)

Tarun Niketan, Rashbehari

 

 

This is probably the oldest Pice hotel in town, the owner claiming it to be at least 100 years old. Even though it is in a prime location, on the main road in Rashbehari, it is hard to find. If you walk from Lake Mall towards Rashbehari crossing on the left pavement and ask around, you will reach Tarun Niketan. (Bang opposite Hotel Raaj) Inside, the place looks nearly as old as it really is, with wooden chairs and tables, old, faded walls adorned with numerous paper cuttings of media reports about the pice hotel and a very high ceiling.

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Shaada Bhaat, served on a Banana leaf at Tarun Niketan, along with Moshur Daal and Jhuri Aloo Bhaja
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Bhetki Paturi
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Tangra Jhol

 

The food though is not mind-blowingly delicious, but its decent. The cost however is unbelievably low here. I remember the first time I went, which was only last year, I had ordered Rice, Daal, Begun Bhaja and Chingri Malai Curry. Malai Curry was INR 70 (for two tiger prawns) they said. But by the time my order reached the kitchen, I was informed that there was only one single Chingri left and I could either skip it or have the last piece for INR 35 !! I paid just INR 100 for the whole meal. On another occasion, I ate rice with just one dish- Machher Tel Diye Laal Shaak and it was the best Shaak preparation ever! Their fish curries are a bit bland though (sans onion and garlic except Kalia) so if you like spicer curries, let them know when you place the order.

The rather unappealing wash basin. Soap is usually not available.

Hotel Siddheswari Ashram – New Market Area

A very well known Pice hotel of the city, this probably the only Pice hotel which has a separate air conditioned room!  Even though I prefer sitting in the non-a.c area, because I like the old world charm, the a.c seating is a convenient option for people who want better conditions to have their meal in where you get Pice Hotel food in a restaurant like environment at a higher price of course. I got chatty recently with the servers there, who said that the footfall has fallen drastically in the last five years, given that numerous affordable eateries and restaurant have come up in the area and it bothered them to an extent. But they were happy that their workplace was getting a lot of online visibility through blogs, reviews and mentions and people like were still coming via word of mouth. There was so much excitement in their voices when they told me that the place is often hired for movie and television shoots as well.

The menu at Hotel Siddheswari Ashram

The place is spacious and has three seating ares – two non a.c and one air conditioned. A big black board menu with prices of the day written in chalk greets you as you climb up a flight of stairs to reach the hotel on the first floor. The trademark high ceilings look a very different kind of grand with the huge and very old ceiling fans that are probably as old as the hotel itself ( about eighty years according to my server that day).

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The air conditioned room
Shorshe Illish and Shada Bhaat
Maachher matha Diye Laal Shaak, and Pona Maachher Jhol

The food is great. You really must visit Siddheswari Ashram by 1.30 pm if you want to savour their Shaak and other vegetables before they run out of stock. The food at that time is also served piping hot. My last visit to Siddheswari Ashram was just last week and to my surprise they were still serving Illish! Though I was skeptical because Illish season was gone and I don’t like it from the cold storage, the fish was so fresh and tasty! Other recommendations – Mutton jhol, Rui machher Jhol and Aloo-Phoolkopir Dalna.

Mahal restaurant – College Street

This one is my absolute favorite. Its tiny, tough to locate but the food at Mahal Restaurant is by fat the best pice hotel food I have  ever eaten and I can safely say that is better than your neighborhood Bengali restaurant like Shollo Ana Bangali or Bhojohari Manna, outlets which have deteriorated over the last couple of years.

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Mahal Restarant is situated in a small lane opposite HDFC Bank, College Street.
Inside Mahal Restaurant at peak lunch hours, where seating space is limited to 16-20 people.

My elder brother who is a regular there took me to Mahal because according to him, this is one pice hotel you must not miss, and boy was he right! The owners who sit at the cash counters are very welcoming and friendly and urge you to call them before reaching so that they can save a portion of your choice of fish or vegetable for you.

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Shaada Bhaat
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Chingri Malai Curry
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Aar Machher Kalia
Bori Diye Parshe Machh
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Jhuri Aloo Bhaja
mahal restaurant
Posto Bora
mahal restaurant
Shukto
mahal restaurant
Special Mooger daal
mahal restaurant
Khejjur Aam Shotter Chatni

On my first visit with my brother and his colleague we ordered Shaada Bhaat, Jhuri Aloo Bhaja, Narkel Diye Special Mooger Daal, Shukto, Postor Bora, Aar Maacher Kalia, Pabda Machher Jhaal, Mutton Jhol, Chatni, Papor and a bottle of packaged drinking water and the bill, *drumrolls* was just INR 450 !! I was stunned! The quality of the food was A grade, the taste was so good and the amount and variety of food we ate should have cost atleast INR 1500 at any proper Bengali restaurant. I have been a regular at Mahal since my first ever visit two years back. I often call them to inquire about the fish preparations and they always save the best for me. Given a choice, I would eat at Mahal everyday but its nowhere close to my home so I eagerly look forward to my bi-monthly visit to Mahal. Do try their fresh Tangra Machher Jhaal and Chingri Baati Chorchori.

 

Adarsh Hindu Hotel, Gariahat Market.

My first visit to Adarsh Hindu Hotel was a disappointment. Nearly seven years ago, I was roaming around the first floor of  Gariahat Market, looking for some thing – hungry and frustrated. I happened to read a board saying “Bangali Bhaater Hotel” and found my way to Adarsh Hindu hotel. A smiling face greeted me and I sat down a table. I asked the server what was available. Now this happened at a time when I was naive and did not have a lot of idea about Pice hotels or portion sizes or even about what to order for just one person. My server told me that Chitol was good and so was the Tangra and I ordered both without asking about the price or realising that both these fish are expensive. Also ordered Daal, Shobji, Bhaja and could not finish everything.  Being a college student I was not very street-smart or blunt enough to say no and I was also always cash strapped. Looking back, I don’t know what got into me that day that I ordered so much and spent nearly INR 300 which at the time was a big amount especially for a college goer. Lesson learned but place forgotten.

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Picture Courtesy – Indrajit Lahiri, https://moha-mushkil.com/

I only remembered about Adarsh Hindu Hotel after reading Mr. Mohamushkil’s post which you can read here. The post was so descriptive and tempting that I decided to go again shortly afterwards. Only this time I was smarter and had a little more sense about how to say no to the server who always coaxes you to order more.

Shorshe Illish, Jhuri Aloo bhaja and Shadaa Bhaat at Adarsh Hindu Hotel

 

 

Chingri Malai Curry with Shaada Bhaat at Adarsh Hindu hotel.

The thing about Adarsh hindu hotel is that you will get good service and great behavior, but the servers persistently push you to order another fish or shobji. Now I don’t know if they do that to make you feel at home or whether to ensure that they are able to sell more. Whatever be the case, my one advice to you before going to Adarsh Hindu Hotel is that be very specific about what you want to eat. Ask about the prices. Ask your server to show you the fish and then place your order. They will ask you persistently to order but you must know your appetite. The food again, is very delicious and fresh. Drinking water is served in clay tumblers or Khullars and the servers don’t usually keep more than INR 10 as a tip even if you offer more. I really like the Shukto and Shorshe Illish here. All through Illish season I must have gone there atleast a dozen times for the freshest Shorshe illish(the piece with the deem{illish caviar}) at just INR 150 !

 

Special mention – Kalapata

Kalapata is not a pice hotel but it is relevant in this post, because this is another place which serves affordable homelike Bengali food, but in a Thali or meal format instead of the Pice system.

Rohu Meal At Kalapata

Situated opposite Lake Mall near Prema Vilaas, a veg meal/thaali at Kalapata costs just INR 70, with Rice, Jhuri Aloo Bhaja, Aloo Bharta, Daal, Shobji, Gondhoraaj Lebu, Chatni and Papor. They also serve fish, chicken, mutton and egg meals for lunch and Chapatis are available for dinner. Rice, Aloo Bhaja and Daal helpings are unlimited. Kalapata is air conditioned and you might have share your table with others during Rush hour. I usually go for Rohu Meal, at INR 120. Make sure to ask if Machher Matha Diye Shobji is available, which is my personal favorite.

In my opinion, Kalapata is the next best option for those who are not accustomed to the simple and bustling ambiance of regular pice hotels.

Pice Hotels are not just eateries. They help preserve the traditional style of Bengali cooking and rare recipes. Pice Hotels denote heritage, an old world Bengali charm, a tradition which though not dying, is slowly losing its foothold in the city as we continue to set the bar higher and higher in terms of exotic food, dining experiences, ambiance, table setting, aesthetics, service, etc

There are many more great pice hotels around Kolkata, both renowned like Jagannath Bhojonalaya at S.N Banerjee Road and hidden gems like Arun Cabin at Camac Street. Have you ever been to a Pice Hotel? Are you regular at Pice hotels like me? What other Pice hotels would you recommend for me? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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14 comments

  1. Jagatmata Hotel near Kailash Bose Street and Madan Mitra Lane crossing..been there for more than 100 years…
    Nearest bus stop: Sreemani Market
    Items to try out: Chachra(kind of mixes vegetable with macher matha),Katla kalia,Mutton kosa and Chingri malai curry,Chuno macher jhal, Kankar jhal(crab)
    Reach there before 1 pm preferably coz everything is gone by 2pm.
    The entire hotel is run by people from Orissa..the very people who used to cook in the houses of wealthy zamindars of bengal…one can get the same taste of royalty here

  2. You are probably unfortunate that you have not tasted the most famous Parvati in Jadu Bazar as it has closed down few years back. It was undoubtedly the best of the lot.
    Another place you may include is Young Bengal Hotel in Kidderpore near fancy market. It is good enough to be in the list.

    1. Its worrying that good pice hotels are shutting down Sir…have been trying to go to Young Bengal for a long time. Will do by this week for sure

  3. If I am not wrong; PICE word came from 1 paisa .. During 1920-1930s Sealdah-Bowbazar area saw a huge upsurge in this PICE hotel culture .. thanks to footfall from across districts, provinces and neighboring localities like present-day bangladesh..Affordable homely food was need of the hour.. And during those days; a full course lunch could have been afforded at a meager cost of 1 paisa.. then during bengal famine and independence when inflation rose; they gave up the meal concept and went for individual orders. but again no portion costs more than 1 paisa.. And this price-system was existent atleast around 1960 s.. Then the price structure changed but the name remained..:D

    BTW; I am not sure if you got a chance to explore Bangalaxmi or not;A landmark Pice hotel used to be operated from Bowbazar…Now shut closed… Pure divine..

    1. This is so interesting! Thank you for providing the info. Unfortunately I haven’t been to Bangalaxmi. Sad that its closed. I really want to explore the pice hotels of the north soon

  4. Very interesting read. I felt really nostalgic while going through your article. Try out pice hotels in north kolkata. Also near Dhakuria bus stand, there’s a hotel, called Roy Hotel. They serve a brilliant fish kalia. You may try it out.

  5. As an ex-student of Presidency and a Hindu hostel resident I do agree with you about Mahal, by far the best pice hotel with a variety of traditional menu and a very well deserved get away from hostel food.

  6. This is such a delightful post! Thank you so much for writing it. Made me smile and want to go visit each of those pice hotels!

    Reminded me of the time I was exploring Hindu Miltry (not military) Hotels in Bangalore. Very similar in ambiance (or lack of it), pricing and freshness of food and simplicity of flavours. Reading your post made me want to do the same in Calcutta! 🙂

    Keep on writing more awesome sauce stuff! Cheers!

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