Kolkata’s Chinese History: Migration & Chinese Cuisine
Some 200 years back, a Chinese trader named Tong Achew decided to set up a sugarcane plantation and a sugar factory in the present Bengal. He had brought along some Chinese laborers to work in these plantation fields and factory, who later settled and made this country their home. This is believed to be the first Chinese settlement in India, which has continued till date and added a dash of color to the varied ethnic framework of our society.
In the following years, these workers moved to the city and started working at the numerous tanneries. Eventually, these tanneries were shifted to the eastern part of the outskirt of Kolkata where these workers also moved their bases to give us what we have today as Tangra. It came to be known as the New Chinatown of Kolkata where the majority of the Chinese residents of the city reside and run several businesses like Chinese Restaurants, factories producing Chinese gourmet products like Chow-noodles, Soy Sauce, Vinegar and many other condiments.
Kolkata’s Chinese Cuisine: Specialty
As the Chinese settlers made Kolkata their home, they brought along with themselves their food and culture. It was them who introduced the locals to the taste of authentic Chinese food. It could be only fair to say that Chinese community too ‘Indianised’ their cuisine up to some extent so as to suit the local palate. This gave birth to the nationwide famous Kolkata’s Chinese cuisine which includes everything from spring rolls to chopsueys.
Tangra’s New Chinatown houses several Chinese restaurants which have been always known for their near-to-authentic Chinese cuisine. Several major names like Big Boss, Golden Joy, Beijing, etc. boast of serving genuine Chinese food cooked by expert chefs. Amazingly each one of these is still run by Chinese-origin folks who probably got the recipes handed down to them by their parents and grand-parents. With sprawling banquets and an army of staff, some of them can easily a seating capacity of over 500 people at a time. No doubt that each of them never fails to attract visitors throughout the year, during the festive months of the year patrons have had to stand in a queue before managing a chance to enter the restaurant. Among these, we visited Golden Joy upon receiving several recommendations. However, only to be dismayed by their absolutely mediocre food and terrible service.
It was only fair that we decided to pay a visit to this fabled land of Chinese cuisine of Kolkata and grab a bite of authentic Chinese food. After much deliberation and consultation with friends & family, we decided to visit the current champion of Kolkata’s Chinatown champion of Chinese food, Golden Joy. Little did we know that this lunch meal would leave such an indelible mark on our memory which we would fight long to erase for a very long time.
The Nightmare Called Golden Joy
Our party of four included two happy souls who have never been to the Tangra’s New Chinatown, although having heard a lot about it. You see, Kolkata’s eating-out scenario features Tangra very heavily if you are seeking a Chinese meal with your friends and family. Hence, it was our natural choice to opt for our lunch in the city. Upon certain level of deliberation, our choice of restaurant was Golden Joy as rest have allegedly deteriorated in terms of food as well as services.
With an inquisitive mind for adventure and a growling stomach, we reached the place battling the summer heat and found ourselves seated in a somewhat sparsely occupied restaurant hall. “It’s a weekday, that’s why it is empty”, we thought. Apart from us, there was a family of four at one table, a group of four friends at another, and a small group of ladies who were probably having a ladies day out in the city or celebrating a kitty lunch.
It was an unmindful waiter who placed 2 Menu cards on our table for our perusal. We grabbed them and started fluttering its pages, thinking what might come quick and good so that we can have a good start to this lunch party of our own. It was a unanimous decision to order some chilled beer to begin with. Maybe then we can come to our wits and make some good choices for the rest of the meal. The words were sent and there came two bottles of beer with glasses and…. nothing. “No peanuts or snacks to go with it?“, questioned one. Apparently, here the practice of serving nuts or small snacks is yet to be reach here. Hence, we thought of going for an entrée of crispy fried baby corns as a company to our beers. “Maybe we should also let them know of our choice for main course. They could keep that prepared while we finish our appetizers.“, beamed one. It only seemed fair to us at that time. The waiter, John, an over-confident chap who would never fit the bill of his profession was almost made to wait by our table. We spoke our choice for dishes and by the time we finished he made a dash towards another table. With some yanking and pulling, we managed to get his attention back to us. Upon asking to repeat our order to us for confirmation, he arrogantly brushed aside saying that he has made a mental note of everything.
While enjoying the beer and catching up with each other, little did we realise that it was almost 20 minutes later when our appetizer came. And along with it also came our main course meal. Before we could recuperate from the confusion and agitation we found the table laid before us with all the dishes put there for us. With the hunger over powering us by a fair share we decided not to send back the food and enjoy everything together. I mean, once in a while it is all good to beat the unbeaten path and enjoy the moment.
One of us obliged and started serving the food to the rest of us, when we were struck with the first blow of food disasters. As he took a spoonful of Prawn and Egg Fried Rice, he noticed a hair in it. Immediately with a shirk of disgust, he put down the plate and asked another waiter to send for John. It took him another few minutes to come over our table and inspect the situation. As we demanded to replace the item, he picked the dish, gave the hair another look and took it back to the kitchen. Maybe that was the worst which can happen and with this thought we decided to go ahead with the rest of the meal. Little did we know that the worse was yet to unfold before us.
While placing the order for main course dishes we were extremely cautious about the fact that one among was completely averse to chicken or meat dishes. So, purposefully we chose only one side dish having chicken, that being Kung Pao Chicken with Cashew. Rest all the dishes were chicken/meat free. The list included Chilly Fish, Egg & Prawn Fried Rice and Vegetable Noodles. As this was repeatedly told to the waiter, he supposed it might be just all right to mess things up once in a while.
As we proceeded with the rest of the dishes, our replacement Fried Rice came. With a mumbling of apology, this time another waiter thought it wise to serve the food for us. As he spooned out the fried rice upon our plates, it was he who dislikes meat discovered a piece of steamed chicken on his plate hiding among the grains of rice. Immediately, a noise was raised by the rest of us and the Manager of the restaurant was asked to be present before us. Meanwhile as we inspected through the noodles, we discovered that it was also not spared of a marked presence of chicken in it.
Upon questioning he quipped that,”Ashole jekhane ranna hoe, okhane hi toh chicken ta rakha thake. Tai hoeto kono bhabe kichu gulo porey geche!”
As rage was broiling, the manager, a lanky fellow appeared before us and heard it all with a bowed head. An occasional nod and his confused demeanor told us of his incapacity to deal with this. He returned to the kitchen and brought along the second waiter who served us the rice. Upon questioning he quipped that, “Ashole jekhane ranna hoe, okhane hi toh chicken ta rakha thake. Tai hoeto kono bhabe kichu gulo porey geche!” (In Bengali he said that the chicken pieces are kept along the stove where the rice was cooked. So probably few of them found its way into the wok somehow) After receiving a stern look from us as well as his Manager, his back and forth trips to the kitchen led him to discover that it was never told to him that the replacement dish was for a Prawn and Egg Fried Rice.
While all this ongoing commotion, our initial waiter, John managed to slip away from our attention and never showed his face back to us. Clearly he failed to take the orders right in the first place and then again failed to notify the specifications of the dish when it was asked to be replaced. With a completely ruined appetite for lunch and a lost taste in Chinese cuisine, we decided to leave the place. As we were packing, we were presented a bill of around two thousand rupees, which seemed so ironic to us. An absolutely mediocre food and much worse service costing two thousand rupees seemed like an open dacoity. On among us suggested to get the food packed in doggy bags. We were completely sick of Chinese food but it was still good for donation.
Golden Joy: What Went Wrong?
While we headed back home, we realised that back in the restaurant nothing reminded us of the ethnicity of the Chinese culture. The hospitality was missing, the warmth of Chinese welcome was completely amiss and the staff and waiters was a bunch of unprofessional and untrained people who had absolutely no devotion towards the practice of serving and feeding people. At that time it was only fair to say that my loyalty towards Chinese cuisine took a major hit with a single visit to Tangra’s Golden Joy.
To sum it up I would say that Tangra Chinatown should be the last place of choice if you are looking for good food in Kolkata, leave along Chinese cuisine. Assuming the rest of the lot would be similar to the Golden Joy, these restaurants have a long way to go before they catch up on the recent standards of F&B services. I presume they would realise it somewhere down the line that hospitality sector has a very limited scope for unskilled workforce. If cutting costs remain priority then training their staff remains as the next best option for them. However, before they hit the floor it should be strictly checked that they have gained the necessary expertise to handle different situations.
Read our next post about how we got over the distaste towards Chinese cuisine by enjoying a proper Chinese meal at one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the Kolkata city.