We sent travel virgin Grace Parry to explore Kolkata, India’s seventh largest city, to see if she can survive a trip outside of her comfort zone…
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Stood on a dusty side street with children zipping around my ankles and an orchestra of car horns, I was beginning to wonder whether I had made a huge mistake. It had only been five minutes since I’d stepped onto the streets of Kolkata, India’s seventh largest city, and I’d already seen more cows than a Dairylea factory, got bustled down the wrong street by a huge crowd of people and nearly run over by a tuk tuk. Culture shock was an understatement.
When it comes to travelling I am… well, naïve. In fact there isn’t a stamp in my passport from outside the European Union. So why on earth had I upped and left my tiny Essex village to expand my air miles and go on a whirlwind tour of this mental city?
The answer was in fact around the corner. Just as I was thinking how likely it was that my mum would come and pick me up, I was hit by a heavenly aroma of lusciously rich spices and frying onions.
The source of the divine scent was a tiny kati roll stand manned by two guys making these super fast Indian wraps on a rickety wooden table.
Like many travellers I had some apprehension about eating street food in India. Delhi belly is a very real thing. But seeing it all freshly made by these two epic cooks quickly put all my fears to rest.
They were masters of their trade, their hands a blur as they spread beaten eggs over just puffed chapatis making a delicious silky layer of omelette within the wrap. This was then filled with chunks of fiery fried chicken, a few pickles and lots of raita. The result was like a handheld wrap of tandoori-esque dreaminess, quite unlike anything we have in the UK.
Filled with a sudden love for Kolkata, I spent the next three hours skipping down alleyways to find hidden gems. I found exactly what I was looking for in a tiny stall with a huge chrome pot bubbling away with herby broth that was ready to be poured into freshly made puchka, a signature Indian street food dish. These puffed dough parcels were filled with tangy coriander chutney and spicy cubed potatoes, and served on a dried banana leaf to catch all the savoury juices. I scoffed the lot with glee, all while trying to ignore the large pile of rubbish that was attached to the stand.
Having sampled half the street food in Kolkata it was time to slip into one of the hectic food markets that are dotted around the city. These huge tented areas are crammed with people and hundreds of stalls that sell absolutely everything. Be warned though, these markets are not for the faint hearted, slipping in fish guts being a very likely risk. But it was a wonderful place to get a true insight into Indian life. Stalls loaded with exotic vegetables threaten to topple to the floor as people haggle for the best price, vats of spices fill the air with delicious aromas and people bustle past you to get to the nearest bargain first.
Kolkata is truly a once in a lifetime experience, and although it was incredibly intense to dive head first such a busy, noisy and dirty city, the street food, people and vibrant culture made me fall in love with India. Experiencing it for yourself is something I would suggest to everybody. This Home Counties girl is hungry for more…
Flights to Kolkata with Air India start from £450