When I was around 10 years old, my mother took me to watch a film shooting at the RK Studio in Bombay. The spacious compound had a canteen that sold the tastiest mutton curry and roti for Rs 1.25 a plate. The interior was dark, filled with long rows of benches and desks like in small town schools but the service was superb. That was my first and last brush with a proper “canteen”. RK Studio is still there but I have no clue whether that canteen still exists.
Historically, a canteen referred to a place outside a military camp where refreshments and entertainment were provided to the members of the Armed Forces. Over time, factories, offices and workshops started calling their places of refreshment as canteens and the food there came to be especially tagged as “canteen food.”
Bombay Brasserie, the restaurant chain that has set its own exclusive standard of quality, taste and service has curated a special menu for older people to revisit the past and for youngsters to savour something they have never tasted before. It has branches in Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata and is scheduled to open similar restaurants in Mumbai and Pune.
Nostalgia comes in different shapes, sizes, colours, flavours and taste at the Bombay Brasserie. The restaurant has come up with the best from the menus of famous canteens at its Quest Mall outlet in Kolkata. Some of them are from cities other than Bombay but the irrepressible foodie knows them all —Film Studio Canteen of Bombay, Bombay City Canteen, Old Madras Street Canteen, Punjab University Canteen, Jimmy’s Canteen, Patil House Canteen, Purani Dill, Ali Tikkawala, and many more. According to those in the know, the idea is to bring the signature canteen dishes from across India to the gourmands of Kolkata without challenging the local food market —that is the reason why they did not choose to include any of the Kolkata canteen special dishes in this menu.
Among the famous dishes served on the menu are Chhole Double Roll, Paneer Pakoda with Imli Chutney and Sindhi Kheema Biryani from KC College Canteen; Roasted Chicken Wings, Uncle Special Vegetable Biryani from Uncle Pascal's Canteen; Achhari Roast Aloo, Tomato and Chicken Soup, Pav Vada, Bombay Mix Bhel, Tandoori Roti, Royal Mini Faluda, Choco Bar and many more from Rajasthan Academy. They also serve the famous “cutting” chai in small glasses.
One is free to chat, gossip, argue or quarrel over the tiniest of vada pavs or the mindblowing Sindhi Kheema Biryani or the Balbir Singh Special Chicken set in thick but subtly spiced gravy.
Among desserts, one must try the Chocolate Pudding served in a small glass. It tastes suspiciously like mud cake with melted chocolate sauce at the bottom. Some of the dishes however, are too small and big eaters might be confused with the size of single servings. One has a choice between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes alongside famous local staples and chaats.
The crockery and cutlery have been imaginatively and ingeniously designed in keeping with the canteen mood and temper. The age-old aluminum tiffin dabba the Mumbai dabbawalas are famous for, a saucepan, an aluminum frying pan with a broad rim and long handle complete with blue check dusters to protect the hands from the heat. Some of the dishes are served in tiny aluminum buckets to add to the nostalgia.
That said there is a fixed menu for the canteen special, at slightly high prices but no buffet. It’s always fine dining at the Bombay Brasserie!