My last trip to Kolkata was unexciting foodwise; what with flight delays, traffic jams and work there wasn’t enough time left for anything useful, but on the way to the airport, I stopped at an old favourite – Rahmania.
Rahmania has been at this Park Circus location for ages (people say a hundred years) but now the building that houses it (and the other great – Shiraz) is being reconstructed into some anonymous multistoried matchbox. Shiraz moved across the street, occupying the space that used to be Tandoor Mahal many years ago but Rahmania stays put. Its space is much reduced, the cracked walls propped up with rickety iron scaffolding while the restaurant plies its business, there seems to hang an air of defiance and desperation over it all. The kitchen is dispersed into the newly built concrete pillars of the building being constructed in a bizarre ritual of co-existence. The place seems smaller than it used to be, and some of that already tiny space is now taken up by storage over from the innards.
But of course, no one ever went to Rahmania for the decor. This along with the aforementioned Shiraz and the now defunct Tandoor Mahal formed the holy biriyani trinity of Park Circus. Rezala and chaap also flowed freely, as did customers. Tandoor Mahal closed rather abruptly about fifteen years ago, Shiraz went on to greater heights but Rahmania remained where it was – reliably tasty but small and messy. For years, many preferred Rahmania’s biriyani to Shiraz (I wasn’t one of them) and most considered their tandoori chicken the best in the city (I was one of them). For a while, you could even order the stuff over the net – via Calcuttaweb (Rahmania is no longer listed, though you can still order from other places). In any case, I ignored the potential for ceiling collapse, took life in my hands and walked into the crumbling version that is today’s Rahmania.
A biriyani, chaap and rezala later, I was disappointed. It was good, but one does not come to the holy trinity for mere good. While still miles better than most biriyanis on offer, great seems elude it. The mutton was soft, the ghee plentiful, the rice perfect but the edge – that indescribable difference between good and great obvious to the tongue but impossible to grasp in words - was missing.
I hope the distinct decline is due the incredibly strained working environment in the kitchen, what with cooking and masonry jostling for space. The great is surely but slowly crumbling, but hopefully like the building they’re in a rejuvenated Rahmania will emerge renewed, just as great as before and ready for another hundred-year stint.