Nestled in a by-lane of Kidderpore, Kolkata, the rust-red door of Young Bengal Hotel leads you into a modest interior. With its simple tables and benches, it feels like a journey back in time, offering a glimpse into a century-old tradition of wholesome meals at a ‘pice hotel’.

The term ‘pice hotel’ might be unfamiliar today. ‘Pice’ was a currency denomination in colonial India, and at these establishments, every item was charged separately, including essentials like salt and onions. While most pice hotels have vanished, a few, like the Young Bengal Hotel, still thrive, preserving their age-old customs.

True to its name, Young Bengal Hotel holds a significant historical legacy. The Young Bengal Movement, initiated by Henry Vivian Derozio in the 1830s, aimed to reform Hindu society. A century later, this movement inspired nationalist Tarapada Guha Roy to become an entrepreneur, leading to the creation of two eateries: Bangalakshmi in Bowbazar and Young Bengal Hotel in Kidderpore in the mid-1930s. This 95-year-old eatery was initially established to provide affordable, wholesome meals to the local dock workers.

Though times have changed, the hotel’s appearance and menu remain largely unchanged. Located at 16/2 Karl Marx Sarani, the hotel’s ancient, worn-out signboard leads you into a courtyard with a thatched roof building. Inside, a chalk-written menu board displays the day’s fare, with prices reflecting the availability and cost of ingredients. If a particular fish is unavailable or too expensive, its dish is simply left off the board.

Despite the passing years, the menu and prices have remained remarkably stable. A basic thali, featuring rice, dal, jhuri aloo bhaja, machher jhol, and chatni, continues to be a beloved staple for local office-goers. Youngsters often discover the hotel as a treasure trove of affordable gastronomic delights.

All food at Young Bengal Hotel is cooked on a charcoal stove, and spices are freshly prepared each day. Meals are served traditionally on banana leaves with a wedge of lemon, a green chili, and some cut onions. Water is offered in a bhanr (earthen pot), a custom unchanged since the early 20th century.

The menu includes various sides such as ‘shukto’ (a vegetable medley with bitter gourd and bori), ‘chanchra’ (a mix of vegetables and fish head curry), ‘postor bora’ (poppy-seed paste fritters), and other seasonal vegetable dishes like ‘enchor er dalna’, ‘phulkopir dalna’, and ‘mochar dalna’. A winter favorite is Pancharatna, a mix of vegetables cooked with moong dal.

Non-vegetarian options feature a variety of freshwater fish like rui, katla, bata, bhetki, and parshe, prepared in various styles such as jhol, jhaal, paturi, and kaliya. Prawn delicacies like chingri machher malai curry are also available. Meals are rounded off with chutneys made from seasonal fruits or the traditional plastic chutney made with raw papaya and lemon.

For those craving authentic Bengali home-cooked food, Young Bengal Hotel offers a chance to enjoy traditional dishes that are often too labor-intensive for modern kitchens. Step in to savor the flavors that might remind you of meals cooked by your grandmother long ago.

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