For the last couple of years I have been regularly going to Chitpur locality, more specifically to Zakaria Street during the month of Ramadan/Ramzan to see a street turn into a food street overnight. Most of the visitors concentrate most on the Kebabs, Haleem, Tandoori and other non-veg items. What most including me tend to miss are the varieties of bread and biscuits that are sold here. So this year while coming back from one such trips it suddenly truck me that the significance of bread and Ramzan is something that requires a little more attention.
The importance of bread to me came when I took the first Holy Communion in my church in the year 2003. Christianity and bread has a deep significance after all the basic concept of Holy Communion came from the Last Supper taken by Christ along with his apostles just before his capture and crucifixion.
During the Last Supper, Christ broke the bread and divided amongst his apostles. This is very significant in Christianity thus I wanted to see its relevance with Ramzan.
If we look at geography for a change then we can see that Christianity and Islam started and existed in the same regions amongst the deserts of Middle East. Water was very scares and people usually consumed bread as a staple food. These breads were not the daily bread that we consume for breakfast but were on the contrary very dry and hard. This way the breads had a longer shelf life and often taken by travellers and traders during their long tour.
Just like the Last Supper during Ramzan the majority of the population used to break their fast with some sort of bread in the menu. The history of bread actually predates all of these and evidence of its existence as an important food commodity can even be seen in the ancient Egyptian paintings also.
I always photographed the bread and biscuit sellers of Zakaria Street but never even understood the various varieties of bread. For me most of them looked similar but this all changed after talking to Md. Ehsan who along with his younger brother has been selling breads since 1992. The shop was started by his father and after his death the two brother run the show.
Every time that I have met Ehsan he has always greeted me with a smile even though I was never his customer, this tells the good nature of him. There were times when I was drenched in sweat trying to run across Chitpur photographing different aspects of life and Ehsan would ask me to rest under the fan which he had put up over his shop for himself. He would happily vacate the spot for me to enjoy a cool breeze even at the expense of losing customers. This would definitely follow with cups of Chai (Tea) and discussions about the current market business status.
It was during one such conversation that I asked Ehsan about the different varieties of bread that he sells, he was courteous enough to explain each of them and their heritage. So here follows the different varieties of bread and biscuits that you will usually find at Zakaria Street.
These are sold for 120 Indian Rupees* per Kilogram. These are not manufactured here in Kolkata but come all was from Uttar Pradesh. Once when I was in Hyderabad I had seen a street vendor preparing fresh Nankhatai and selling them. The taste still lingers in my mouth and the ones available at Zakaria Street are of much superior quality. These are basically cookies, as the name suggests its and amalgamation of two words “Naan” which means flat bread and “Khatai” which means cookies or biscuits.
These are sold for 20 Indian Rupees* per piece for the big and 12 Indian Rupees* per piece for the smaller variety. These are basically flat soft bread something similar to buns but unlike buns these are no so thick. These are saffron flavoured however plain varieties are also available.
These are sold for 80 Indian Rupees* per piece for the big (Sahi) and 20 Indian Rupees* per piece for the smaller variety. I used hear about Bakarkhani from my grandmother, she used to tell us stories about Bakarkhani which were available in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and how in Kolkata traders would come house to house selling Bakarkhani in black tin boxes. Used to see the sparkle in her eyes every time she used to define the taste to me.
It’s only at Zakaria Street that I managed to taste Bakarkhani for the first time and it’s was exactly was my grandmother had described to me.
These are basically flat bread but not as soft as Shirmal. These have a hard crust often decorated with poppy seeds and other ingredients. Traditionally these are prepared in tandoors.
These are sold for 60 Indian Rupees* per piece. This one is my personal favourite, from my childhood which I spent quite a substantial time in Bangalore I used to often have Chandrakala at the neighbourhood bakery. I used to love the short bike rides by my father who would often take me to the bakery for a treat. Buy these and make sure to heat it up slightly before eating, the mild sweet bread will stick on to your taste buds for life.
These are sold for 25 Indian Rupees* per piece for the big and 15 Indian Rupees* per piece for the smaller variety. These are basically sweet buns but in a flatter form. A definitely gloss coat is given on top by some sort of concoction of sugar solution and some other proprietary ingredient which gives them a permanent shine.
These are sold for 70 Indian Rupees* per Kilogram. These are basically biscuits which come in round shapes of three typical different sizes, small, medium and large. There is also an elongated version resembling a thick submarine bread. I remember eating them with a cup of tea by dipping them till they become slight soft, if you wait too much then it’s gone. You would then have to fish it out of the cup with a help of a spoon.
These are sold for 80 Indian Rupees* per Kilogram. As the name suggest these are just bread rusks and a good accompaniment with tea.
Hope you have enjoyed visually the breads and biscuits of Chitpur and this Ramzan season make sure to buy a couple of them during your food walks since unless you taste them yourselves you will never understand how yummy they are. The breads and biscuits go beyond a religion or a festival it’s a culture of mankind and that is what needs to be cherished.