Indian restaurants in international cities are notorious for either serving cheap home-made Indian food, or displaying a hidden menu of celebrity chef dishes.
All that being said, in the city of Kolkata – Bengaluru’s West Bengal neighbour – the cooking is local and low-priced.
Coffee or Chai? , which was recently nominated in the popular BBC Best of UK Listeners’ Choice awards, only sells the most basic fillings.
Hailing from the sprawling Jia Valley in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, Cafe Espresso in Central Park is not just common to most of the world’s cities.
“Cafe Espresso was originally in Bombay (now Mumbai) before moving to Kolkata in 1995,” says Hindati Rayamajhi, barista at Cafe Espresso, Buro Digumata Mawana Street.
It’s been named the Best Coffee House in Bengaluru five times. “The Café’s style is also different as it doesn’t use Starbucks-type drink machines, like what one would expect in the Western world,” explains Anna Rozario, secretary of the Australian Women’s Geography Society.
Sainath Sharma, who describes himself as a ‘maharagopeta’, says he has been eating at the café since he was a teen.
“I go there for lunch and to share a drink with friends. Coffee or Chai is my favourite,” says Sainath, while his friends chime in: “It’s probably best eaten when you are alone, as there is less noise here.”
But though the café has a low fixed price structure, the range of drinks – including some created by local coffee plantations – cost as little as 5 rupees, or 10 cents. As for sweet items like chai, “we use vanilla in most chai,” adds Anna.
Hailing from Kerala in Southern India, Vedaswamy is a regular at the local outpost of the famous Coffee Plus brand. “One of the reasons behind the city’s flourishing coffee culture is that it only exports the very best coffee beans from Kerala to Italy, where it is made into a special coffee paste and then sold to the global market,” says Vedaswamy.
And it’s this brand known for producing ‘half coffee’ that is the newest restaurant in Kolkata.
“I love the café. We really can’t beat it,” says Ghazi Habib, from Kerala, while Vijay Barjatya, a resident of Kolkata, describes it as “so much more delicious than cafés in Delhi.”