Of festive flavours

Of festive flavours

Christmas without cakes is almost unimaginable today. Though introduced by colonial power in the country, festivities around Christmas have now become a part of the social calendar. In Kolkata, dot on December 1, the rotunda in the good old New Market turns into a fairyland with glistening pine trees, paper hats and tinsel baubles. After all, it’s soon to be Burra Din — the big day. That’s how the people of Kolkata have lovingly coined a festival from across the seas, with Santa Claus, mistletoe and plum pudding. So what if the pine trees are fake, or the ‘snow’ is flaky cotton wool? It’s Christmas, isn’t it?

Christmas in Kolkata is something special. Christmas here is not confined to upmarket clubs or expensive hotels and restaurants. Bengalis love to celebrate the birth of Jesus with good food, outings and picnics. Come Christmas and you can see queues in front of the city’s reputed cake and pastry shops.

Now this tradition has spilled over even to the para (small locality) shops. Even the humblest household likes to have a piece of cake on Burra Din. For once, the famous Bengali sweets take a back seat.

Confectioners, big and small, gear up for the extra demand from long before. These days, cake-mixing attended by celebs in five-star hotels and restaurants has become quite a thing for photo ops. However, the old families of the Christian community still stick to their trusted baker in the New Market, Free School Street area for authentic cakes. They buy the dry fruits first, clean them, and keep the ingredients ready to deliver at the baker’s hovel with his old-style oven. The cakes are delicious, and they remain fresh for quite a long time.

The rush
On Christmas Eve, it’s the done thing to visit the brightly illuminated Park Street in the heart of the city, an age-old tradition. But even before the big day, queues can be seen in front of many reputed cake shops.

The most famous is Flurys (formerly named Flury’s) on Park Street. It was founded by a Swiss couple, Joseph Flury and his wife, Frieda, in 1927. Within a short time, it became ‘the’ place to go for tea in the afternoon, both for the Britishers and the Indian cognoscenti. Over the years, Flurys has become such an institution that old-timers and members of the new generation, many of whom are scattered across the globe, on their visit home, keep up the tradition of buying cakes, having afternoon tea or a signature Sunday breakfast. It’s the tearoom on which even a book has been written by veteran journalist Bachi Karkaria, titled Flurys of Calcutta: The Cake That Walked.

In 2004, the tea room was done up with a new colour scheme and reorganisation of the sitting area; yet its charm has not waned for the regulars. Since its establishment, what’s it about Flurys that has retained its popularity? Says executive chef Vikas Kumar, “There are several factors, but most noticeable is the absolute commitment to quality and consistency where people know exactly what to expect and be served the same, time after time.”

He informs that almost all the heritage items on Flurys menu have been retained, including the iconic rum balls, chocolate boat pastries, butter cream cubes etc. Its other signature items are chicken patty, chocolate boats, Silvana cake, almond cheese tart, among others. Kumar says that during the Christmas-New Year season, the fruit cake and the plum cake sell the most. Another in-season speciality is liquor-flavoured chocolates.

Awesome additions
Some new items are also introduced for Yuletide. For example, this year it’s introducing cranberry-and-orange cake, Kumar informs. Flurys, however, has spread its wings and now has 13 franchisees in the city. But ask anyone, at least those who swear by the tearoom, he or she would prefer to have tea and cake only at the atmospheric Flurys on Park Street.

The other favourite cake outlet for Kolkatans is Nahoum in New Market, the first supermarket, so to say, in the city which opened its door in colonial times. It was founded by Nahoum Israel Mordecai, a Baghdadi Jew. He started by selling his baked goodies door-to-door, operating from a small outlet in front of the market. His cakes and pastries were lapped up by the British and Anglo-Indians, and soon, the locals became staunch devotees too. It encouraged him to set up a regular shop inside the market in 1916. And the legend of Nahoum and Sons began.

The bakery has been handed down through generations. David Elias Nahoum, Mordecai’s grandson, was so famous for the bakery’s stand-alone stance and its strict adherence to its limited range of items that, when he passed away in 2013, columns were written on him in local papers.

Equally famous has been its century-old teakwood furniture, glass-fronted window displays, and even the wooden  cash register in the spacious store, which has entrances on both sides. The rich macaroons, fruit cake, brownies, lemon puff and tarts have held the outlet’s reputation, and loyalty, year after year.

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