6am on a Sunday morning is a flurry of activity in this area of Kolkata called Tiretti Bazaar. A loud cacophony of sights and sounds will greet any visitor to this little stretch of road called Sunyet Sen Street. For the uninitiated, Sunyet Sen Street is located near Poddar Court behind Lal Bazar Police Headquarters and near Bowbazar Central Metro Station, Kolkata. But why is it so special?
Well, Tiretti, or the Chinese Market as the locals call it, is one of the last remnants of a bygone era. Once home to 20,000 ethnic Chinese Indian nationals, Kolkata’s Chinese population has declined significantly since its inception. Having first settled in the city as early as the 1780s, the Chinese have been instrumental in shaping the cuisine of Kolkata.
The place for diehard foodies
And Tiretti is one of the last vestiges of authentic Chinese cuisine in the city. Every foodie worth their penny has been to Tiretti at least once to enjoy the best homemade Chinese food and breakfast.
We went out one early morning to try the range of delicacies this place is known for. The best way to reach Tiretti is to take a bus, get off in front of the central metro station and walk a few steps. If driving, you can park in front of Poddar Court. However, arriving early is important. The fresh and aromatic fare is only available until the street is turned into a parking lot for office workers’ vehicles. Going on a Sunday morning, however, gives a bit more time to try the delicacies as the offices in the area are closed.
The best way to identify if you have reached Tiretti is by the aroma floating around. Makeshift hawkers line the street to sell their wares. They range from fishball soup (delicious steamed fishballs served in a bowl filled with broth) to sui mais (steamed dumplings in a thin paper covering usually made with fish or shrimp) to fried wontons and even spring rolls.
Who was Edward Tiretta?
Another amazing thing found at Tiretti are the steamed closed baos – wonderful soft and chewy Chinese steamed buns that are stuffed with chicken or pork. There is also a larger bao, which contains an egg. You can differentiate pork from chicken with a red identification mark on the bao. You can also get canned chicken and meatballs to cook up a storm at home. Until a few years ago the street also had an old lady who sold coconut balls, sweet rice and sesame seed balls and sticky rice, but unfortunately it seems that she has closed shop.
Tiretta Bazaar, as the place is officially named, is first mentioned in Upjohn’s map of Calcutta in 1790. Historical records indicate that the bazaar was named after Edward Tiretta, an Italian living in Calcutta who owned the bazaar and several plots of land in the city. And while ownership of the place changed hands, the name stuck.
Indochina maritime trade route
However, Chinese cuisine in Kolkata has evolved into its own cuisine over the years. It all goes back to the Chinatown that developed around the area in the mid-19th century when Chinese sailors who had traveled the maritime trade route from Indochina called at Calcutta and stayed in the city instead of returning home. them. This, along with the Hakka families, many of whom have since moved to Tangra, form the basis of the wonderful fare found at this quaint morning bazaar in Kolkata.
Arriving in Trietti, we had a shock! The place was packed with vendors and shoppers from all walks of life, from elderly Chinese residents who were out for their morning with their grandchildren, to youngsters grabbing a quick snack after a morning jog, to Bengalis, Punjabis and others residents of Kolkata. to experience Southeast Asian breakfast in all its glory.
Piping Hot Sui Mais
We approached a Chinese aunt selling sui but piping hot (four pieces per plate) – always smiling and affable, she served us the steaming dumplings on a paper plate with a dollop of spicy Chinese chutney. A bite or two later, we were off for a little chat, where she revealed she had been selling her wares for 30 years.
“When I was a kid, when I came to Tiretti, it was a sprawling market, much bigger than it is now. Most of the people I knew have long since left the business, left the town or are not at all interested in selling their wares.” The aunt, wearing a simple black floral print dress, said she wakes up early every morning to make each dumpling by hand before coming to the market to install.
A second shop next to her sells chicken pies. The aromatic chicken pot pies have a soft flaky crust and a buttery smell that wafts through. The gentleman in the store, all in business, already weary from the early morning crowds, noted that only a handful of families were left to sell their wares, while the rest had been taken over by locals who had learned the profession of them.
But how does Tiretti enrich the pages of culinary history? A closer look at Tiretti will give you insight into how the Chinese have generously lent their influence to Kolkata cuisine. Dishes like Indochinese Hakka noodles and chilli chicken are flooding the market. Although this has, in the process, added a dimension to what is considered Chinese culinary influence around the world, Tiretti manages to show that they have managed to maintain a selection of original recipes that are innately reminiscent of their culture and their mixed heritage. with complex Kolkata aromas and tastes that embody the pedigree of their culinary heritage.