Kolkata’s kathi roll is pure indulgence. It contains spiced, marinated meat kebabs that are barbecued until slightly charred, onions sautéed with pepper, chopped green chilli, and a dash of lime. The kebabs and onions are packed into a golden-fried, flaky parotha, rolled up, and served wrapped in greaseproof paper. Though the feisty rolls are available on almost every corner, Nizam’s on Hogg Street in New Market is credited with creating the very first kathi roll. The story goes that an Englishman of the British Rajera, though very fond of Nizam’s beef kababs and parotha, was not particularly pleased with how oily his fingers were at the end of the meal. To keep the sahib happy, the owner wrapped the kebabs in the parotha and paper, and the roll was born. “Kathi” means stick, referring to the bamboo skewers used to barbecue the meat.
Since then, the kathi roll has had numerous makeovers. Beef kababs have been replaced with chicken, mutton, vegetarian, and paneer versions, and most often, green chutney and ketchup are added. Among the most popular adaptations is the double egg roll, in which the parotha is layered with beaten egg and the quantity of meat doubled.
The roll is ubiquitous in Kolkata, sold at street stalls as well as featuring on coffee shop menus in five-star hotels. Small restaurants such as Campari at Gariahat and Hot Kathi Rolls on Park Street are known for their chicken rolls. Faithful beef kathi roll lovers should make their way to street stalls like Rayaz on Anwar Shah Road or Mashallah Hotel on Chowringhee Lane.
Sticklers for hygiene might prefer the air-conditioned comforts of restaurant chains like Arsalan, Bawarchi, and Shiraz, all of which serve a pretty decent roll. For an authentic Bangla experience, get your kathi roll at a neighbourhood roller dokaan (street stall) with only pyaaj (onions), lonka(chilli), and lebu (lemon) and follow it up with a leisurely cup of chai at a nearby adda.
Rumela Basu is former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.