Chinatown in Kolkata: An Ode to the Chinese Street-Food Vendors

by Travelature Team

If we tell you a secret, will you believe us?

If we say there is a settlement of Chinese individuals in Kolkata, will you believe it?

If we say there is a Chinatown in Kolkata, existing and breathing under the same sky as US, will you believe it?

If we say the Chinese people celebrate their Chinese new year, celebrate their festivals on the very own soil of Kolkata, will you believe it?

In 2013, there were 2,000 Chinese-Indians living in Kolkata. The most visible Chinese community in India is found in Kolkata, where there are two Chinatowns. In 2021, let us assume the population has just thrived, but they are struggling. This article is an appreciation post for the people belonging to Kolkata’s Chinatown.

Tangra Chinatown In Kolkata | Tangra is a region in East Kolkata that traditionally housed many tanneries owned by people of Hakka Chinese origin.

Take a trip down to Age-old food joints of Tangra for the best Chinese food © flippy whale / Flickr

Let us introduce you to Tiretta Bazaar. It is a neighbourhood near Lalbazar in Central Kolkata. It is usually called Old China Market. Most of the Hakka Chinese people have moved to Tangra near EM Bypass now. So who are these ‘Hakka Chinese’ people?

Chinese cuisine is largely divided into four main schools — Beijing in the north, Shanghai in the east, Sichuan in the west and Cantonese in the south, with further subdivisions. Hakka cuisine does not feature predominantly anywhere.

Hakka translates to ‘guest people’. Hakka food is an amalgamation of the local food practices of the regions the Hakka people settled in. Hakka food is oftenly known as the country or rustic version of Cantonese food. It is because the Hakka people ultimately settled in the Meizhou district of eastern Guangdong (Canton).

Too much technical, we know, but the fun part is their food is the perfect endgame of mouth-watering delicacies.

How did the Chinese reach India, especially Kolkata in the pre-Independent era?

Chinese Temple in Achipur | India's first chinese settler | Kolkata's Chinatown

Chinese Temple in Achipur © stevnc / Instagram

We need to understand that Calcutta used to be the capital of the British Raj before it was shifted to Delhi. It can be anyone’s guess that some Chinese people did migrate to the Indian capital for a better life.

During the time of Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of British India, a businessman by the name of Tong Achi established a sugar mill along with a sugar plantation at Achipur, 33 kilometres (21 mi) from Calcutta on the banks of the Hooghly River near the town of Budge Budge.

A temple and the grave of Tong Achi remain and are visited by many Chinese Indians who arrive from the city to celebrate Chinese New Year.

It all began in the pre-independent era, when Tong Achi, a businessman, established a sugar mill along with a sugar plantation. Kolkata was Calcutta back then and was also the capital of the British Raj. It was during this era that the love story of Calcutta and Trams began. (You can read more about this in our article titled “Tales of History #01: Trams and Calcutta-A Love Story”).

So Tong Achi was fairly responsible for the immigration of Chinese people during this era when Lord Hastings was the face of the British Raj in India. Today, in memory of Tong Achi, an entire area is named Achipur. The main attraction of this place is the old Chinese temple.

Today in 2021, once the pandemic gets over, you can move to Tangra near EM bypass to get the feel of Kolkata’s Chinatown.

What is Chinatown in Kolkata famous for mainly?

Trust us, it is not the headquarters of Mainland China in India. There are several layers of Chinatown and that might take more than one article to explain. Let us know if you want us to cover various layers of Chinatown if you like this article. We are going to throw some light on the Chinese cuisine that is available for anyone and everyone who visits Kolkata.

Yes, Chinatown in Kolkata is one of the largest street-food joints, known for its delicious delicacies and pocket-friendly menu cards.

Where is Chinatown in Kolkata?

If you have reached Kolkata and you prefer not to hire an OLA or an Uber cab instead, you want to roam around and digest every bit of the chaos of Calcutta (Kolkata)—we got it covered for you. So you have to look for ways to reach Tangra.

How to reach Tangra?

Road: We prefer it the most.

Chittaranjan Avenue (C.R. Avenue) and Rabindra Sarani pass through the area from north to south. Bepin Behari Ganguly Street (B.B. Ganguly Street) and Kshirode Vidyavinode Avenue (New CIT Road[clarification needed]) pass through the area from east to west. Many bus routes follow these roads.

Sealdah Station and B.B.D Bag railway station are the nearest railway stations of Tiretta Bazaar.

Why do you need to experience and visit Kolkata's Chinatown?

Street scene / Tangra Chinatown

Out of our common interest in travelling, we will take a blind guess that we love Momos. Yes, we know your interest has already been picked. Now we are not going to debate about the origin of momos, but if you reach Tangra, do not forget to taste it. Here is the list of other delicacies:

Chinese Hakka noodles, in the same fashion, that they make in China. Manchurian dishes are nothing like you had in other restaurants. Delicacies such as chilly chicken, chicken soup, and the rest is a mystery that we want you to uncover once you reach there. Do not forget to write to us about your personal experience in this town.  

A Breakfast Joint:

We are quite aware that Chinese cuisine does not find itself on a menu for breakfast but the fun fact is, Chinatown draws the largest crowd in the first hour of the morning. It starts from 7 in the morning and you can enjoy delicacies such as ‘thuppa’, soups, and as always, mouth-melting momos.

The Pandemic has been a huge hit to us and unfortunately, we have been blaming the Chinese for it. Let us not forget that the Chinese dwellers living in these areas are equally Indian as we are. Most importantly, they are human beings who are trying to make a living through their delicacies.

This article is a short appreciation post for these Chinese street food vendors representing the Chinese community of India who has been residing in Kolkata for ages, satisfying our taste buds with their hand-made culture and cuisine. Based on facts, the Coronavirus did not originate in India then why blame them? 

We already know that our readers are much fluid and rational when it comes to such sensitive content, so take this article as a kick start for the foody in you. Do not forget to write to us about your own experience in India’s oldest Chinatown in Kolkata.

Content Curator & Creative Writer

Dr. Arindam Ballav

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