Banana Leaf, Calcutta
Everyone probably has a go-to restaurant — that one comfort place you can always go to and are certain you won’t go wrong with the order. That one place that feels closest to home. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, or dinner, our go-to restaurant is Banana Leaf.
No Sunday ever seems complete without a breakfast trip to Banana Leaf. The recognizable faces at the gates and tables (diners and waiters), the familiar sound of stainless steel plates and glasses, the black granite tables, the mouthwatering photos of vadas and idlies and uthappams on the green and white walls, and the warm smell of filter coffee and South Indian food! Banana Leaf feels like home.
When hungry after a long church service and a longer drive, everything just tastes divine. We can’t ever wait to tuck in on Sunday mornings. And to think that we always order the same thing every Sunday morning. So, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, it’s Cheese Dosa for the boy, Poori Masala for the girl, Mini Tiffin for the man and Paper Masala Dosa for the woman, all of this to go with tea, digree coffee, a bottle of Coke, and, at times, a glass of Bournvita! Boring? Nah. Comfort! And, at approximately Rs 500, no pocket’s really burning.
It needn’t be the regular dosa–idly–sambar–vada experience for you. You could explore with about 4 score types of Classic Dosas, about 16 kinds of Rava Dosas, and crispy vadas, or floating-in-sambar vadas, or rasam vadas, Dahi Vadas with a South Indian twist or even try Masala Vadas on weekends. If Idly is what you are after, you could savour Rice Idly or Sambar Idly or Mini Idly or Gun Powder Idly or even Rasam Idly. Or, you could choose from a dozen Uttappams, including the 5-taste minis uttappams. You could try the not-so-usual specials: Chapatti, Appam, and Parota (all to be had with Vegetable Kurma), Idiayyappam (rice sevai), Poori Masala, Upma, Pongal, Kuzhi Paniyaram (fried rice buns with crunchy onions). And you could also pamper your sweet tooth with kesari, semiya payasam, or any one of the daily specials! Oh, by the way, there are these things they call daily specials. You have to be there to know what those are; it’s a bit like opening a box of chocolates.
Returning home to an empty kitchen after every vacation to Kerala with the heavy hangover of Mallu food hasn’t ever been disappointing. Banana Leaf hai na! Takeaway South Indian meals (Sunday Special or Regular) for two can more than feed the four of us for lunch and dinner. And hey, if you are a rice person, you needn’t despair and think, “Uh, the same South Indian thali.” You can take your pick from a Rice Platter that has a lot more. There’s Bisibela Bhaath, Puliyogare Rice, Curd Rice, Lemon Rice, Coconut Rice and Tomato Rice. Takeaways are Rs 242 for the special thaali and Rs 187 for the regular. It’s much lesser when you dine in Rs 142 and 132, respectively. And you can have unlimited helpings of rice for free.
Nestled behind the roadside stalls in Lake Market on Rashbehari Avenue (73 & 75 Rashbehari Avenue, if you must have an address), Banana Leaf may be easy to miss the first time. From then on, however, you will never miss the place. On most days, you can walk in a find yourself a seat without much of a delay. But there are days you will have to get the doorman to write down your name. Weekend lunches and dinners may mean having to wait your turn if you aren’t early enough. And during the Pujas, this wait can be excruciating. If sulking is not your idea of spending a lazy Sunday afternoon, you don’t really have to sit out those dragging 15-20 minutes (maybe half an hour) in their lobby. You could have tea or coffee from the Banana Leaf beverage stall near the entrance, or browse through the books at the stall just outside, or bargain with florists a few steps down the foot walk or put a coin into the slot machine and check your weight and your kids’, or you could cross the road and finish off your weekend vegetable shopping.
We’ve had to wait all but once in all the years we’ve been going there. Providence perhaps. Waiting or no waiting, we’ve depended on Banana Leaf to keep our hunger pangs at bay when the lady of the house has been fighting flu, when our bones have ached from our martial arts tests and tournaments, when guests who won’t venture beyond South Indian fare have dropped in, when the carpenters and plumbers have taken over the kitchen for repairs, when PTA meetings have gone horribly wrong, when results have been surprisingly good, or simply when we have craved for some Banana Leaf food.
We were here just as often when it was just Komala Vilas, and we are here even now when it returned after a break as Banana Leaf. The décor may have changed to keep up with the changing times, the logo may have changed (it’s now a plantain leaf), the place may even have got itself a yummy website now (http://www.bananaleaf.in), but what hasn’t changed is what it does to our taste buds every single time we go there: tingle ‘em with pleasure.
Banana Leaf, 73 & 75 Rashbehari Avenue, Lake Market, Kolkata; Phone: +91 33 24641960 / 0941
About the contributor:
Marshmallow is a fussy-eater-turned-food enthusiast and sometime writer. Mother to two Bean-loving (British not French) kids and wife to a travelling spouse, M has been cooking since age 10.