Kolkata's Pice Hotels, Where History Meets Authentic Bengali Food

Kolkata's timeless Pice Hotels, renowned for serving budget-friendly meals to labourers, continue to charm everyone seeking the authentic flavours of Bengali cuisine steeped in rich history
A typical Bengali thali
A typical Bengali thaliShutterstock

In the early 2000s, while growing up in the bustling South Kolkata neighbourhood, I was barely aware that a different world was thriving in the northern part of my very own city. During my university days, visits to North Kolkata became frequent—and I was introduced to Kolkata's gastronomic universe tucked amidst the narrow alleys of College Street. These were tiny eateries, in a more-or-less homely setup, with benches and tables that used to be overcrowded during lunchtime—with people savouring freshly cooked three-course meals that were served for as low as INR 5. 

History Of The 'Pice Hotels'

The name 'pice' is derived from the word 'paisa', referring to the lowest denomination of the Indian currency and reflecting the affordable meal offerings at these hotels. In the early 1900s, Calcutta was bustling with migrant workers from the nearby villages, seeking home-cooked comfort food at budget-friendly prices. During that time, these establishments became a lifeline, warmly serving delicious local dishes to homesick workers and fostering a sense of belonging amidst the chaos of urban life.

Even today, after more than a century, these pice hotels are still serving healthy, wholesome meals at a low cost, which varies daily, based on the fresh market offerings each morning.

The Meals At 'Pice Hotels'

While there are various popular restaurants in Kolkata now, like 6 Ballygunje Place and Oh! Calcutta serves authentic Bengali delicacies, and the menu of the pice hotels remains unique. Here, you'll mostly get to savour the tastes that are lost in time - from kumro phool bhaja (deep-fried pumpkin blossoms) to chingri mochar ghonto (banana blossoms cooked with shrimps), aloo posto (potatoes with poppy seed paste), shukto (mixed vegetable curry cooked with milk and cashew paste), illish macher matha diye kochu shak (greens mixed with the head of a hilsa fish) or a simple macher jhol (fish curry) with lots of vegetables and bori (nuggets made of lentils).

Today, while the city has grown leaps and bounds, one can still find solace in the comforting embrace of these traditional eateries steeped in history and age-old recipes. For a mere INR 200, you can indulge in a hearty three or five-course meal, each bite echoing with the flavours of generations past. 

Here are the five most popular 'Pice Hotels' in Kolkata that you must bookmark

Mahal Restaurant

Located on Ramnath Majumdar Street in Kolkata, this was established in 1917 by Sandeep Dutta. Originally, the building served as a boarding house for students (messbari) who came to the city to attend its prestigious academic institutions. This boarding house was initiated by Nandalal Dutta, Sandeep Dutta's grandfather. Over time, the establishment transitioned into a restaurant and gained recognition as one of Kolkata's renowned pice hotels.

The Information

Our RecommendationEnchorer dalna (jackfruit curry), mochar dalna (curry made with banana flowers), kumro phooler bora (pumpkin blossom fritters).

Address: 6/3, Ramanath Majumdar Street, Amherst St, Kolkata, West Bengal 700009

Timings: 10 am to 4 pm, 7 to 10 pm (open on all days)

Price for two: INR 500

Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram

One of Kolkata's most popular pice hotels is located near Sir Stuart Hogg Market, commonly known as New Market. This was also a boarding house for migrant workers in the early 1900s. Later, in 1936, it expanded its services, opening its doors to the general public as a full-fledged restaurant, particularly during lunch hours. Presently, the fourth generation of owners manages and owns the establishment. 

Thali served at Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram
Thali served at Hotel Sidheshwari AshramInstagram

The Information

Our RecommendationKobiraji jhol (fish cutlet curry) and aam shol machch (fish prepared with a curry of tangy mango and mustard).

Address: 19, Rani Rashmoni Rd, Esplanade, Dakshineswar, Kolkata, West Bengal 700087

Timings: 9 am to 10.30 pm (open on all days)

Price for two: INR 400 

Tarun Niketan

Nestled near Lake Market, within a narrow lane, this establishment is one of the city's oldest pice hotels. It was founded in 1915 by Eshan Chandra Deb and has gained popularity for its meat and fish delicacies, particularly its hansher dimer jhol (duck egg curry)and mangsher jhol (mutton curry). Most vegetarian dishes here are prepared without onion or garlic, except for the non-vegetarian items.

The Information

Our RecommendationChingri bora (prawn pakoda), macher matha diye kochu saag (fish head cooked with green leafy vegetables), fish thali, and veg thali.

Address: Ward 88 88/1B, Rash Behari Avenue Near Kalighat Metro Rail Station, Gate, Street Number 4, Kolkata 700026

Timings: 10 am - 4:30 pm, 6 - 10 pm (open on all days)

Price for two: INR 500

Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel

Situated near Presidency College, this establishment was set up in 1927 by Man Gobindo Ponda. What sets this Bengali eatery apart is its remarkable array of vegetarian offerings. Boasting an impressive selection of 28 vegetarian dishes, Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel addresses the common complaint of vegetarian tourists that Kolkata lacks quality vegetarian cuisine. However, you'll also find a bounty of fish curries here if you're looking for a sumptuous macher jhol - bhaat (fish curry and rice) meal.

The Information

Our Recommendation: Mutton curry, fish curry, and all vegetarian dishes.

Address: 8/2, Bhawani Dutta Ln, below Raja Guest House, Calcutta University, College Square, Kolkata 700073

Timings: 10 am to 4 pm, 7:30 to 10:30 pm (open on all days)

Price for two: INR 800

Jagannath Ashram Hotel

Founded in 1952 by Gobordhan Palui and located adjacent to the renowned Ghosh Cabin on College Street, Jagannath Ashram Hotel has long been a gathering place for young migrant students, academics, and workers seeking comforting, home-cooked meals. It is said that this place often hosted renowned author Mahashweta Devi and veteran singer Manna Dey. Today, it continues to attract intellectuals and visitors alike, serving mouthwatering mutton curry and rice for lunch.

Our RecommendationChitol Maach (Chitol fish curry), ilish maach (hilsa curry), mutton curry.

Address: 114, College St, College Street Market, College Street, Kolkata 700073

Timings: 10 am to 4 pm, 7 to 11:30 pm (open on all days)

Price for two: INR 500

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