Apr 27, 2016
Reading an article on eating options around Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College reminded me of my Presidency College days in Kolkata around the mid 90s.
We were young and thin and hungry back then. And since pocket money was limited, we had to be cautious. Thankfully the area around College Street, where Presidency College is located, had a few inexpensive eating options. A quick Internet search shows that most of the places I frequented to back then still exists. I spent five years here – three during my graduation at Presidency College and two during my post-graduation at the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM).
Here are some of the places we used to go to:
India Coffee House, College Street
Parents of my classmates at Presidency, who were college alumni themselves, were worried we would spend all our time at the Coffee House (as they probably once had!). However, by the early 90s, the Indian Coffee House was no longer a place for Presidencians to hang out and hold discourses on cinema, politics, art and culture. The Coffee House had become more of a book and sari traders hangout by then. The service was very slow, and the food very ordinary. We would occasionally go for the ‘Infusion’ (black coffee), but that’s about it.
Pramod Da’s Canteen, Presidency College
By the time I joined Presidency College in the early 1990s, Pramod da’s canteen in the college was where the action had shifted to for all Presidency College folks. Spending time here was called, ‘Canteen honours’. Professors were not allowed here and students had free reign. The food was fairly inexpensive and popular picks for me and my friends were the vegetable chops, which one would eat sandwiched between thick slices of load. Tea would flow like water, and coffee (my preference) was a tad more (Re 1 vs 50 paise for tea) expensive. There would be the occasional mutton roll too, and if you ask any Presidencian, they would tell you about the folklore about the origin of the rolls. Not a topic to be discussed in this forum for sure. Occasionally Pramod da would make a pretty nice biryani including on the college social night.
This sweet shop near the Indian Coffee House was a favoured stop after a day in college. We would go to the shop next door to photocopy text books from the college library. While waiting for our copies, we would tuck into the luchi and cholaar dal and finish it off with a uniquely white (versus the normal cream colour) mishti doi.
Thanks to Zomato, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the restaurant still exists. This is a very simple shop at the ground floor of the Indian Coffee House where we would go for a plate of ‘Hakka’ noodles. I was quite impressed that they would serve it with a fork and not a spoon unlike the roll shops it competed with. This was a one-dish meal for us and we wouldn’t order a side dish with it.
This was an ancient shop where they used to serve a range of sherbats or juices, which they would make in house. The flavours were pretty unique. The shop was shut for some time, but it opened again towards the end of my College Street days and I would go back then. It’s still open and the pictures on the Internet suggest that it looks the same as it did two decades ago.
The YMCA ‘Canteen’
I would love to know if this still exists. It is not easy to sit in Mumbai and try to trace the canteen as it is not listed on restaurant sites. It wasn’t a restaurant of course. Instead a tiny cabin by the wall of the College Square swimming pool! You could get vegetable stews here like carrot, papaya and potato. They had a more expensive chicken option with a watery broth, liberally doused with black pepper, and served with thick slabs of bread. You had to stand by the cabin and gulp down this hunger-buster meal.
The cost of most of these meals in the early 1990s would range between Rs 3 (YMCA veg stew, Pramod da’s veg chop sandwich) and Rs 10 (the noodles at Tasty) per person!