Meet the grand old cool kid of hot times

What grandma knew, hotels learn now

By Subhasish Chaudhuri in Krishnagar
  • Published 11.06.15
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The veg panta platter at Hotel Haveli in Krishnagar. Picture by Abhi Ghosh

Krishnagar, June 10: At 37°C, some learned lawyers find the corridors of Calcutta too hot to tread and have chosen to stay home for the next few days.

At over 40°C, the Tropic of Cancer zone in Bengal has discovered that a humble comfort food is the hottest - or coolest, depending on the season - ticket in town.

When in crisis, improvise - that is what restaurateurs in Krishnagar are doing this summer, serving up " panta platters" to beat the heat.

Panta bhat - rice soaked in water overnight and served with lime wedges, onion, pickle and chillis - has been a staple in Bengali homes, especially in the villages, as a cooling dish. Now, the dish has come to the rescue of popular hotels in Nadia's Krishnagar.

With the Tropic of Cancer passing through a point close to Krishnagar, the town experiences extremes of heat and cold. For the past 10 days, it has been sweltering under an average temperature of around 40°C.

As a result, customers at hotels on NH34, which runs through Krishnagar, were refusing food. No one wanted the trademark hot, spicy dishes at such places.

Then the owner of Hotel Haveli, Sanjoy Chaki, had a brainwave. Early this month, the hotel introduced two varieties of the " panta thali" - a veg thali and a "panta with fried fish".

For Rs 70, the veg panta thali offers panta bhat, kasundi, sorsher tel, gandharaj lebu, kancha lanka, sliced onion, alur chokha, fried red chilli, posto bora, alu jhuri bhaja, aamer chutney, tok doi, mishti paan. "The fish panta package has a choice of three kinds of fish dishes and costs Rs 140," Chaki says.

Word spread and most of the other hotels are now offering " panta platters" with alur chokha and posto bora.

Arup Sarkar, a regional sales manager of a multinational medicine company, has become a fan of the panta bhat thali. "I heard about panta bhat but never got the opportunity to try it. I heard this platter is harmless and healthy enough to keep my stomach cool. So when I heard about the offer at the hotel, I grabbed it," he says.

Evidently, not many restaurants in Calcutta have hit upon the panta idea yet.

The F&B manager at a popular Calcutta restaurant, which has been greeting patrons with chilled wet towels and welcome drinks, conceded: "We are not serving panta bhat but if a guest asks for it in advance, we can prepare it for them."

In case Calcutta needs a tip from Krishnagar, here's one.

Some customers may not like the fermented flavour of rice soaked overnight, so Chaki soaks the rice in the morning and refrigerates it for six hours. He uses basmati rice. "I have been selling over one hundred dishes daily," he says.

Rajiv Ghosh, who runs a roadside dhaba, has also introduced the panta varieties, but at a lower price.

Panta is really cool. It is also what the doctor orders.

Himadri Haldar, superintendent of Saktinagar district hospital in Krishnagar, says: "Taking panta during lunch on a hot day is a good idea. When it is humid, digestion problems and dehydration are common. Rice soaked in water can be digested easily and it provides energy and fluids to the body to keep it cool, particularly for those who stay out in the sun."

Panta bhat also has more micronutrients than fresh rice, especially sodium, potassium and calcium. It is traditional in some villages for pregnant women to have panta.

Just in case the panta bhat's cool quotient is still in doubt, over to Shakib-Al-Hasan, the KKR and Bangladesh all-rounder.

In 2012, the cricketer had told t2 how he had celebrated Nava Varsha in Calcutta: "I missed panta with fried hilsa. I have it every year on Nava Varsha. It is a tradition in Bangladesh. This time, it was breakfast with omelette and bread in the hotel."

Footnote: Wednesday - when lawyers in Calcutta High Court skipped work because of the heat - was relatively cooler in Krishnagar at 36.1°C. If it is of any comfort to Calcutta lawyers, the Krishnagar district court has been closed for about a fortnight because of the heat.