Will Kolkata’s love for all things Russian extend to food from the Soviet Republics?

‘Milee Droog’, a restaurant in the city, offers more authentic fare than just the ubiquitous Russian salad.

Kolkata’s fascination with Russian culture goes beyond Lenin. One of the oldest thoroughfares in the city, stretching from Jawaharlal Nehru Road to Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road, was named Lenin Sarani in 1969. Gorky Sadan, the Russian Cultural Centre in Kolkata, is a landmark. For decades, it has given Kolkata’s residents a place to immerse themselves in Russian culture, through music, literature, films and chess – a kind of Russian oasis in an Indian setting.

Bingsha Shatabdi, a bookstore on Park Street that sold Soviet and Russian literature at throwaway prices in English and Bengali, was a treasure trove to anyone growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in Kolkata. You could buy an entire collection by the poet and novelist Alexander Pushkin for less than Rs 100. The sprawling Soviet and later Russian cultural centres in Kolkata also had their share of Lenin statues, exhibitions of Soviet memorabilia, cine festivals with Russian movies, ballet shows, cultural troupes with Soviet performers. Bengali theatre continues to pay homage to the works of Gogol and Dostoyevsky. Gerasim Lebedev was the Russian founder of modern Bengali theatre in 1795. The city’s historic Asiatic Society has undertaken the publication of numerous archival and historical documents from Russia.

The one thing that had long eluded Kolkata though, was Russian cuisine. A Russian restaurant called Milee Droog (which translates from Russian as Dear Friend), located inside Gorky Sadan, the Russian cultural centre on Gorky Terrace, has plugged that culinary gap.

Indian and Russian flags displayed at Milee Droog. Photo credit: Aditi Bhaduri
Indian and Russian flags displayed at Milee Droog. Photo credit: Aditi Bhaduri

Milee Droog began with two dear friends: Irina, a Russian tourism professional, met Satyaki, a Bengali management professional from Kolkata, at a conference in Delhi. The two kept up correspondence over the internet, and five years later, met in real life and decided to get married.

Irina moved to Kolkata immediately after, and as the years passed, she grew enchanted with the idea of putting her culinary skills and knowledge of Russian cuisine and culture to use in Kolkata. Along with her partner Satyaki and his friend Apratim, Irina finally set up Milee Droog in April.

At present, Apratim takes care of the restaurant’s daily management and finances, while Irina and Satyaki take care of the rest. The team was fortunate to find chef Gautam Sircar, who had received substantial exposure to international cuisine, having worked at Rajasthan’s Pride Hotel in the past.

Satyaki Manna and wife Irina. Photo credit: Aditi Bhaduri
Satyaki Manna and wife Irina. Photo credit: Aditi Bhaduri

Milee Droog’s first big test came while they were still doing up the place, in October 2016. “Ahaare Bengal”, a West Bengal food festival that is billed as India’s largest food festival and includes food from Thailand, Myanmar, Japan and China, had an opening, and Irina and her team decided to host a Russian food stall.

The food festival is held in Kolkata’s huge Milan Mela grounds, and to their relief, Irina’s team found that Russian food was a hit with Kolkata’s food connoisseurs. The dish served at many Indian functions as “Russian salad” (which the Russians themselves know as Salat Olivier) was the first to run out. But the other hit was a surprise – people thronged the stall for blinis, which resemble stuffed pancakes.

While traditional blinis are stuffed with minced meat, in keeping with local tastes, Milee Droog’s blinis at Ahaare Bengal were stuffed with chicken mince and mushrooms. As word about the stall spread, the blini consumption seemed to double. “The second day of the fest we sold 10,000 blinis alone,” said Apratim.

Photo credit: Chicken salad. Milee Droog Cafe & Bistro/via
Photo credit: Chicken salad. Milee Droog Cafe & Bistro/via

A plethora of flavours

Milee Droog opened its doors to the public in April. The interiors of the restaurant are relaxed, modern and light. The lack of natural light is remedied with green upholstery. Russian souvenirs and collectibles are spread through the place, along with flags from the two countries as a prominent centrepiece.

The menu is affordable and offers a range. There are blinis topped with sour cream and syrnikis, which are a kind of bread stuffed with sweet cottage cheese. The borsch (a beetroot and meat soup which is a meal by itself) and the okroshka, a cold soup, also form part of the menu.

Russian food has been complemented by food from various Soviet Republics. There is the plov from Uzbekistan – rice cooked with carrots, mild herbs and meat and the Georgian khachapuri – bread stuffed with cheese. The Armenian khinkali – meat stuffed dumplings – also come in a vegetarian avatar. Ukrainian varrenikis (steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with potatoes) are also available.

The only Russian import is tea, which according to Satyaki, is “because their flavours are so authentic”. Russians, he said, love going on treks to find berries and flavour their teas and homemade concoctions with them. “The kind of flavours that result from the infusions taste far more natural than the flavoured Indian teas,” Satyaki added. After vodka, tea is probably the most beloved Russian national drink.

Photo credit: Mushroom Cream Soup. Milee Droog Cafe & Bistro/via
Photo credit: Mushroom Cream Soup. Milee Droog Cafe & Bistro/via
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.