When K.M. and I visit his family in Kolkata, we always have a secret agenda. Spending time with loved one comes first, of course, but eating as many kathi rolls as possible is a close second.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that kahti rolls (kathi or kati is a Bengali word meaning stick; traditionally the meat in these rolls is cooked on skewers, hence the name) are simply the best fast food I’ve ever eaten. They have the same effect of me as potato chips: I can never eat just one. I am not one of those Americans who travels to India and comes home 10 pounds lighter.
Kathi rolls sounds simple – grilled meat, wrapped in a paratha with onions and chilies. But it’s an intoxicating taste that we’ve been working for years to duplicate.
There’s a meat roll stall just around the corner from KM’s mother’s flat. And we get rolls from there at least a couple of times, every visit. But if KM had his way, we’d go straight from the airport to Nizam’s in New Market, downtown. Nizam’s which opened in 1932, is credited with creating the original Kathi roll and they make some of the best rolls in the city. It’s lucky we weren’t in Kolkata during Nizam’s closure between 2003 and 2006. I would have been hugely disappointed. K.M. would have been devastated.
I’ve heard that the rolls have finally come to the states. You can get them in New York, and I know of at least one Indian restaurant in Seattle that serves them – although their version didn’t even come close to meeting my expectations.
But, after years of practice, (that’s been such a hardship), K.M and I think we’ve finally perfected our version of a kathi roll. They’re fun to make for parties – the rolls themselves have to be made one at a time as the bread comes out of the egg mixture – it’s like making French toast with a flat bread – but they hold well in the oven while you churn out enough for a crowd.
The formula I’ve come up with for marinating the chicken for these rolls evolved from the recipe in The Calcutta Cookbook which I bought in the city in 1996. When we were last there in 2009, I finally figured out what our homemade rendition most lacked; the bite of extra black pepper, ground over the meat while it cooks.
In Kolkata, KM always orders his rolls with egg. He created the recipes for the egg coating and for the pickled onions. For the sake of convenience we use flour tortillas, rather than parathas – maybe I’ll step up to that challenge next. But I couldn’t wait any longer to share the recipe. Next time you plan to light up the grill give them a try. You’ll be hooked too. I’m not saying these rolls aren’t as good as Nizam’s. But they’re damn close.
As I was preparing to write this post, I stumbled across this post from Finely Chopped, a native of Kolkata. Looking at his photos, I can almost taste the rolls and the biranyani. And best of all, it looks like there is now an outpost of Nizam’s near the airport. I can’t wait to tell K.M.!