Tung Nam is an enigma. It is rarely mentioned by most people around the city, possibly because most people, even very prominent foodies who know virtually everything about Kolkata cuisine, do not know about this little place, which serves up Kolkata Chinese food with a little twist. The twist is simple – this food veers more towards food which are olde worlde, and not what was devised in the end of 1980s in Tangra. 

The lecture which I am going to give you guys is a very pertinent one – There are two schools of Kolkata Chinese – The Old School and The New School. The Old School developed its own flavors and tastes, which the New School adapted and expanded upon. However, the Old School stolidly stuck to a few basic principles that they refused to let go of – Serve Pork, Eat Mustard Greens, and Do Not Change Your Ingredients and Recipes According to the Customer’s demands.

Thums Up and Coke Bottle for Salt and Pepper

Members of the Old School are now sadly decreasing in number because of their strictness in the way they cook and serve their food. Located mostly in Park Street and Bentinck Street/Chandni Chowk region, these eateries are now slowly closing doors, or adapting to the changing trends of the mass market. Chung Wah was out of this game many years ago, and now the quality of food served there leaves much to be desired, and the place is nothing more than a bar now, which is a shame, because at one point of time, it really did make spectacular Chicken Cutlet and Manchurian chicken, the biggest hit in Indian Chinese food. Peiping has severe health issues – I squirm every time I think of the rat I saw running down the eatery when I was waiting to be served way back in 2009. Golden Dragon is okay, but nothing to write home about any more, apart from the Roast Pork, which on occasions is very good. Eau Chew is now officially overhyped and the Josephine Noodles they make nowadays has absolutely no flavor in it, thanks to the lack of the strong stock they have stopped using in making the noodle gravy. Pao Hing is actually pretty good, and they do make a mean Chow Chow Rice, but to me, the last resort is going to be Tung Nam for now.

I walked down past the dark horseman statue near Central Metro Station and walked straight ahead. It was raining softly, then it stopped, and I snapped close my umbrella, past men on the streets who were unfolding thick wads of plastic smelling faintly of goat and shaking them loose, little children determined to get under my quick-pacing feet, and an old woman smoking a bidi with an expression on her face that definitely looked like spiritual nirvana to me. I reached Tung Nam, an unassuming little joint at Chhatawala Gali, and dashed inside, where two people waited for me to appear before they could start their meal.

Our mood was not too good. We only wanted one thing. Wonton Soup. And we ordered. Pork for me and him, Chicken for her. A lady sat in a corner and slurped noodles with the focus and speed of Usain Bolt, and the waiter quickly replaced her cold water bottle when she finished one, and without lifting her head from the plate, demanded another.

The soup arrived within 5 minutes of ordering – bouncy, springy meatballs encased with silky wonton skin, covered in piping hot broth and a handful of bitter mustard green. A long time ago, Mrs. L, a Chinese woman who was a friend of my father and now runs a number of successful Chinese eateries around Kolkata, told me that Chinese food was all about the balance, and not everything you ate was because it tasted good, but rather because its good for you. I understood completely – because that is the same as the Bangali philosophy about food, where you would be given a number of things that is supposed to be good for the body. Maybe that is one of the reasons why Chinese people could migrate and integrate with the culture of this city – the common philosophy behind cooking and eating, and the easy access to certain staples common to both cuisines.

I added a splash of freshly fermented light soy sauce, added a bit of pickled chillies, and finally, hit my wonton with a bit of the red chillies pasted with garlic and vinegar, piling everything on my soup spoon, and putting it in my mouth. The smoothly cooked pork, the melt-in-your-mouth wonton skin, the refreshing broth, and the sharp, bitter mustard green, all hit my senses one after the other, with the acidity of the chillies adding  a tangy aftertaste that was addictive. I dove in with gusto, finished the rest of my soup, and slurped the sinus-clearing, translucent, flavorful broth down to the dregs. Once I finished, I knew I did not have the stomach space to eat anything else – this soup was heavy, filling, and perfect on its own. And frankly speaking, I did not want Anything Else at that point of time in my life.

For 295/- rupees for three bowls of soup and a bottle of water, this is one of the simple pleasures my life offers me, and I love it to the core. After the waiter leaves, we walk down the road towards Lalbazar in companionable silence, our voices superfluous in the aftermath of the comfort we just got in form of a bowl of soup.

Of Course, I spotted this too! I am no connoisseur of tea, though. But I would try an Orphan Darjeeling.

Tung Nam
24 Chhatawalla Gali
Near Central Metro Station
Kolkata – 700012

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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