No Reservations ~ Calcutta & Bombay

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Over the years, Anthony Bourdain has fallen in love with India's culture, cuisine and communities.  On this trip, he travels first to Calcutta and then to Bombay, which have been recently renamed Kolkata and Mumbai, respectively, to rediscover the magic of this beautiful land.



Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal and a Gamma World City.  Kolkata is the commercial capital of East India, located on the east bank of the Hooghly River.  The Kolkata metropolitan area, including suburbs, has a population exceeding 15 million, making it the third most populous metropolitan area in India and the 13th most populous urban area in the world.

Kolkata served as the capital of India during the British Raj until 1911 when due to geographical disadvantages and growing nationalism in Bengal the capital was shifted to New Delhi.  The city is noted for its vibrant political culture, ranging from the Indian struggle for independence to contemporary politics.

Once the center of modern education, science, culture and politics in India, Kolkata witnessed economic stagnation in the years following India's independence in 1947.  However, since the year 2000, an economic rejuvenation has led to an acceleration in the city's growth.  Like other metropolitan cities of India, Kolkata continues to struggle with urbanisation problems like poverty, pollution and traffic congestion.

Residents of Kolkata are called Calcuttans.  Kolkata city has a population of 4.5 million, while the urban agglomeration had a population of 13.2 million in 2001.  Bengali comprise the majority of Kolkata's population, with Marwaris and Bihari communities forming a large portion of the minorities.  Some of Kolkata's minor communities include Chinese, Tamils, Nepalis, Oriyas, Telugus, Assamese, Gujaratis, Anglo-Indians, Armenians, Greeks, Tibetans, Maharashtrians, Konkanis, Malayalees, Punjabis and Parsis.  Tibetans mostly came as traders.  There were also many Armenians, Greeks and Jews.

Chinatown in the eastern part of the city of Kolkata is the only Chinatown in the country.  The locality was once home to 20,000 ethnic Chinese, now the population has dropped to 2,000 or so.

Bengali is the dominant language spoken in Kolkata, Bengali is the dominant language spoken in Kolkata, which also serves as the Official State Language.  English is also used, particularly by the white-collar work force.  73% of the population in Kolkata is Hindu, 23% Muslim, 2% Christian and 1% Jains.  Other minorities such as Sikhs, Buddhist, Jews and Zoroastrian constitute the rest of the city's population.

Kolkata has long been known for its literary, artistic and revolutionary heritage.  As the former capital of India, Kolkata was the birthplace of modern Indian literary and artistic thought.  Kolkatans tend to have a special appreciation for art and literature; its tradition of welcoming new talent has made it a "City of Furious Creative Energy".  For these reasons, Kolkata has often been dubbed as the "Cultural Capital of India" or the "Literary Capital of India".

Rush My Passport


Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra.  Mumbai lies on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbor.  Mumbai's business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a higher standard of living, attract migrants from all over India and, in turn, make the city a potpourri of many communities, cultures, religions and cuisines.  Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra state.

Mumbai is the most populous city in India, and the fifth most populous city in the world.  According to the 2011 census, the population of Mumbai was 12.4 million, and the Mumbai Metropolitan Area has a population of 21.3 million.  The ethnic demographics are:  Maharashtrians (42%), Gujaratis (19%), with the rest hailing from other parts of India.

The oldest Muslim communities in Mumbai include the Dawoodi Bohras, Khojas, and Konkani Muslims.  Native Christians include East Indians (ethnic group) Catholics who were converted by the Portuguese, during the 16th century.  Mumbai is also home to the largest population of Parsi Zoroastrians in the world, with about 80,000 Parsis in Mumbai.

The seven islands that came to constitute Mumbai were home to communities of fishing colonies.  For centuries, the islands came under the control of successive indigenous empires before being ceded to the Portuguese and subsequently to the British East India Company.

During the mid-18th century, Mumbai was reshaped by the British with large-scale civil engineering projects, and emerged as a significant trading town.  Economic and educational development characterised the city during the 19th century.  It became a strong base for the Indian independence movement during the early 20th century.

Today, Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India.  As of 2009, Mumbai was named an Alpha world city.  Mumbai is also the richest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South, West or Central Asia, generating 5% of India's GDP, and accounting for 25% of industrial output and 70% of maritime trade in India.

Most of India's major television and satellite networks, as well as its major publishing houses, are headquartered in Mumbai.  The centre of the Hindi movie industry, Bollywood, is the largest film producer in India and one of the largest in the world as well as centre of Marathi Film Industry.

The city offers a cosmopolitan and diverse lifestyle with a variety of food, entertainment and night life, available in a form and abundance comparable to that in other world capitals.  Mumbai suffers from the same major urbanization problems seen in many fast growing cities in developing countries:  widespread poverty and unemployment, poor public health and poor civic and educational standards for a large section of the population.  With available space at a premium, Mumbai residents often reside in cramped, relatively expensive housing, usually far from workplaces, and therefore requiring long commutes on crowded mass transit, or clogged roadways.


Episode Recap:


Anthony Bourdain begins his Indian Odyssey with a ride on the Indian Railways to Kolkata.  He opts to ride in Second Class.  Along the way he chats with the natives, orders food and tea from the vendors, and sleeps in the somewhat modest sleeper compartment.

Indian Railways has 71,147 miles, of total track over a route of 40,389 miles and 7,500 stations.  It has the world's fourth largest railway network after those of the United States, Russia and China.  The railways traverse the length and breadth of the country and carry over 30 million passengers and 2.8 million tons of freight daily.  It is the world's second largest commercial or utility employer, with more than 1.36 million employees.  As for rolling stock, Indian Railways owns over 240,000 (freight) wagons, 60,000 coaches and 9,000 locomotives.

Railways were first introduced to India in 1853.  By 1947, the year of India's independence, there were forty-two rail systems.  In 1951 the systems were nationalized as one unit, becoming one of the largest networks in the world.

Taj Bengal Hotel:  Anthony feasts on a roast chicken dinner at the Taj Benal Hotel after first attending a cock-fight where he was suppose to eat the loser.  Fortunately, neither rooster was feeling particularly feisty that day and they refused to fight.

Ghat on the Ganges:   His guide Calshew takes Anthony to visit one of the many ghats on the banks of the Ganges River where he observes the Hindu faithful perform their ritual bathings, cremations, and offerings to the deities.  You can see the famous Howrah Bridge in the background.  He also observes devotees practicing Indian wrestling, which interestingly, for some is another form of worship.

Mullik Ghat Flower Market:  Anthony and Calshew head for some street food at the Mullik Ghat Flower Market beneath the east end of Howrah Bridge.  This outdoor flower market is a sensory overload of sights and smells that's very photogenic.  This is where locals purchase flowers and garlands for weddings or to use as an offering at temples or their shrine at home.  They stop at one of the market's food stall for puri aloo bhaji (puri is a type of bread commonly eaten for breakfast or a snack; aloo is potato; bhaji or pakora is an Indian version of vegetable fritters.)

Television Studio:  Anthony visits the studio of Tithir Atithi, one of the longest-running Indian soap operas (known as "serials").  After the filming, Anthony joins the cast and crew for a communal lunch, where he gets an opportunity to speak with accomplished actress, dancer and choreographer Mamata Shankar.  She is the neice of the legendary Pandit and Indian musician and composer, Ravi Shankar, who plays the plucked string instrument sitar, famous for his association with George Harrison of The Beatles.

Cricket Match:  Anthony attends a cricket match with guide Nondon Bagchi—musician, foodie and columnist for The Telegraph.

Cricket in India is the most popular sport.  It is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players on an oval-shaped field, at the center of which is a rectangular 22-yard long pitch.  One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the runs scored by the batting team.  A run is scored by the striking batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease there without being dismissed.  The teams switch between batting and fielding at the end of an innings.

"Ballpark Food":  After attempting a few swings at the cricket ball, Anthony and his guide Nondon try some Indian "ballpark food"—muri (meaning "hot puffed rice"), also known as bhelpuri.

Sundarbans:  Anthony accompanies guide Abra and field biologist Tanmoi on a boat ride down the Ganges to visit the Sundarbans.  Along the way, the boat's cook prepares some Bengali dishes consisting of prawns, bhekti (begti) fish, eggplant, scallions and other assorted vegetables.

The Sundarbans is the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world.  The seasonally-flooded Sundarbans freshwater swamp forests lie inland from the mangrove forests on the coastal fringe.  The area is known for the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger, as well as numerous fauna including species of birds, spotted deer, crocodiles and snakes.  The Sundarbans are listed as an UNESCO world heritage site, and have also been enlisted among the finalist in the New7Wonders of Nature.

Sundarban Bali Jungle Camp:  Anthony stops at the small island of Bali, where he visits a wet-paddy rice-farming village during their harvest season.  He witnesses their annual harvest festival.

Shop Taste of Home (Readers Digest)


Anthony's Indian culinary tour then takes him to Mumbai, the largest city in India.  Regretting the fact that he didn't sample as much street food as he would have liked to while in Kolkata, he's determined to make up for it in Mumbai.

Khau Galli:  Anthony meets up with local friend and guide Lavanya and they head for Bhendi Bazaar, also known as Khau Galli (the "Food Lane"), for some street food in the Muslim section of Mumbai.  They sample local delicacies such as beda roti made with mincemeat and mutton; grilled lungs and kidneys; curried lamb brains seasoned with garam masala and served with parantha (an Indian flat-bread); and tandoori chicken.

Taj Mahal Cold Drink House:  Lavanya takes Anthony to the 115 year old Taj Mahal Cold Drink House for a fulata.  The ingredients are:  some fresh coriander seeds, rose water and arrowroot.  Homemade ice cream is added in one version; and milk in all versions.

Street Food:  Lavanya and Anthony continue their halal street food binge with some beda roti.  Anthony tries a couples of versions:  first, the mincemeat and eggs fried up in chapati bread, then one with pieces of mutton, mincemeat, and potatoes.  Finally, they find a stall that makes curry goat brains.  They prepare it with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, onions, hot chili peppers, and garam masala served with parantha bread

Bollywood:  Anthony plays Bollywood movie mogul and stages an audition for a lead lady in his fictitious film.  When he pauses for a lunch break, Anthony experiences first-hand the highly efficient home-cooked food delivery culture of Mumbai, the dabbawallahs.

A dabbawallah is a person, most commonly found in the city of Mumbai, who is employed in a unique service industry whose primary business is collecting the freshly cooked food in lunch boxes called tiffins from the residences of the office workers (mostly in the suburbs), delivering it to their respective workplaces and returning the empty boxes back to the customer's residence by using various modes of transport.  

The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons.  More than 175,000 or 200,000 lunch boxes get moved every day by 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawallash, all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality.  According to a recent survey, they make less than one mistake in every 6 million deliveries.  Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard.



ARGENTINA:  From the Tango to paragliding to cattle rustling to trekking along icy glaciers, Anthony experiences it all.

AUSTRALIA:  Melbourne has been described as San Francisco without the fog.  Anthony is off to discover what makes it so special.

BERLIN:  Anthony finds himself in Berlin, a city that is for him both good and evil, Eastern and Western, repulsive and appealing.

BRAZIL:  Some say São Paulo feels like LA threw up on NYC.  But Anthony's back for the great food and its welcoming people.

COLOMBIA:  A bright and beautiful country that has gone from drug capital to food capital.  Anthony explores its unique cuisine.

EGYPT:  Anthony skips the long lines and tour buses, and visits with Egyptian locals to get a taste for what it means to be Egyptian.

GHANA:  Anthony heads to Ghana, West Africa, a land of old forts and slave castles, and a culture filled with great food and music.

GREEK ISLES:  Anthony is on a culinary odyssey to discover if Greece really does have the world's healthiest diet. 

HONG KONG:  A wonder-land of colors, lights and speed, a perfect marriage of modern and traditional, and home to great Asian cuisine.

IRELAND:  Ireland's steeped in history and traditions, both oral & written.  Anthony dispels the myths that it has the worst food on the planet.

JAMAICA:  Jamaica is a vibrant, colorful land full of resorts and reggae music.  Anthony is there to uncover the lesser-known Jamaica.

KOREA:  Anthony gives in to his employee's pressure to visit Korea and, next thing you know, they're in Seoul and the adventure begins.

MEXICO:  Carlos, a head chef in NYC and good friend, gives Anthony a culinary tour of his hometown Puebla and nearby Mexico City.

OSAKA (Japan):  Anthony learns all about kuidaore, which means to bankrupt oneself with extravagance in food and drink!

PARIS: In this very first episode of the series, Anthony heads to the "City of Light" to show, at least the Americans, why the French don't suck.

PERU:  Anthony is on a mission to obtain personal enlightenment in a land of ancient culture, rich cuisine, and vibrant people.

QUEBEC (Canada):  Anthony is off to Québec to indulge in one of his most hedonistic pleasures–foie gras (fatty duck liver).

RAJASTHAN (India):  From gorgeous sights to enticing smells, Anthony explores the magical and delicious offerings of Rajasthan.

ROME:  Anthony adopts the mindset of the Roman people–living a simple life and eating fresh, seasonal ingredients.

RUSSIA:  Anthony explores Russia, where the food is hearty.  Along the way he meets a former Cold War spy and Miss Russia.

SHANGHAI (China):  Anthony is back in China.  From Shanghai to Tibet, he searches for the mythical Shangri-La.

SICILY:  Anthony starts his gastronomic tour through Sicily in style by sharing a spleen sandwich with Sicily's president.

SINGAPORE:  Singapore is serious about food and offers up a cuisine like no other.  Anthony dives in head-first.

SPAIN:  According to Anthony, outside of Asia, Spain is the single greatest place for culinary achievement in the world.

TOKYO:  Anthony is off to Tokyo in search of the relationship between a perfect piece of sushi and a perfect knife blade.

TUSCANY:  Anthony travels to the beautiful Tuscan countryside to visit with friends and enjoy some homemade pasta that's out of this world.

URUGUAY:  Anthony and his brother are on a mission to connect with their roots in Uruguay after learning that Bourdains once settled here.

Anthony visits Vancouver, home to a thriving film industry, gorgeous scenery, and an evolving food scene.


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