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In North 24-Parganas, amidst the hustle and bustle of Barrackpore Railway Station, a phenomenon unfolds daily. The roundabout near the station is a whirlwind of traffic—buses, totos, autos, and four-wheelers—jostling for space.
September 18, 2023: Yet, the real spectacle lies just a stone’s throw away, where a seemingly unassuming restaurant commands the attention of a ceaseless queue. At any given time, a throng of 25 eagerly waits outside Dada Boudi Hotel, a place that has etched itself into the annals of culinary excellence. On Sundays, this queue stretches up to 50 meters, making it a challenge to navigate the roads, as recounted by a toto driver.
A culinary marvel under transformation
Dada Boudi Hotel, now the elder of its two outlets in Barrackpore, was once described in a 2017 report by The Telegraph as “a matchbox of an eatery close to the Barrackpore station.” However, today, this modest establishment is on the cusp of a remarkable transformation. The toto driver proudly points towards the ongoing construction of a seven-story building, soon to house the restaurant.
A gathering place for the young and old
The open area in front of the restaurant buzzes with activity, primarily composed of spirited 20-somethings. Rupali, a student at Calcutta Police Law Institute, traveled from Sealdah, a 40-minute train journey away, to be here for a reunion with friends. Despite living nearby, she confesses, “I have never had a chance to eat here.” Such is the magnetic pull of Dada-Boudir biryani—a phenomenon that transcends generations.
The unexpected origin story
What sets this eatery apart is its intriguing history. Dada Boudi Hotel was never intended to be a biryani haven in its early days. Its roots trace back to the 1940s when Ramprasad Shaw, hailing from Bihar’s West Champaran district, left his job in the British police force to establish Janata Hindu Hotel. Situated close to the railway station, it offered budget-friendly meals of rice, dal, vegetable curry, fish, or eggs, priced between 25 to 75 paisa per plate. The clientele primarily consisted of railway laborers, rickshaw pullers, drivers, and coolies, most of them fellow Biharis like Ramprasad.
The Bengali connection
However, the winds of change swept through in the 1960s. As Sanjib Saha, the current owner, recounts, “From the time my parents started running the hotel, Bengalis started coming here; bank and government officials too. They would address my parents as dada-boudi.” It was Sanjib’s Bengali mother who took charge of the kitchen, transforming the small eatery into a thriving enterprise. Janata Hindu Hotel was reborn as Dada Boudi Hotel, and the Shaws adopted the matriarch’s maiden name, becoming the Sahas.
The Biriyani evolution
In the early 1980s, a pivotal decision reshaped the destiny of Dada Boudi Hotel. Sanjib Saha and his friend Kamil Khan decided to introduce biryani to their menu. At that time, Biriyani joints were a rarity in the vicinity. They launched their chicken biryani priced at a modest Rs. 11 per plate, and this unassuming move would later become a culinary legend. For a decade, the biryani remained somewhat concealed, just another item on the menu.
The enduring legacy
Fast forward three decades and the scene around the train station boasts three other biryani outlets—well-known brands with a more extensive urban presence. However, Dada Boudi Hotel not only withstood the test of time but also flourished, its popularity growing with each passing day.
The art of Biryani
The clock strikes 5:30 in the evening, and the area near the main entrance becomes a stage for a culinary performance. Men in uniform meticulously ladle out biryani from large handis, ensuring each plate holds an equal share of meat chunks and rice. Their synchronized movements and practiced precision are a testament to the artistry behind this dish.
The queue that whets the appetite
From lunchtime onwards, the queue forms, maintaining its length until 4 pm. The queue consists of students, office-goers, and locals, all eager to savor the legendary biryani. Whether dining in or opting for takeout, one must queue up. The anticipation builds, whetting an appetite.
A Biryani worth the journey
Asif Ahmed, a traveler from Bongaon, attests, “Every time I come to Barrackpore, I make it a point to eat mutton biryani here before boarding the train.” Raseshwari Datta, a Barrackpore-based police department examiner, adds, “No one makes the kind of biryani that they do. It stands out for its taste.” Even those who travel great distances echo the sentiment. Nilesh Mukherjee, who journeyed from Tollygunge, explains, “The quality of the biryani makes up for the trouble of coming here.”
A monthly ritual
M. Kanjilal, a septuagenarian from Garia in South Calcutta, humorously shares his reason for frequenting the restaurant, saying, “It is as good an excuse as any to eat here every month.” Such is the magnetic pull of Dada Boudi Biryani that even familial obligations take a backseat in its presence.
Dada Boudi Biryani in Barrackpore isn’t just a culinary delight; it’s a symbol of transformation, tradition, and an enduring legacy. Every plate of biryani weaves a tale of history, innovation, and the irresistible aroma of a culinary masterpiece that keeps patrons coming back for more.