9 Things To Pick Up For Your Pantry From Kolkata's Chinatown

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The streets of Tiretti Bazaar are heaven-sent for gourmands who want to stock up on kitchen provisions. Dried black fungus and shiitake mushrooms, spices, sauces, rice sticks and oil sticks for soups, sausages, teas and balms, and prawn wafers – the old stores manned by the Chinese community stock stuff you won’t get anywhere else.

Funky Mushrooms

Sing Cheung Sauce Factory stocks a variety of mushrooms in their glass cases. Pick up some black fungus or wood ear mushrooms – they are especially beneficial for blood and counteract high cholesterol. Soak them in water for a while before using -  they expand quite a bit and become jelly-like when cooked. Another variety at the shop are the dried oyster mushrooms and shiitake- great for clear soups and salads or stir fries.

Bamboo Steamers

Pick up a steamer and you will be on the road to healthy food. Chinatown shops stock bamboo and ceramic varieties. We loved the bamboo ones. You can make momos and dumplings in these. Or even steam your own creations – like some marinated fish in banana leaves. Get these at Sing Cheung Sauce Factory. 

Fragrant Jasmine Tea

If you like mild and fragrant golden liquor teas, pick up a box of jasmine tea. We love the orange and gold tins of the Sunflower brand – it comes from China and is a classic. You need very little to make a cup. And you don’t have to strain the small, delicate tea leaves. You could use the tea as a smoking/flavour agent as well. The Chinese use it to add flavour to specialty dishes like tea-leaf eggs. And do you remember the many times contestants and chefs on Masterchef Australia smoked poultry and meat with tea? Pick them up at the Pou Chong shop.  

Super Sauces

Several stores in the area manufacture and sell their own line of legendary sauces that contribute to the taste of Kolkata’s trademark Hakka-style Chinese. At Pou Chong, pick up a bottle of the fiery green chilli sauce, or their Capsiko made with slim red peppers; or the pudina sauce (made with mint leaves and vinegar). We loved the barbeque sauce {made with fermented soybean, honey and molasses). Across the road, at Sing Cheung Company, stock up on Sichuan, hoisin and hot bean sauces. They say their soybean sauce has been fermented for almost a year.

Noodles And Chow

Hakka chow, Singapore chow, rice noodles, glass noodles, flat rice sticks  – pick up a basketful of these. They all have different textures and taste. Mix and match with vegetables and/or meats, add some sauce for zing, and some of those mushrooms you picked up. How you stir things up is up to you. Apart from Pou Chong and Sing Cheung, you can find a variety of noodles at Hap Hing Co, one of the oldest stores in the area (it opened in 1934). The owner Stella Chen also sells homemade sauces, tea, and herbal medicines.

Dried Plum Candy

They are wrinkly and purple. And look like something from a Harry Potter book. Dried plums  – or huamei – are sweet, sour and have a slight tang that you will love. They have this dust of sugar crystals sprinkled over the surface. It seems dry and hard at first, but soon dissolves in your mouth, leaving it feeling fresh. In no time at all, you will want to pop another one. Pick these up at Sing Cheung. 

Mugs For Tea And Herbal Infusions

These classic brewing mugs have a lid and a small decanter that you fill with leaves, and leave to brew. Very convenient, easy to use and clean. We love the interesting patterns and motifs on the cups. These are available at most Chinese stores. 

Rice Wine Vinegar

You will love this mellow – yet sharp – Chinese cooking wine vinegar used to make many signature dishes like drunken chicken. Pick this up at Sing Cheung. 

Prawn Wafers

You will get addicted to these deep-fried, crunchy, but melt-in -your-mouth snacks. Fun fact – they are not all prawns or shrimps, the base is made of taro or tapioca. Serve these as party snacks, or have bowlful when you binge on Game Of Thrones. Available at Pou Chong and Sing Cheung.