The Great Kabab Factory has an interesting format - they have combined the good ol' buffet concept with the South Indian meal. So, they have a Kabab 'meal' which they keep on serving till - as they say in Sholay - "...jab tak tere saans chalenge..."
And after they start serving, they reverentially ask if the speed is fine or do we want it faster!
Galawati Kabab (with ulte tawe ka paratha).
Murg kali mirch tikka.
At this point, a guy comes up with a solemn expression and says, "We have completed serving the starters. Do you want a repeat or should we start the main course?"
Assuming you are a faint-hearted non-Bong and ask them to start the main course, they ask if you want a break before they start.
After you politely decline and ask 'em to bring it on, they start coming with daal, roti and biriyani. Of course, you are allowed to ask for a repeat of the kababs to go with the biriyani.
At 900 bucks a head, you need some serious foodies to extract full benefit... it helps if the foodie has been starved at least one meal before this one!
This memory of 'eat as much as you can' brought back memories of several bottomless meals I have had over the last few years (actually 33, as The Mad Momma never tires of announcing)!
The most abiding memory of most Bengali children about meals is generally the wedding meal. Several times during each wedding season, there would be invitations on red and gold cards (embossed with butterflies and palkis) invoking the blessings of Lord Brahma and requesting our presence at the reception of Amaresh's wedding with Sushmita.
A mandatory line at the bottom of the card said "Pashchimbanga Sarkar-er Atithi Satkar Ayin Projojyo" (In accordance with the Guest Entertaining Act of WB Govt). This was to comply with some archaic law to regulate wasteful expenditure during social celebrations but that law got blown away from the collective burps of millions of 'live-to-eat' Bengalis.
I innocently thought that the government probably mandates the number of weddings that have to serve prawn cutlets and ensures that too many weddings do not serve mutton on the same day to maintain smooth supply in the markets!
Anyway, the Bengali wedding feast in those days never had buffet. Caterers had just started - and the menu followed a set pattern. Radhaballabi (poori with a filling) and chholar dal, right at the beginning. A fry - usually fish to avoid sacrilege. A vegetable dish - which most people avoided. A fish curry - a woefully inadequate description of the oily, spicy, chunky preparation. Mutton - though some 'modern' people served chicken also. In between came a pulao to go with the mutton and the meal was rounded off with lots of sweets.
Then with the advent of caterers came innovations. The most momentous one was the introduction of the menu - detailing out the flow of dishes on a small card, with the names of the wedded couple, pictures of swans with inter-twined necks and the contact details of the caterer. This was considered by all as an invention rivaling telephone and internet. I mean, the benefits of knowing that mutton was on the way and there is no point stuffing your face with paneer (or for that matter, the paneer dish is actually called Paneer Lababdar) was stupendous.
Anyway, long before they had supermodel girlfriends, convertibles or Google stock options, the Bengali male's machismo lay in the number of Fish Tandooris he consumed at wedding dinners. So, there was an undercurrent of oneupmanship at all these weddings - which got translated into an 'eat-till-you-drop' phenomenon.
That was the training ground where I honed my value-for-money eating skills.
Several years later, when I was in b-school and had made a trip to Bombay, I learnt of a new temple. This was in Tardeo - a restaurant called Only Fish, started by a Bengali restauranteur (called Anjan Chatterjee) whose contribution to popularising the Bengali way of life is second only to Sourav Ganguly.
In those days (admittedly a long time back since I was in college), Only Fish used to have a lunch buffet for 150 bucks. If the price is scandalous now, it was more than reasonable then and we decided to have a sampling. Accompanied by Bengali (one nos.) and Malayali (one nos.) batchmates, I landed up at Only Fish and lost consciousness immediately afterwards (probably at the scent of mustard oil and the sight of crabs). When I regained consciousness several hours later, I could not see the Malayali girl sitting opposite me - due to the mountain of crab shells on my plate (and hers too!). The Bengali boy had a clean plate but he admitted to changing the plate some five times. When we got into one of those dinky Fiat cabs, we realised what they mean when they say 'three is a crowd'.
Anyway, I later found out that the lunch buffet had been discontinued and Only Fish had shut down (to make way for Oh! Calcutta).
While on the subject of unlimited eats, it would not be out of context to mention the Happy Hours I have enjoyed at several institutions.
The most memorable has to be the one I had on the same trip to Bombay (yes, it was one hedonistic ride!) - and that was at the Lancer's Bar of the Oberoi. I don't know what the bar is called now - but I do remember it had one picture window almost the size of an entire wall. But when one summer intern and one fresh software engineer congregates for Happy Hours beer, a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea is not very high on the priority list.
A beer at Oberoi would be 110 bucks (including taxes!) and during the Happy Hours, the effective price would be at almost Gokul levels. To avoid a stampede, the Happy Hour ran from 4:30 in the afternoon to 5:30. It would have hardly made a difference to us even if it started at 4:30 am!
Anyway, coming from small villages from the eastern part of the country, we really had no idea how a Bombay 5-star hotel conducts a Happy Hour. We presumed (to be on the safe side) that only the liquor that one 'consumes' during the fateful hour counts as 1+1. Of course, urban sophisticates can guffaw at our callow behaviour but there was no expert we knew and even Google did not exist. On top of that, there was this small matter of Nilendu having to go back and 'punch out' as he had left office at 4:25, citing some urgent bank work.
Well, all I remember that we threw in some 4 beers each in a span of 1 hour and when I waited for Nilendu to 'punch out' and come back, I felt like I was standing at the centre of a giant turntable as Malabar Hills and Nariman Point rotated around me at 78 rpm.
My roommate from college - a true blue Kannadiga - had once taken me out to that Southern institution of delightful pleasures. Mavalli Tiffin Room, more popularly known as MTR, turned out to be a reasonably shattering anti-climax as not only did we have to queue for only 45 mins (my roomie promised 3 hrs!), the food was nowhere close to my Southern comfort - the Andhra thali. When I expressed this sentiment, my pragmatic roomie advised me to keep mum as the Bangalore police force was not equipped to handle riots larger than the Cauvery ones! Safely ensconced in Jat-land, I think I can commit the ultimate blasphemy and call MTR a load of crap!
Finally, to remain on the subject of unlimited meals, let me end here with a wish for Diwali.
Agle saal mein sirf aapka pet hi nahin, dil bhi bhara hona chahiye!