The Straits restaurant in Kolkata is among the very few in India to offer the Nyonya cuisine that originated in South East Asia among the descendents of the early Chinese settlers. The dishes can be a bit tricky to prepare and need special expertise even though they share a lot of ingredients with the Indian cuisine.
The desire of people to explore the entire world is satisfied to an extent by reading travelogues written by others. Similarly, tasting the cuisines of the world helps them get closer to the culture of the places they may have never visited. Straits, that opened in August in 2011 in South Kolkata, is one of the few restaurants in India that offers the Nyonya cuisine. This is a unique style – a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian food – that originated with the Peranakans, the descendents of the early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore and Indonesia. The Nyonya cuisine is a well-balanced fusion of culinary styles that lends a strikingly different character to each dish.
Joydeep Chatterjee, Chief Epicurean Officer and Director of Straits, wanted to introduce a different kind of world cuisine to Kolkata and settled on the Singaporean and Malaysian food. “I wanted to offer a unique cuisine unexplored by diners in Kolkata. I believed that the culinary delights available in Singapore and Malaysia, though different from the tastes we are used to here, would be easily accepted by the Kolkatans since the basic food ingredients are almost the same,” he says.
Chatterjee, who lived abroad for more than 10 years, wanted to set up his own restaurant in the city. He believes that Kolkata has a lot of untapped potential for the growth of the restaurant industry. Also, Kolkatans are much more willing to try out new types of food as they have been exposed to different cuisines including the Chinese, European and Mughlai, because of the colonial and trading history of Bengal.
Kolkatans are no stranger to South East Asian food. The well-known China Town area of the city has a number of restaurants serving Far-Eastern and South Asian cuisines since the last five decades. But places like Straits are in a different league, focussed on authenticity and catering to the preferences of discerning customers.
Nyonya cuisine can be a very tricky preparation and needs special expertise since it brings with it hot and spicy as well as sweet and sour flavours. The chef has to keep in mind the delicate blend of ingredients, timing and fire control. To ensure that customers get to taste the real thing, Straits hired a chef Kumar Govindasamy who hails from Ipoh, Malaysia. “Our Executive Chef has been the backbone of our kitchen. He has personally trained the current young and competent team. Between them, they have over 35 years of experience in culinary arts,” says Chatterjee.
Since Nyonya cuisine shares a lot of ingredients with the Indian cuisine, the raw material is mostly sourced locally by the Straits. However, essential items such as laksa leaves, ikan bilis (dried anchovies) and gula melaka (palm sugar) are imported from Singapore.
The restaurant pays special attention to customer satisfaction, says Chatterjee. The best selling dishes at Straits include Singapore Chilli Crab and Mutton Rendang.
Straits is positioned as a family restaurant spread across 2,700 sq.ft. with a seating space for 70 people. It is designed as an Asian home with paintings and artifacts sourced from China, Malaysia and Singapore.
Chatterjee’s first goal is to make Straits profitable in Kolkata before any expansion is planned. Chatterjee is quite optimistic about his new venture, “Being a new cuisine, our guests were initially apprehensive about what flavours to expect at Straits. However, over the last few months, we have seen a rise in footfall based on appreciation spread through word of mouth,” he says.