Tucked away behind a rusty old petrol pump on the first floor of a building that has seen better days, Eau Chew is one of the most authentic Cantonese restaurants in Calcutta - possibly a heritage place. Run by the Huang family, this Central Calcutta eatery may be hard to find, but once you locate it, it's hard to forget. That's because Eau Chew has a few aces up its sleeve.
Located on Ganesh Chandra Avenue (close to the old China Town at Tiretti Bazaar), Eau Chew is one of the oldest - if not the oldest - Chinese restaurants in the city. Set up in the 1920's by the Huang family as a low-end tiffin house for Chinese immigrants to Calcutta, Eau Chew holds on to secret recipes from China that have been passed down through generations of the Huang family. So guarded is the family that only family members are allowed to cook or serve. Or so I am told.
Eau Chew serves one of the best Chimney soups in town, in brass pots brought in from China almost a century ago. If you've been missing How Hua, this is a worthy contender. Not many Chinese restaurants worth their noodles have it on their menu. When the steaming brass pot reaches your red sunmica-topped table, you will be overcome by the sheer aroma of the soup. The steam boat is laden with prawns, fish, pork, chicken, spinach and vegetables apart from some rice noodles. This is soul-cleansing soup. The large soup (Non-vegetarian - Rs 600, Vegetarian – Rs 400) easily feeds eight.
Next on my list of favourites is Josephine Noodles (Non-vegetarian – Rs 350, Vegetarian - Rs 300). This is the house specialty named after the creator and proprietor, Josephine Huang, and it's not listed on the menu. Crafted to perfection, Josephine Noodles has copious quantities of juicy prawns, chunks of chicken, mushrooms and vegetables served on a bed of noodles with a lightly-flavoured gravy.
Team up your Josephine Noodles with Steamed Fish Soya. A large poached whole fish (Bekti) is served on a fish-shaped platter with a beautiful sauce. If you want the whole fish, you'll need to order it a day ahead and be charged as per market rates. Otherwise you could always settle for the Sliced Bekti (Rs 360). The sauce accompanying it provides the necessary flavour to counter the otherwise blandness of steamed or poached fish. For other side orders, I'd recommend Fish With Chilli Black Bean or Fried Pork Chilli. And just so that you're not too guilty consuming so much meat, I'd advise you to throw in a Stir Fried Pak Choy or Stir-fried Greens for its faintly garlic seasoning and the requisite crunch. And you will bless me.
Apart from these Eau Chew has a large menu of the regular items you would get at other Chinese restaurants - Momos, Manchurian, Sweet and Sour, Ginger Garlic, Szechwan, Chop Suey, Hakka. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when you plan a trip to Eau Chew. It does not have a bar, doesn't accept credit cards and the home-style décor may not be a patch compared to the Tangra counterparts, but that has not stopped regulars from shuffling in over the decades. The meals are easy on the pocket – Rs 600-700 for two. If you're dining there in the coming months, you can order some Duck Roast, the price of which is market determined.
There is a distinct brand heritage associated with Eau Chew. For near 90 years the Huangs have served Calcutta even as others in the vicinity have shut shop. They have withstood the test of time in spite of not moving along with it. And their clientele has one thing in common - the appreciation for great home-style Chinese cooking you will hardly find elsewhere in the city. Incidentally, in Mandarin, Eau Chew apparently means Europe.
Editor's Note: This is one of my favourite places to treat family and friends in Calcutta. I usually call up a day or two in advance and let them know how many of us there'll be and what all we'd like to order. We sometimes keep our order as vague as "we'd like a lamb dish and something in pork", because we know whatever they prepare - it will be delicious. And when we show up, there's a feast awaiting us. A meal consisting of whole steamed fish, chicken, pork, lamb, vegetable, a rice and Josephine Noodles for 6 people usually comes to around Rs 3000. I'd strongly recommend you plan a pre-fixed meal there.
Must try: Chimney Soup, Josephine Noodles, Steam Soya Fish and Stir Fried Pak Choy
Meal for two: Rs 750 including taxes