Holding their monopoly over the scrumptious Kathi roll from Kolkata, Nizam’s near New Market is still the haven of popular roadside Mughlai food in Kolkata. Dating back to 1937, the shop was set up by Raza Hassan Saheb in the bustling Hog Market (what New Market was called then), a stamping ground for the British who populated the City of Joy in huge numbers before Independence. For food connoisseurs back then, Nizam’s was the ultimate destination for beef, khiri (cow udders) and mutton kebabs.
One fine day, the same roasted, succulent kebabs were wrapped in fried, flaky flatbreads called Parathas, and voila! the Kathi roll came into being. The Nizam’s invented the Kathi roll to cater to its spate of customers who wanted a portable snack they could pick up on the way. Nizam’s kebabs, which took a long time to be grilled on the long iron skewers, despite being immensely popular, were too greasy to be eaten on the go. Hence, slowly, but steadily, the sale of the Kathi rolls picked up, and it became one of the most popular roadside delicacies of yesteryear Kolkata, especially for office-goers commuting regularly to the adjacent business district of Dalhousie Square.
Initially known as just rolls, the Kathi roll is said to have derived its name from the bamboo sticks or Kathi on which Nizam’s started grilling the kebabs since 1964, on account of the iron skewers being too heavy and unsuited for rapid, large-scale production of kebabs. Today, however, a Kathi roll is any roll which is wrapped in a paratha.
Kathi rolls today come in all varieties of bread and fillings – all tailored to the preferences of the customers. For people who want a healthier alternative can also avail chappatis or other whole wheat bread as wraps. Fillings can be as varied as chickpeas to vegetarian rolls using paneer kebabs for those looking for vegetarian options. For non-vegetarians, even though Nizam’s doesn’t serve beef anymore, their mutton and chicken Kathi rolls kind of make up for it.
Today, Kathi rolls are found almost everywhere in Kolkata. Kusum Rolls on Park Street, founded in 1971, popularised the use of cheese in Kathi roll fillings whereas Hot Kathi Roll further along the street introduced wraps with deep-fried parathas for a more lip-smacking meal.
As a food item that originated in colonial Calcutta, the Kathi roll is enshrouded in the nostalgia of the days gone by when New Market was the most happening precinct of the city. Its smokey aroma and mouth-watering taste is all set to take you through a gastronomic paradise whenever you happen to come by and take a bite!
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