For any budding bibliophile, an annual trip to College Street in Kolkata to buy books for the new school session or college semester is nothing short of a trip to wonderland. Every year, I used to eagerly look forward to that day. Oddly nostalgic, the image of a long queue in front of Dey’s Publishing store in College Street—that went viral just a week ago—is indeed a common occurrence there.
But, after walking for endless hours through the labyrinthine streets of old Kolkata, no book shopping trip would be complete without a visit to the two legendary eateries there — The Coffee House and Paramount Sherbet.
Today, we speak of the saccharine love affair almost every college street visitor has had with this 103-year-old sherbet joint.
A Swadeshi Mixologist
In a quiet corner of Bankim Chatterjee Street in College Square of Kolkata, freedom fighter Nihar Ranjan Mazumdar started Paramount Sherbet in 1918. A hub for the youth, this street was known to be frequented by intellectuals and revolutionaries, and Niharanjan’s cold drinks joint served as a common meeting place for them.
“My grandfather started this place as a disguise for the British authorities. There is a secret room behind this place, which served as a space for fellow revolutionaries to hold meetings and discuss strategies while the eatery served as a cover. But that didn’t mean the sherbets or drinks served here were secondary. We have always prided ourselves on serving unique mixes that will always leave you wanting more,” says Partha Pratim Mazumdar, Nihar Ranjan’s grandson.
Now serving more than 30 varieties of water-based and dairy-based cold-drinks, he adds that three of those — the Dab Sherbet, Green Mango Malai and Vanilla Malai, have survived the test of time and continue to be the star items of the menu.
“Be it Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Prafulla Chandra Ray, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, SD Burman, PC Sorcar, Manna Dey or Soumitra Chatterjee, Arundhati Roy, Sunil Ganguly many influential people from all walks of life have graced our humble abode in the past and many continue to do so till today,” adds the 53-year-old.
The Secret Superstar Sherbet
Tucked away in a corner, this family-run tiny and cramped-up but iconic eatery is truly one of Kolkata’s hidden gems. Their unique tender coconut water and syrup concoction is a light and refreshing drink. Partha shares that the family has been guarding it’s secret recipe for over a century now. According to him, this drink was a joint creation of his grandfather Niharanjan and the renowned chemist Prafulla Chandra Ray.
A perfect antidote for the city’s ever-humid climate, the dab sherbet is known for its striking subtle texture and is essentially made with tender coconut water, ice and the secret syrup. Back in the day, it used to sell for just four annas as an affordable drink for students and now it’s priced at Rs 80.
“Over the years, we have constantly tried to evolve and improve our menu by adding varieties with coffee, chocolate, passion fruits, etc. but we have kept the originality intact. Even the decor is the same — a few marble-top tables bought for Rs 12 each, some chairs and old photos hung on the wall along with two large antlers bought some 90 years ago in an auction from the Nizam of Hyderabad.”
However, they aren’t resistant to change. In addition to new items on the menu, Partha and his family have even started to provide catering services and also provide bottled versions of their unique syrups. “It’s great to see how young people on the internet love our sherbets and rave about it. People from abroad also visit — both for taste and nostalgia. Our customers like this original down-to-earth vibe here and so we want to keep it that way. This is the reason why despite our increasing popularity we never entertained the idea of starting a franchise. We want to preserve this place in its original form as much as possible,” he adds.
Featured image: Sagar Sen
Edited by Yoshita Rao