Roll And Roll All Nite

Did the egg come first or the chicken? Even an intellectual Bengali – who can spend hours discussing Hegel vs Marx or Maradona vs Pele – would tell you that particular question is redundant as long as both chicken and egg find their way into a delectable kathi roll. No trip to Kolkata during Durga Puja is complete without binging on these delectable amalgamations of paratha and meat.

In fact, the first thing any probashi Bengali does – even before handing over duty-free Black Label to his relatives – is to head to Nizam’s on Park Street for an egg-and-chicken roll.  

The kathi roll, which now comes in a lot of variants (including some abominable ones with mayo and cheese) was conceived in Nizam’s, which used to be a popular kebab joint in the first half of the 20th Century. Located near Stuart Hogg Market (which is still called New Market), the story goes that finicky Britishers didn’t want to soil their hands whilst eating so some wise person – much like the Earl of Sandwich – decided to put the meat in a buttery unleavened flatbread and serve it in a paper wrapper.

The name kathi is derived from the time that bamboo sticks replaced iron skewers to grill kebabs, since the former allowed for faster grilling.

Now the Calcutta-style kathi roll never did get popular in other parts of India, where different cities have different rolls like the frankies in Mumbai and Khan Chacha rolls in Delhi. Of course, any suggestion that either of them match up to a Calcutta-style roll will only evoke from the strongest invectives from Bengalis.

Like a rolling stone, it changed with the times with modern variants using green chilli sauce et al and even became quite popular abroad. Payal Saha, a businesswoman from Kolkata, brought the roll to the United States in 2022 and now owns the Kati Roll Company Chain which has outlets in Manhattan and in London. As the not-so-old adage goes: "A Bengali and his roll are never parted."