Nahoum’s, Kolkata’s last Jewish bakery, still rules foodies’ hearts

Kolkata, Sep 30 (IANS) If food could transport one back in time, then Nahoum and Sons, the 113-year-old Jewish bakery here undoubtedly takes the cake.

Kolkata’s Jewish community may have dwindled from a thriving 3,000 to less than 30 since their arrival in the late 18th century, but the last Jewish bakery tucked away inside the labyrinthine Raj-era New Market, remains as popular among locals and tourists since its inception in 1902.

Century-old teakwood furniture, glass-fronted window displays and even the cash till – stand for tradition in the airy and spacious store.

Its heart and soul lies in the rich macaroons, fruit cake, brownies and tarts.

“We have had tourists who revisited our shop after decades, tried the cakes and say that the taste is same. That is our pride and heritage,” J. Halder, the manager, told IANS.

Pointing to his cash till, Halder said: “The furniture has remained the same. The bakery goods have not changed much. Nor do we plan to change the range because people keep coming back for them.”

Halder has been associated with Nahoum’s for the last 37 years and has witnessed the emergence of cafes, bistros and dessert parlours in the city. But the demand has never waned, he claims.

To shoppers in New Market, the wafting aroma of fresh-baked sweets and savouries – fruit cakes, heart-shaped sponges, lemon tarts, chicken puffs, rum balls, mutton and chicken samosas – is irresistible.

Since the entrances (on two opposite sides of the bakery overlooking the rest of the market) is simply a large opening sans the hassle of pushing open doors, one can just “tuck in” some cake while doing their shopping before the Durga Puja begins.

“I am in Kolkata to witness the Durga Puja and other festivities and I was told to drop in at Nahoum’s since I was hungry after doing some shopping. It was charming just to stroll in, get my cake and stroll out. It was as if time had stopped,” said Emilie, a tourist from Berlin.

For six-year-old Rupa, a resident of Kolkata, who was accompanying her parents on a pre-Durga Puja shopping spree, the marzipans and the flavoured pastries with coloured icing, are a must-have every time she is at the bakery. Loyalists also swear by the breads, the biscuits and the soup sticks.

And before Christmas, there is always a lengthy queue and an equally lengthy wait for the sumptuous plum cake.

And if you happen to be around in the bakery when there’s a Jewish holiday like Rosh Hashnanah (mid-September) and Yom Kippur (late September), you are in for some additional goodies – like the baklava and cashew nut rings.

The baklava (honey and nut pastry cut into diamond shaped pieces with a hint of cinnamon), which is essentially prepared by the Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries, reflects the bakery’s heritage.

Set up by Nahoum Israel Mordecai, a Baghdadi Jew, Nahoum and Sons Pvt. Ltd. began by selling baked goods door-to-door from its small outlet in front of the Market, until it opened up on a large-scale at its present location inside the market in 1916.

It was a hit with the British and Anglo-Indians at first, but gradually, it spawned a steady clientele from the locals.

The bakery’s staunch stand against diversification and its strict adherence to its limited range of items was the decision of Mordecai’s grandson, David Nahoum who passed away in 2013. It is currently run by his younger brother Isaac.

Its famous clientele include actress Suchitra Sen, former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and his wife Dona, filmmaker and actor Anjan Dutt and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher.

“Where do we find the culture in food nowadays what with the similar-looking cafes and patisseries? We have been coming here for generations and will continue to do so,” quipped a 23-year-old film studies’ student and her octogenarian grandfather in unison.

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