Our recent trip to Calcutta was one for which we didn’t do anything but the most basic of research. We wanted to take things as they come, to let experiences come to us rather than our going to them. Thanks to this, I hadn’t known about Nahoum’s before one of my acquaintances told us about the place just a couple of days before we were to leave on our trip. ‘If you are going to visit Calcutta, you must visit Nahoum’s,’ she said, and proceeded to give us the names of the stuff that we absolutely must try out there.
The minute the said acquaintance described Nahoum’s to me, I knew I had to go there – I simply had to go. How could I not want to visit one of Calcutta’s oldest bakeries, over a 100 years old? One set up by a Baghdadi Jew in 1902, which still holds a place in the hearts of the foodies of Calcutta? One that is described as a place with a charming, charming, old-world vibe to it?
So, checking out this bakery was high on our priority list, and we went on to do the task one humid afternoon when we had not much else to do.
The place, in itself, didn’t disappoint. Located bang in the middle of the bustling New Market in Calcutta, Nahoum’s (Nahoum & Sons, Dainty Confectionery, actually) is a large-ish bakery-cum-shop that oozes charm. With a high ceiling, glass cases all around showcasing baked goodies, an old-fashioned till and a well-worn floor, the place surely took us back in time.
When we visited, though, most of the glass cases were empty. There was no tell-tale sign of baking wafting out of the bakery, and not many goodies left to sell. There were freshly baked plum cakes, however, sitting pretty on one of the counters (different from the freshly baked fruit cakes sitting on another counter), and some biscuits and other savouries.
We decided to sample things based on our inner compass, our friend’s recommendations, and by those of one of the shop’s assistants.
First off, we had a vegetable pattice.
The shell of the vegetable pattice wasn’t flaky, like those of the vegetable puffs we are so used to in Bangalore. The stuffing wasn’t as tasty, either. Overall, the vegetable pattice disappointed.
We moved on to the next item on our hit-list – Nahoum’s famous rum ball.
Now, the rum ball was absolutely delicious. The outer shell was made of hardened chocolate, and inside was a lovely chocolate cake that smelled of rum, but not overpoweringly so. For us, the rum ball turned out to be the star of all that we sampled at Nahoum’s.
The rest of the goodies we chose, we asked for them to be packed so we could get them back home to Bangalore with us.
I absolutely had to dig into these goodies the minute we were settled in, back home.
Sadly, the orange biscuits turned out highly disappointed – they felt under-baked and there was only a very mild hint of orange, unlike the strong orange fragrance that I had expected them to have.
The brownie was dry – very different from the moist, gooey chocolate brownies that I have become accustomed to having in Bangalore – but tasty. It smelt of chocolate and walnuts and I liked it, in spite of it being quite dry for my taste. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.
The plum cake – one of Nahoum’s signature products – was strictly average, I am sorry to say. The cake was thick and dense, not airy like the gorgeous, gorgeous plum cakes that I have eaten in Bangalore. The candied fruit and nuts were all settled at the bottom of the cake, and the top part was only batter, as if the cake hadn’t been mixed properly. The plum cake didn’t entirely disappoint in taste, but it wasn’t eye-poppingly great either, as I had somehow expected it to be.
The macaroons were good. They were crunchy on the top, slightly soft on the inside, without an overpowering aroma of egg, the way I have experienced with this kind of macaroons elsewhere. I didn’t fall in love with them, but they were good.
The vanilla fudge, again, was very disappointing. They felt like cakes of flour and sugar and butter, with only a tinge of vanilla in it.
The behaviour of the staff was just about average; I am sorry to say this, but there was a lot of room for improvement on that count. Prices are slightly on the higher side as compared to an average bakery – all of the goodies that we got (including the vegetable pattice and the rum ball) cost us INR 500.
Overall, our experience with Nahoum’s was good in some ways, not great in some other ways. It has, definitely, whetted my appetite for their confectioneries, though. I can’t wait to go back to the shop when the shelves are full and to try my luck at getting some of their Jewish delicacies, which they do stock at times. I have a feeling I am going to love some of the confectioneries from this place, some of which I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on yet.
A little bit of the history of Nahoum’s, for the uninitiated
Nahoum’s was set up in the very same place in New Market, Calcutta, in 1902 by Nahoum Israel, a Jew who came to the city from Baghdad. Subsequent generations from the family took over the running of the shop after Israel and, I believe, the business is still within the family. Apparently, the shop hasn’t changed much since it was originally established – it has the same furniture and display cases.
Nahoum’s doesn’t have an online presence. The fact that the bakery still survives is, largely, attributed to the efforts of the subsequent owners, after Israel, and to the great taste of some of their products.
The bakery is hugely famous for its plum cake for which, I hear, the residents of Calcutta form long-winding queues at the time of Christmas. If you happen to visit the bakery just before a Jewish festival, you might also be lucky enough to find baklava, date babas, and a whole lot of other exotic bakes. Their samosas and bread are supposed to be really good, too, but sadly, we couldn’t sample either – there were no samosas to be had, and the bread would have expired by the time we got back to Bangalore.
The Jewish population in Calcutta is fast dwindling, and was reported to be as low as just 20 in 2015 by this source. With the dwindling in numbers of this community, the availability Jewish baked goodies in Calcutta is also fast going down. Nahoum’s is believed to be the only surviving Jewish bakery in the city.
Have you ever been to Nahoum’s? What was your experience there like?
Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!