Growing up as a kid in a middle class Bengali family in the 90’s, eating out was a rarity, probably very dissimilar to what it is now. Neither were there so many places to go and eat out, nor was there the custom to just go out and eat with friends and families at even the slightest chance.One of the places that I remember very fondly from my childhood is Saima. It may not be the restaurant offering the best ambiance ( in fact, far from it), but it definitely is a place where the city happily gets down to their Roti’s, biryanis and tikkas at more than reasonable prices. You can catch young broke boys giving their sweethearts a treat from saved pocket money, clerks and office-goers savoring a bit of Mughlai to wash down the dreary day and families outside the city being given a treat by their proud father.
I remember when I was in school, my mom (who is a doctor by profession) used to be posted in Sambhunath Pandit Hospital near Elgin road. She used to return back home on most days well past lunch hours. But sometimes she used to get even more late, attending some clinical meetings. And on those days she used to bring home some food packets and the foodie in me used to wait eagerly for them. The most common (and of course my most favourite) food packet was Mutton Biriyani and Chicken Chap from Saima which was the lunch provided in the clinical meets. Sacrificing as always, Ma used to have a rather simple lunch herself (or even skip them) and bring back those packets of Biriyani for me! No matter when Ma returned, if it was just after I finished my ghar ka lunch or even in the early evening, it was always biriyani time for me. I used to savour the biriyani and the chap. The long grained rice and the oily yet tasty chap was (and still is) one of my favourites.
Although since childhood, I was an ardent admirer of Saima, it was not until my college days when I finally visited Saima personally. No sooner did I join college and started eating out more and more with friends (and the occasional date) and discovering new places (read new and affordable places) , Saima was one of the first places I tried.
I still remember the first time I actually went to Saima. I was surprised at how small and crowded the shop hidden behind the Rabindra Sadan metro outlet at Exide actually was. The ground floor was so crowded that we went upstairs and the low ceiling surprised me even more. But when the food finally arrived we fell on it like Virat Kohli on a half volley (IPL season just ended you see!).
I remember skipping lunch at my college canteen to have a meal at Saima while returning home. Whenever I had a bad day at college for whatever reason, a solo meal here used to be a must. And instantly I used to feel much better. A happy stomach does indeed make for a happy soul!
The meals were mostly dependent on the pocket money I could spare. I remember having roomali roti and mutton tikiya which would entail a full meal within Rs 40. Sometimes when I had a little more money, I used to add the mutton liver to the mix and still it would cost less than Rs 100. It was truly blissful. And on days when I had the luxury of splurging, biriyani, chap, firni, shahi tukra etc all used to be tried and the result used to be equally satisfying.
I can proclaim that I have probably tasted everything on the menu at Saima. Today having tasted similar genre of food at many other places I would be the first to admit that quality wise there is a lot of catching up to do. But when it comes to value for money Saima for me still ranks right up there. It gives me great pleasure to see so many Saima outlets opening up in different parts of the city.
Today I must admit, I am no longer a regular at Saima, but the memories will be cherished forever.
p.s. My girlfriend often says I am not romantic enough, I cant wait to show her this write up. My kind of romanticism!