They never served beef or pork. They don’t even do it now. But that never deterred Muslims or Christians from flocking to these places for fish curry. What they don’t serve are kebabs, parathas, or candy, probably because they weren’t part of the daily meal of an average Bengali.
In 2021, in a typical Pice Hotel, the cost of a single meal for an individual ranges from Rs.50 for the basic menu to Rs.270 for the extended menu. For Rs 270, one can have fish curry, goat curry, crisps, chutney, papadams and sweet curd in addition to the basic menu consisting of rice, dal and vegetables. A lemon wedge and onions are provided free of charge or at nominal cost.
The “Balti Restaurants” in the UK, especially London, are the refined version of these Pice hotels. It is also said that Kolkata has a hundred or more hotels of this type. While they’re often housed in shabby, run-down, and crumbling buildings (the economy doesn’t allow for rent, air-conditioning, or chicer interiors), they’re reasonably clean and hygienic. They were often frequented during the struggle for freedom by revolutionaries who gathered to exchange stealth information and recruit young people.
Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, the well-known author of Pather Panchali (directed in a film of the same name by Satyajit Ray) wrote a novel in 1940 and the title was Adarsha Hindou Hotel, which also became extremely popular and was also made into a popular film in 1957.
Shiv Sena had promised Maharashtra to revive the Zunka-Bakhar food chain offering a full meal for Rs 10 on the lines of Amma Canteens Where Amma Unavagamin Tamil Nadu. Hotels in Picé however, are not part of any survey promise or government plan.
They have stood the test of time for almost a century. Healthy and tasty Bengali cuisine, freshly made from the catch of the day at super low prices, is their USP. Who can oppose it?