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Tangra, Kolkata

Tangra is a region in east Kolkata that traditionally housed a large number of tanneries owned by people of Hakka Chinese origin. "47 South Tangra Road", may be the most confusing postal address, as it used to cover the whole of Chinatown Tangra with over 350 tanneries. Most of the standing structures have been built, over many years, by the industrious Hakka Chinese, upon marshy and reclaimed low lying land. Over the past several decades, it has served as the location of Calcutta's Chinatown. This is not a coincidence; the Hakka Chinese of Calcutta have gradually turned this part of the Kolkata into an important destination for sourcing finished and semi-finished leather. The Hakka Chinese specialized in the manufacture of leather and turned it into one of the major industries of West Bengal, providing employment to tens of thousands of local inhabitants. In addition to the huge volume of exports to the developing and developed countries, finished leather is supplied to the major shoe and leather goods manufacturers all over the country. Many made-to-order shoe shops in Kolkata are also run by entrepreneurs from this community.

Food from Tangra is a distinct variety of traditional Hakka Chinese cuisine adapted to Indian ingredients and the Bengali palate. This has spread to the rest of India, along with the recipes earlier unique to Tangra. Tangra is now the most popular destination for Chinese food. Chinese food sold in Tangra restaurants are now known all over the world as 'Hakka Style" Chinese food.

Kolkata Chinatown is changing rapidly. The population is no longer renewed by waves of migration and many traditional professions such as dentistry, laundry and tannery are no longer the preserve of the Chinese. The West Bengal government, under direction from the Supreme Court, recently moved all tanneries to Bantala, a suburb in the east of Kolkata. However, Tangra has been an integral part of the culture of the Chinese community in India.

The success of "Hakka style" Chinese food in the rest of India encouraged a migration of many Chinese families to other cities as the economic fortunes of Tangra decayed. Many landmark Chinese eateries, including Nanking, Waldorf, Peiping and Fat Mama have closed or changed hands and fortunes. The once prosperous Calcutta Chinese community is now clearly in decline. However, a boom in Tangra's unique Indian-Chinese food is attracting a lot of attention these days and the cuisine will probably live on in Kolkata and in the global Indian Diaspora.

See also

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