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In praise of Bengali food

Amit and Amiti, two of my journalist friends, invited us over for dinner at their home this weekend. And what a splendid meal they provided. I know, if you are cooking yourself, the trick is to keep things really simple so that you can enjoy the evening yourself. But given the kind of upbringing I have had, I fail to appreciate—or even understand—less-than-groaning tables. Even casual evenings at home with friends leave me stressed out, planning starters and interesting (if not elaborate) mains, most of which I like to cook myself even after work.

Amit and Amiti, in that sense, are people just after my heart. The feast that they provided included: The most amazing kosha mangsho (I hope I’ve spelt it right) or what we in north India call bhuna meat — that is a “dried” mutton preparation with just enough sauce to coat succulent pieces of mutton, painstakingly prepared after several hours of cooking and bhunoing on an open wok. Then, there was fish, subtle with turmeric and mustard, to balance the spicy meat. There was dhokar, another elaborate preparation, where chana dal or lentils are ground to a paste, made into flat patties and steamed before being curried, there was patol in khus khus, made from poppy seeds, one of the mainstays of Bengali cooking, there was a delicious chana dal and fluffy puris and steamed plain rice to round off the feast.

Sadly enough, if I want to eat real, home-cooked Bengali food outside Bengal, there are few restaurants that I can go to. One restaurant chain that comes to mind almost immediately as serving up Calcutta (versus Bengali; Calcutta cuisine is more cosmopolitan incorporating influences of the Raj and of the Muslim rule that preceded it instead of essentially Hindu food) is Oh! Calcutta run by Speciality Restaurants, one of India’s largest food retail companies. There are outlets in Mumbai and New Delhi and elsewhere apart from Kolkata and the food served is pretty decent though perhaps not like authentic home cooked meals you’d get if you have friends like mine.

In Bangalore, a small Kolkata food restaurant has opened up in Koramangala. The restaurant captures the spirit of Colonial Calcutta, merging Bengali and Continental food. The name itself is a pointer to this After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the British decided to build Fort William and the native population shifted from Gobindapur to Sutanuti for this purpose. The European inhabitants of Kalikata gradually moved to Esplanade and Chowringhee, which emerged as the ‘White Town’. Esplanade thus became the heart of post-British Calcutta with great restaurants, the Colossus-like Grand Hotel, the famous trinity of New Empire/Lighthouse/Metro movie theatres.

The Continental dishes at this restaurant are reminiscent of those nostalgic offerings served at Peliti’s and Firpo’s. Chevalier Federico Peliti, appointed by Queen Victoria, was a purveyor of cakes and chocolates. Angelo Firpo’s restaurant at Chowringhee was an epicure’s paradise. The Esplanade looks to relive the glorious tradition of the Peliti’s and Firpo’s.

They also serve appetizers like Galda Chingri Kabiraji – jumbo prawn cutlets with an egg drop batter, or the delicious Fish Roll – an age-old delicacy of fish pauppietes stuffed with shrimps and fried. Favourites from the desi sahib’s anglicised restaurant menu are Jumbo Prawn Thermidor, Smoked Hilsa, Chicken Cordon Bleu and Roast Leg of Lamb.

For true Bengali food, start your meal with Shukto- a mixed vegetable preparation flavoured delicately with randhuni, and Bhaja Moong Dal- moong dal cooked with green peas and tempered with ghee. Aloo Karaishutir Nimano is baby potatoes in a piquant green peas paste and there is also a Mocha Dhokar Dalna- dumplings made with banana flower florets, similar to the ones that I had at my friend’s place.

One of the best fish preparations to enjoy if you are having Bengali food is the paturi— steamed filet in banana leaf. And then there is East Bengal’s pride, Hilsa in a mustard sauce—Sorshe Elish.

The Esplanade: KHB Colony, 5th Block, Koramangala, Bangalore-560095.

Meanwhile, I will be trying some Bengali recipes this weekend. Try these, they are simple enough to make and really flavourful.

Steamed potatoes

1. 200 g baby potatoes
2. 1 ½ tsp of Panch Phoran spice (a mix of fennel seeds, onion seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cumin seeds)
3. 2 tbsp Mustard oil
4. 1 cup Hung yoghurt
5. Salt and pepper to taste
6. 2 tbsp dessicated coconut
7. 2 tbsp mustard paste or Kashaundi (which is the Bengali mustard paste)

8. 1 banana leaf, clean

Heat mustard oil in a wok. When the oil is really hot, add the panch phoran. When the spices start to splutter, keep aside.

Parboil the potatoes after peeling them. Add to the spices above. Now, marinate the spiced potatoes in a creamy mix of yoghurt, mustard and coconut. Set aside for 10 minutes. Add lime juice and salt just before steaming.

Steam wrapped in banana leaf for 10-15 minutes.

Serve hot as an appetizer on toothpicks!

Mustard Fish

I got this recipe from the following blog http://lickyourfingers.blogspot.com/2008/01/hilsa-fish-in-mustard-sauce-shorshe.html

Ingredients:

1. 1/2 kg Hilsa or other fish cut to medium peices

2. 1 tbsp mustard soaked in a bowl of water for 10 minutes

3. 3-4 green chillies

4. 1/4 teaspoon kala jeera /Black Cumin seeds

5. Tomatoes – 1-2 – chopped

5. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

6. Salt to taste

7. Coriander leaves for garnishing

Method: Smear a little bit of salt and turmeric to the cut fish and set aside for five minutes. Shallow fry for just about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Add two green chillies to the soaked mustard and make a paste out of it in the grinder. Once done, strain it with a little bit of extra water.

In a heated pan pour 2 teaspoons of oil, add the black cumin seeds, slit green chillies and let it crackle. Add the chopped tomatoes and wait till it softens and gets mashed completely. Add the fried fish to this and stir for a few seconds. To this, add the strained mustard paste. Add a pinch of turmeric and salt to taste. Cover the pan and let it simmer for 5-6 minutes. Add the coriander leaves and serve it hot with steamed rice.

Tip: just before taking the pan off the fire add half a teaspoon of mustard oil to the curry.

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2 Responses to “In praise of Bengali food”

  1. sayan dasgupta says:

    “The feast that they provided included: The most amazing kosha machch (I hope I’ve spelt it right) or what we in north India call bhuna meat — that is a “dried” mutton preparation”

    Its not kosha machch but kosha mangsho .
    machch stands for fish
    mangsho for meat

  2. Thanks for letting us know. We have corrected it.

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