Congress Bhavan is hosting a Bengali Food Festival along with other Durga Puja celebrations. My mum told me
about it this weekend and I thought it was worth checking off.
Off I went, Sunday evening.
I had a tough time finding a place to park. Inside, it *was* a mela. Food stalls, stalls selling clothes, fabric and souvenirs from West Bengal. And a ton of people.
At one end of the ground, was the durga idol, people thronged around it and offering their prayers. To the left of the idol, a stage was set up where a few people were preforming (to) Indian classical music.
I offered my three seconds of prayer. But I’ve got to admit, I was there for the food. For the food only.
I ate food from the Anandamela on Sunday and last night as well.
Sunday was Mutton Kosha, Prawn curry and Pulav.
I really wanted to have the Rui thali or the Ilish thali on Sunday night. Thalis are typically pulav (steamed rice, lightly flavoured with green chillies, cashews, raisins and dry spices), machher jhol (or fish curry) and fried fish. But they had run out of both at about 8:30 pm. That’s how many people there were!
Now comes a whole lot on different types of fish used in Bengali food. Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.
Rui (often called Rohu) and ilish (also called Hilsa) are river water fish used in Bengali cuisine. Curry made with the head of the Rui fish is a supposed delicacy in West Bengal. Ilish is said be cooked in 108 distinct ways: 108 is important because of the significance to Hinduism. I could write a whole post on the number, but I wanted this to be a food blog. So I’ll spare you the torture.
Betki is the Asian variant of the sea bass.
River fish are used over ocean/sea fish in Bengal because of the swamps and numerous tributaries/ponds formed from the Ganga. As far as I know, Betki is a salt-water fish, though not an ocean fish. I’m guessing the salt water is from the backwaters and marshes.
As far as my home is concerned, we’re not particularly fond of river fish because they tend to have more bones. And that can be a pain to eat. While my parents can be a little stuck up, I’m ok with more than the usual bones in my fish. All for Bengali food! 🙂
Bengali cooking also makes use of a lot of mustard oil and mustard seeds, which adds a pungent flavour to the recipe.
The two most basic forms of curry in Bengali cuisine are
tomato based gravy, cooked with ginger and mustard oil As shazmeister pointed out in the comment below, jhol is not tomato based. It’s onions, ginger-garlic paste, cumin-chilli-turmeric powders all coming together in mustard oil.
(b) shorshe: a paste made with mustard seeds and green chillies, and then steamed with fish
The stall that I bought my food at was out of, both, rui and ilish and I had to make to with the Prawn thali. I wasn’t disappointed at all. One ginormous prawn, head and all, dunked in delicious, tangy curry.
I also ordered some Mutton Kosha, to go with, because I wasn’t sure if just a single portion of prawn curry would suffice.
Kosha usually implies a style of cooking where in meat of shellfish is marinated in ground spices (fresh garam masala) and fried in mustard oil and a paste of ginger, garlic and onions. The resulting dish is a rather thick gravy and is typically fairly spicy. A lot of people add a hint of sugar to the recipe for that extra yumminess. But in what I had Sunday night, the sugar was most definitely absent. The spice levels made my nose run and there was something about the experience that I absolutely enjoyed.
Last night, I ordered Mutton porota and Betki fry.
Porota, in Bengali, is what we’d call Paratha otherwise. A stuffed paratha. From what I could see, it is made of maida. The maida is rolled out into large cirles, stuffed with a mixture of meat and eggs, folded over into a square, with the mixture sealed tight, and fried until golden brown. It’s not deep fried, but it sure *is* allowed to swim in oil. The pictures below should give you an idea.
The mutton porota was served with Aloo Dom, a thick orange gravy where in the potatoes are slow cooked. The stew like consistency of the dom complements the bread and makes for a meal in itself.
There was also fried betki, which is the yummiest possible variation of fish and chips ANYWHERE in the world. 🙂
A bunch of other food items I saw at the festival but never got around to eating were:
(a) chops, which are essentially croquettes, stuffed with minced vegetables and/or meat, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.
(b) luchi, which is just another word for pooris. (Edit: My man, Shazzman, says luchis are not poori-like. As far as I know, they are. I’m willing to make another correction if the need arises. 🙂 )
(c) kathi rolls (I wonder what those were doing there!)
(d) Fried chicken
I guess those last two come from some influence from the far east.
The one thing I *did* miss seeing was paturi. I had tried making some in the summer or 2009 and had failed pretty miserably. Paturi is fish marinated in a paste of ground mustard seeds and spices, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. I’ve eaten it once before at Oh Calcutta!
Oh, that reminds me, a visit to Oh Calcutta! should be made soon. Also, in case you’re in Pune and want to have good Bengali food all year round, instead of just waiting for Durga Puja, you can eat at Radhika Restaurant near the Chaturshringi Temple on Senapati Bapat Road. They serve really authentic Bengali food at extremely reasonable prices.
And to end this post, I paid quite a lot for the food I ate. A total of Rs 400/- over both days. I has expected it to be about Rs 250/-. I guess people hiked the food prices up because it was a Sunday. Or well, just the festive season. May be I should marry a Bong boy. That way I get to cook and eat great food and smoke up every once in a while. *insert idiotic grin*