The first thing Bengalis ask themselves after Poila Boishakh or Bengali New Year is “what did you eat last night”
Well I ate too much. Came home after dinner and sat up for a while. Had only OJ and black coffee for breakfast today. And curd rice for lunch. Was finally able to breathe in the evening.
We went to the Oh Calcutta buffet last night. I am not very fond of buffets but this one won me over with its variety and the freshness of the food. The dishes kept marching in from the kitchen. as we demolished them one by one. It was a long journey through the rich gastronomique culture of Bengal. In the middle of central Mumbai.
We started of with the snacky stuff – the chops. The fish chops were ethereal. The mutton chops solid. They had chicken steamed in banana leaves and chhana or cottage cheese too. The latter seasoned in some wicked aamchoor (Pickled mango masala).
Then there was the ubiquitous rice. Steamed rice to have the veggies with. And a light pulao for the special stuff. Folks in many traditional Bengali households eat rice before they leave for work. Rice is what defines us. The colloquial term for a typical Bengali is ‘Bheto (rice eating) Bangali”. You would be well advised not to use this term on a friend. It’s slightly pejorative and condescending.
I particularly loved the mochar ghonto here. A banana flower dish perfected by grannies. The alu posto (potato in poppy seeds) were exquisite too. In fact the vegetarian dishes were good enough to get approval of the devotees of flesh at our table.
Then there was luchi, alur dom and kosha mangsho – the three deadly sins – the hallmark of decadent Sunday breakfasts and gala wedding banquets.
Meat normally is had at the end of Bengali meals. Chicken followed by mutton. The Kosha mangsho here won over a buffet cynic like me. The kacha lonka chicken pieces were too big though for the discerning Bengali.
The dal wasn’t too appealing but the alur dom more than made up. Again the same standards as their regular a la carte fare. Went very well with the luchis which they kept replenishing.
There was rui in shorshe or mustard curry. The chingri malai curry was the tour de force. There was an elderly Parsi couple with their elderly son. They did give us all a run for the prawn stakes.
I had some tomato and aamshokto chutney with papad as a taste breaker before the sweets. I am a big fan of Bengali chutneys or chaatnees as we pronounce them. They had made it very well here. Brought back memories of chutneys that I would eat after Durga Puja feasts in our building in Calcutta.
The dessert or mishti corner was the cynosure of every Bengali at the restaurant. The kheer kodoms and roshogollas were really good. The dark fried sweets like malpua and chhanar goja could have done with a longer sugar syrup soak though. Then there was payesh or Bengali rice pudding. Again meticulously made by grannies on special days.
Any Bengali gathering is incomplete without ‘adda’ which means random discussions about any topic under the sun. We take this quite seriously. In fact there were two gentleman smoking outside debating the threats posed by Pakistan to India versus those posed by China.
We were too busy eating to talk at our table though. But tales from old issues of Femina, the film mag, did liven things up.
Soumik and I really batted through the innings like Gavaskar and Viswanath of yore. We arrived before the others and ate to keep our table busy. Funnily I don’t remember having a pot belly being before dinner. As Obelix says, the chest must have slipped.
I did remember to hold in my breath before the next photograph.
It was a festive evening. A single minded focus on food for most. Memorable food. The sort of food whose stories one can dine on for many winters. Mothers chasing children, begging them to eat. Middle aged couples eating in grim silence as the wife got food for the husband from the buffet. Peals of laughter. Bawdy jokes. Good natured swearing. Saris and ‘Panjabis’ (Bengali Kurtas) on show. Friends old and new. Gathered together. Shared memories. The usual diaspora stuff.
I must thank the folks at Oh Calcutta for yet another lovely Bengali New Years Evening. Specially Bhavana from the Speciality Restaurant Group and Sajal Chakraborty of Oh Calcutta who ensured that our group of Finely Choppers had a table specially reserved for us.