Bohemian… bəʊˈhiːmɪən/a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts… a nonconformist, unconventional person, beatnik, hippy, avant-gardist, free spirit, dropout, artistic person;
I have just returned from a short Christmas break in Prague. Apart from being the Czech capital, Prague also happens to be the capital of the region – Bohemia. This was a sojourn which was Bohemian in spirit. A bit of self-introspection – without my husband or the Z-Sisters, along with a bunch of 6 other girlfriends. We came back giggling like school girls. Till I had boarded the plane and it was off the UAE soil, everybody had doubts whether I’ll be actually going. The once self-proclaimed Bohemian Me had now become too domesticated with age and mellowed down by the Z-Sisters!
My Bohemian sojourn had already begun on the blogging front though, with our visit to the Bo House Cafe on the JBR Walk. The restaurant claims to be the house for Mohemians – the Modern Bohemians. However, deep down in my heart I knew that after my Prague visit, the first post of 2013 would have to be on a restaurant in Kolkata, which I had visited long back in August 2012, but had been waiting all this while to write a post. Absolutely Bohemian in the creation of it’s menu, the small restaurant reflects the true spirit of being free-spirited. Thus, worthy of being the first post in the New Year. A year, I’m hoping, would be free of all turmoil and procrastinated thoughts!
I first heard about this restaurant, aptly named Bohemian, from my friend Yummraj. The menu seemed quite intriguing – Gondhoraj Lebu Sorbet & Gondhoraj soufflé, Vegetable Monihari with tender Coconut & Gondhoraj Lebu, Prawn Gondhoraj, Bhetki Gondhoraj… my mind was quite blurred. After-all, I have been playing the chasing game with Gondhoraj Lebu for a long time now. This specific Lime that originates in the Bengal shores is chalked out in my olfactory cells and tastebuds for ever. A bit from my very Bengali post, Traditional Bengali Cuisine… In ‘Slight’ Details… Squeezing a bit of Gondhoraj Lebu or the Bengal Lime in Dal/Lentils, specially Mushurir Dal/Masoor Dal or Bhaja Moonger Dal/Fried Moong Dal is very unique to Bengali Lunches. These limes have their own aroma and something that I haven’t been able to find beyond the shores of Bengal. Although we have tried finding substitutes for many things as we lead our Bengali lives in non-Bengali shores. The closest I’ve come to the aroma of Gondhoraj Lebu is the Thai Kaffir Lime! Kancha Lanka/Green Chillis, Gondhoraj Lebu/Bengali Lime and a pinch of Salt in the corner of the plate is a trademark of traditional Bengali meal.
The place where the restaurant (above left) stands now – the 32/4 Old Ballygunge 1st lane, is where I have practically grown up and spent almost my entire life before marriage. We have been living in Iron Side Road just off the Ghughudanga Bazar area – the local street market around the corner. There used to be a STD booth here from where I have made numerous phone-calls to S during my unofficial dating period while he was posted in Srilanka. Never ever realised at that time that there would be a building here, erupting tall from a very narrow plot and it would soon become such a sought-after place in Kolkata. And there will be people lining up and wait outside ogling at diners inside, directing all their energies to make sure that they gulp their meals fast, making space for those waiting outside!
Okay, I do admit that I did a lot of research before going to eat at Bohemian. Nothing intentional. In a way, I was forced to. We generally spend the months of July and August in Kolkata – a period that I refer to as my summer hibernation, while Dubai boils and all the schools shut down. I shift my work base from my spacious study table of my Dubai home to the dining tables of our Kolkata homes, squeezing my laptop between steel utensils holding the Maacher Jhol/Fish Gravy or the Daal or the Aloo Posto/Potato with Poppy Seeds. A distracting work ambiance for sure but highly energising for sure. This summer, from the time I had landed in Kolkata, I practically saw a smiling face of a man called Chef Joy in some magazine or the other and every other person chanting about this restaurant called Bohemian.
I got in touch with Chef Joy and reached Bohemian one fine evening, much before the crowd started flooding in. My recorder conked off that very day and I resorted to typing in as much as I could on my Macbook! Somebody told me later that I could video the entire chit-chat. Oh, thank you very much! Chef Joy had his own visions and ideas and his passion for doing something different definitely shone through. When I had left Kolkata in 1999, there were not many restaurants serving Bengali food. The only places that come to my mind are Aaheli in Peerless Inn Kolkata and Suruchi – two diametrically different restaurants offering Bengali food. The former was a decent place to visit while the latter restaurant had become quite jaded with time. Suruchi had once been really famous – it was formed by the All Bengal Women Union Home and was run by women only. Apart from it’s fame in home-cooked Bengali delicacies, this place has had its moments of glory with famous diners like Satyajit Ray and others.
I don’t exactly remember whether Sonargaon in Taj Bengal had started operating at that time. But in those days, 5-stars were not some places where we could visit with our dwindling, almost-never-ever-replenished pocket money or the little earnings that we had in our beginning of our careers!
When Baba’s friends came from abroad, it would be Ma showcasing her skills, initiating them into the nuances of Bengali Cuisine. Kolkata has always boasted of great restaurants (for instance, the fabulous Chinese restaurants flocking Park Street) and has had a rich food culture – be it street food or fine-dining but there were hardly any place where one could go to have a traditional Bengali meal. Probably, it wasn’t required with most homes cooking traditional fare on a daily or pretty much regular basis. If going out was going to be a treat then why go to a restaurant serving Bengali food? Wasn’t that available at home anyway? The last decade has seen a major shift in this view – so many good restaurants have opened up in Kolkata which specialises only in Bengali Cuisine. The new generation is also looking forward to trying these out along with their burgers and the Pizzas. Probably it has also got to do with the fact that the modern Bengali kitchens too have resorted to other cuisines, home deliveries and microwave meals.
Amidst all the Bengali restaurants that have flooded Kolkata, how is Bohemian different? Chef Joy (who previously had been the Head Chef of Oh! Calcutta, another famous chain of restaurants) sweetly sat through the entire rendezvous and explained in his own words…
“Smoking, pan grilled – these are not traditionally Bengali cooking techniques. Nor are the desserts traditionally Bengali – the Mousse or the Soufflé. But the spices used are all Bengali Moshla/Spices. The fresh produce is locally sourced and very indigenous. Even a few years back, there were not many restaurants serving Bengali food. Bengalis, in general, didn’t have the inclination to eat Bengali food when they went out to eat. Not many believed that a Bengali restaurant could be made commercially viable. Here, the contribution of Oh! Calcutta has been huge.
Bengali Food doesn’t only mean Maach-Bhaat/Fish & Rice. There has been many foreign influences – for example, 150 years of British rule or the Portuguese influence, even the Armenian influence… The Vindaloo is different in Kolkata. Bangali khabar manei Shorshe-bata Maach aar Paturir Noy. Bangali khabar shudhu Bangalider modhy sheemabodhyo kora uchit noy. Amar iche Bangali Khabar onyoder kaacheo pouche dite/ Bengali food shouldn’t only mean Mustard Fish or Fish popularly wrapped in Banana leaves. Neither should Bengali Cuisine be restricted to the Bengali people, I want others to experience Bengali food as well. Art is only appropriate or successful when it is appreciated. It is a small restaurant at this moment. But there are big dreams. Flavours are not alien to Bengalis but the treatment is. Hence I would call this Contemporary Bengali Cuisine.
We start off on this alien treatment with our drinks and starters. Here, I would like to mention that we had visited the restaurant twice and I’m clubbing the food that we tasted from both the visits.
Drinks: The different drinks that we had ordered were Gondhoraj Julep (Gondhoraj Lime, Coriander leaves & lemonade), Mint Julep (Lime, Mint leaves & Lemonade), Bluuu (Blue Curacao & lemonade), Sunny Citrus Cooler (Pineapple, Ginger Ale, Orange juice & Lemonade), Magic Potion (Pineapple, Mango, strawberry & Ginger Ale) and Sex on the Beach (Peach Nectar & Cranberry juice) – Oops!
The Verdict – The Gondhoraj Julep (above pictures) was definitely the show stealer. As I have mentioned before, Gondhoraj Lime has a fragrance that’s absolutely unparalleled and combining it with coriander leaves rendered it absolutely refreshing. Second in heed would be the Mint Julep (below). I’m always apprehensive about Mint and find it’s flavour too strong for my liking. Since the leaves were probably not crushed and floated in the Lemonade as uncut sprigs, I think the aroma seeped in without the intense taste of the mint – an idea that I’ve used as well in my video of how to make Aam Pana/Smoked Green Mango Drink for My Dubai My City!
Panch Phoron laden food: What makes the Bohemian menu intriguing is the amalgamation of flavours. And the use of distinctly Bengali flavours and spices in it’s non-traditional cooking. There’s an element of surprise in each and every dish that is served. Maybe not so surprising for someone who’s not aware of Bengali food. But for a Bengali, to find his/her favourite dish with an international twist or an international dish laden with unique Bengali spices like Panch-phoron/5 Spice Mix is definitely a novelty. Panch Phoron features strongly in most of the Bohemian dishes and very rightly so – since this is probably one spice that can uniquely differentiate Bengali Spices from other Indian Spices.
[Panch Phoron is a very unique Bengali spice blend and consists of five spices in equal measure. The 5 spices that make up Panch Phoran are – Methi/Fenugreek; Kalonji /Nigella seed/Black Cumin; Radhuni – Radhuni is similar in appearance to those of Ajwain, Celery and Caraway. Because of their similarity in both appearance and flavor, it is often confused or substituted with Celery seed. Radhuni is often used in traditional Bengali cuisine but are rarely used in the rest of India. In absence of Radhuni, many substitute this with Rai or Shorshe/Mustard seed – the black or brown flavored one; Saunf or Mouri/Fennel seed and Jira/Cumin seed. The above 5-Spice Blend is courtesy Bong Mom’s Cookbook.]
Starters: We had ordered Panch Phoron flavoured Chicken Escallops (picture much above along with my Macbook), Vodka soaked Prawns with Grilled Garlic Aioli (gobbled up much before they could be photographed!), Joyous Mutton Chops (above left in the 1st row) and Chilli Pickle n Cheese baked Crab with Kolmi Greens (above and also above right in the 1st row).
The Verdict – Each dish had it’s own flavour and story, minutely detailed in it’s flavouring. For example, the Chicken Escallops had been marinated with Panch Phoron, ginger paste, chilli paste, lime juice and grilled. Occasionally basting it with well, what else? With Panch Phoron oil. But the winner would be the Chilli Pickle n Cheese baked Crab with Kolmi Greens. Hands down. No questions asked. This was a mix of Crab meat & Kolmi Shaak (also known as Water Spinach and is very commonly used in Bengal – as a preparation with other vegetables like Potatoes or simply stir fried). Interestingly combined with a spicy Chilli Pickle and baked with creamy Cheese on top!
Palette Cleansers: Definitely worth-trying. We had ordered Green Mango & Honey Sorbet (above left in the 1st row), Orange & Aam Adaa Sorbet (above right in the 1st row) and Gondhoraj Sorbet (above left in the 2nd row).
The Verdict – We absolutely loved all the Sorbets that we had ordered. But the Orange & Aam Adaa Sorbet had a very distinct pungent taste of Aam Aada – definitely a Palette cleanser! What is Aam Ada? Dried Ginger sprinkled with Aamchur/Mango Powder? And ofcourse the Gondhoraj Sorbet wins hands down. Such distinct flavour of the unique Bengal Lime!
Main Course: We had ordered some ‘tweaked traditional fare’ according to the Menu… Daab aar Gondhoraj Diye Shabji-r Monihari/Vegetable with Coconut & Gondhoraj Lime, Phoolkopir Malai Curry/Cauliflower Malai Curry. Interestingly, there are many vegetarian options in the Menu which sounds absolutely drool-worthy and exotic.
Between the two days we had tasted the following…
In Fish: Pabda Rolls stewed in Cherry Tomato & Spinach Broth (above), Panch Phoron flavoured Parshe with smoked Green Chilli Sauce, Grilled Bhetki with Bengal Berry Sauce, Bacon baked Tilapia with Ginger & Fennel and Prawns with Muddled Grapes & Chillis. In Meat: Spicy Pork Curry (Anglo-Indian spices), Royal Bengal Roast Mutton with Bhuna Sauce, Mutton Vindalaoo (Calcutta style), Ham Steak – Chef Joy’s style. And also a Pasta… Penne with Alfredo Sauce!
The Verdict – Some culinary experiments work. Some don’t. And the verdict does depend upon individual taste preferences. I feel in Bohemian a lot of these work. I loved my Pabda Rolls stewed in Cherry Tomato & Spinach Broth. Also the Panch Phoron flavoured Parshe. My mum-in-law didn’t. She found the taste of Panch Phoron too strong. Again, that’s exactly what made the dish memorable for me (No, there’s no Mum-in-law Daughter-in-law enmity between us!). For the Pabda I wouldn’t mind having the Broth as a soup (above)!
All dishes by Chef Joy are an amalgamation of flavours and much like abstract art, each dish will have it’s own suitors. My friend was probably expecting a ‘traditional’ Ham Steak and was slightly disappointed. On the other hand we were so used to Goan Vindaloo that we were surprised to stumble upon our own Mutton Vindalaoo (Calcutta style)! I wasn’t even aware of any Vindaloo existing in Bengali Cuisine so far. I loved the Grilled Bhetki with Bengal Berry Sauce. Who could ever imagine that Kul or Bengal Berries could actually be used to make such a tangy & exotic sauce? My brother is a skeptic. He was transfixed with his Royal Bengal Roast Mutton with Bhuna Sauce. But he was craving for some Luchis though!
A few interesting elements here and there… crumbled Bori (Boris are sundried Lentil Balls used as crispy add-ons in vegetables, Daals etc – very readily available in most Bengali Kitchens) in the Rice Pilaf, use of typical Bengali Spices like Panch Phoron, Radhuni, Mouri or the Aam Aada to tweak the dishes… Pickles & Chillies, readily available and most commonly used vegetables like Kolmi Greens, Spinach… everything tasted exotic. Each dish was made from locally sourced ingredients and most importantly from ingredients that had always been existing in the Bengali kitchen all this while.
My suggestion here, would be to include some Chutneys too before making the transition to formal dessert-tasting.
Desserts: Again, between the two days we tasted Malpua Cheese Cake (we tasted this on the 2nd day as well!), Gondhoraj Soufflé (Yes, my obsession with Gondhoraj continues & we tasted this on the 2nd day too!), Spiced Mango Soufflé, Mustard and Tender Coconut Mousse, Channa Panch Phoron Mousse.
The Verdict – To please the sweet-toothed Bengali, this has to be the final acid test for any restaurant. We loved the Malpua Cheese Cake. The very concept of using traditional Malpua (Malpua could be equated to Pancakes with a filling, deep-fried and dipped in Sugar Syrup) as layers inside a Channa Cheesecake is amazing. However, the Soufflés in both the days had become overtly melted and very, very soft. Almost served at room temperature. Again, the combination that went into the mousse blew our imaginations.
Many months later when I was having Cinnamon, Saffron and Chilli Chocolate Crème brûlée in Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, I suddenly remembered the novel combinations that went into our Desserts in Bohemian.
I had visited Bohemian twice – once with school friends who were probably more exposed to different types of cuisines and were open to experiments. The other time (the acid test) was when we visited with two sets of Mums – my Mum and my Mum-in-law and the whole jing-bang lot! Generally these two Mums are very skeptical about any experimentation, specially of Bengali food that has been cooked in others’ kitchens. What was their verdict? I had expected a whole lot of ‘Nunta ektu beshi/It’s a bit too salty!’ or ‘Maachta ektu kancha/The fish is still raw!’ But apart from ‘Panch Phoron ta ektu beshi na shob kichute? Kintu kharap lagchilo na, ki bol?/Isn’t the Panch Phoron a bit too strong in all the food? It wasn’t tasting bad at all, what do you think? -‘ which I would take as a very very mild version of their normal selves. Which means that Bohemian had passed the acid test with flying colours!
That brings me back to my chit-chat with Chef Joy (CJ)…
I’m surprised to see the Café loving internet generation hanging around in Bohemian.
CJ: Interestingly, we have a very young crowd as well as the elderly visiting us – from age 17 – 85 – everybody is enjoying the Bohemian food. This is a big achievement. The generation growing up on Pastas and Burgers are trying out our dishes. Not only is the age-group widely distributed, so is the social demography. It’s not only the Bengalis who are coming to Bohemian but also the Marwaris, Biharis and every other community.
Special Plans for the Pujas or in the near future?
CJ: Only one special plan… Consistently bhalo khabar banabo/will cook good food consistently!
Do you like cooking at home?
CJ: Cooking is completely based on circumstances around you… At home, my mother cooks a Doi Maach/Yogurth Fish that’s my personal favourite.
Any plans to add that to the Bohemian Menu?
CJ: May be! I am not fussy about eating and I like to eat with an open mind.
How did this Bengali Fusion come into your mind?
CJ: I’m not the first one to experiment or incorporate other types of cuisine into the Bengali kitchen. The famous Chingrir Chine Kabab, a popular recipe from Thakurbari (the house of the Tagores) has done such a fusion many years years ago. There’s a lot of legacy left behind by Anglo-Indian cooking, specially the Cooks of old hotels like Grand Hotel, Kolkata or say the Bawarchis of yesteryears who have created a niche segment in the colonial Clubs in Kolkata… how can you say that the Vindaloo or the Jhal Fraezi is not ‘Bengali’? Or the Railway Mutton Curry for that matter? These people knew the complete art of cooking – from A to Z. I wish that the Bengalis are more educated on their own cuisine without limiting it to Fish Curry and Mustard Oil. Do you know that there are 700 different types of Jaggery available in Bengal? Tell me, how many people know about Thakurbarir Ranna?
The Bohemian Menu is quite vast. Isn’t that a problem when you are cooking everything afresh?
CJ: More the merrier! Kono shoja kaaj korina/I don’t do anything that is straightforward and simple! I am building up an aquarium at home – a coral reef aquarium – for a long long time now. It’s difficult but I’m doing it.
It must be heartening for you to to see that being a Chef has become quite a fashionable profession now?
CJ: Definitely! The contribution of Master Chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor are immense. To make the profession fashionable and desirable to the younger generation, acceptable to the society, an addition to the ‘type-casted’ professions like Doctors, Engineers etc. Even Bollywood has also contributed to this change in the mind-set. Imagine the change in the perspective from films like Bawarchi a few years back to the suave Chefs of today who are the heros of films like Salam Namaste or Chini Kum. [Sanjeev Kapoor, Bawarchi, Saalam Namaste, Cheeni Kum, Bollywood]
Talking of Sanjeev Kapoor, yes, I had an opportunity to interview him as well. Also, I remember referring Bohemian to Chef Raturi when I was invited to Rannaghar, the Bengali food festival at the award-winning restaurant in Dubai – Options by Sanjeev Kapoor in October (my review of Rannaghar). The restaurant did a brilliant job in serving up a traditional Bengali fare. Yes, there were a few hits and misses – but in a city inundated with multi-cuisine options but unfortunately not a single, good Bengali restaurant that one can boast of, Rannaghar scored reasonably well. But to conjure up a menu like Bohemian would be to alleviate it to the next level – where the diners are introduced to an exotic gastronomical experience, irrespective of the region from where the cuisine comes from. And to make sure that the taste appeals to all.
Contemporary Bengali Cuisine; Restaurant, Take-away & Home-Delivery
Tel No: + 9133 6460 1001/6460 1002 (Bohemian – The Restaurant); + 9133 4001 9005/4001 9006 (Chef Joy’s Deli – For Home Deliveries)
Address: 32/4 old Ballygunge 1st lane, 700019
My obervations here:
1) Reservations are an absolute must as the space is very limited!
2) Dishes take a bit long to prepare and arrive at the table, so have a go at the entire Menu and place all the orders – from starters to desserts together.
The Bohemian experience is quite similar to the gastronomical extraordinary experience I had recently in Prague in a restaurant called La Degustation. The restaurant is an epitome of fine-dining, recommended by Anthony Bourdain, the American Chef, author & TV presenter. The comparison is not in terms of the get-up of the restaurant but in terms of it’s food philosophy – presenting food like a painting on canvas – sometimes detailed as a miniature painting and sometimes random strokes from an Abstract painting (I’m sure even these random strokes have been tried and tested). I haven’t had traditional Czech food before visiting La Degusation. But they prided themselves on serving up a Contemporary Czech Cuisine and it really filled up my senses. Quite similar to the Bohemian food philosophy. Though the above picture was taken before I had even tasted the Bohemian food, I want to keep it as it probably describes my reflection of the restaurant after I had tasted their food – Bliss!
I visited Bohemian in August, 2012… and my post is coming out in January 2013. I do have a long blog queue but somehow after I had come back to Dubai, I did not get a special opportunity to showcase Bohemian. I have even pitched it to some international magazines. It deserves every bit of it. I have pushed all my friends and family in Kolkata to try Bohemian at-least once. They have tried it not only once but many times there after. We’ve continuously discussed the Bohemian Menu on my Facebook Page and my Facebook Group. We have discussed what we ate there and what we missed out eating and what we should eat on our next visits. This is a great achievement of Bohemian – people are remembering the Menu and going back and trying what they haven’t tried before. As if, the Bohemian Menu had become a subject in of research for an examination!
Big Z came home from our first visit and said ‘Mama – did you enter the bathroom?’. So, the first thing that I did on my next visit to Bohemian was visit the bathroom (below)! What I saw was definitely what I had expected of a restaurant which plays Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd while they serve Bengali food. What was not expected though was being told ‘Yes, you all ate a lot’! when I lamented that there were so many things in the menu yet to be tasted and we were so full! I know it is the truth. But what the heck? It’s my money, my tummy and the food is burpingly, drool-worthily good. Isn’t that being Bohemian is all about? In the words of Chef Joy himself –
It takes a different bent of mind to think out of the box, be a free thinker, a nonconformist, radical, maverick, avant garde, contemporary and slightly eccentric to achieve excellence. In one word ——- bohemian!!
The official tagline of Bohemian is where Food does cabaret on the senses… it definitely does, whether one eats spitefully less or gluttonously… lots!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: Both my visits were independent visits and the average bill/visit was approximately INR 5,500/- for 5-6 adults. All opinions and views are my own. I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lots of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them, please don’t use them as some of them have been taken from our personal albums just to make your reading experience more pleasurable. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.
Related articles on Bohemian:
- Finely Chopped – The Bohemian Bengalis … Bohemian, Bondel Road, Kolkata
- Yummraj – Bohemian (32/4 Old Ballygunge1st lane, Kolkata: off Ballygunge Phari crossing – towards Bondel Gate)
Recipes from Chef Joy gathered over the internet :