Traditional Bengali Meal thali to celebrate Bengali New Year

Shubho Noboborsho | A traditional Bengali menu for Frying Pan Diaries podcast

Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark ∼ Tagore

Shubho Noboborsho! As we celebrate our Bengali new year 1425, here’s wishing others who are celebrating their new year too… Vaishakhi in Punjab and North India, Vishu in Kerala, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam and more. Whether you are a Bengali or not, Indian or not, celebrating a new year or not… I pray that each day we wake up to, is a day worth celebrating. For, every new ‘day’ is ushered by a new dawn filled with hope and new possibilities.

Arva and Farida Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures come home to do their podcast on Bengali food

Yes, every now and then we wake up to some shocking news and shaken up by images of unfortunate events happening in different parts of the world. Sadly, they always seem to belong to someone else’s world and not ours, until the dreadful happens to our near and dear ones. I feel so helpless as my belief in humanity is shaken. And then the above words of Tagore, ‘Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark’, drills faith back into me. I suddenly remember the Georgian grandmas from our recent trip to Georgia – complete strangers to me, holding and hugging me, and feeding us morsels cooked in love. My faith in humanity is immediately restored. My belief is reinforced that as long as there is food cooked by human hands combining the ingredients of love, and connects people… there is hope. I see that hope everyday in my kitchen when Lady M and I discuss the menu of the day. I see the same love while planning the weekly grocery with the Bearded Biker. I remember how my childhood is now secured in the treasure trove of fuzzy warm memories and delicious aromas of my ma and grandmothers’ cooking. Special dishes for celebrating festivities and special occasions remain etched in my mind still. After marriage, the same continued as my shashuri/ma-in-law strived to make every mealtime for us a special one. And if a guest happened to visit us, heaven save them. Atithi Devo Bhava treating the guest as Godis something that we have imbibed from the time we were in the womb!

The Frying Pan Diaries Podcast on Bengali Food with Ishita B Saha

Coming back to the good things happening in this world, when the brilliant sister duo Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures, Dubai’s first food tour company (I have walked a lot with them in the alleys of Dubai and Sharjah… with the primary objective of eating of course!) wanted to make a podcast in their Frying Pan Diaries on Bengali food, I thought the best venue would be my home – we could sit around our infamously small but famously food-overloaded instagram worthy dining table… and taste the food too. What will be my menu? The last time I opened my Bengali kitchen for a media preview to Dima Sharif, it was a traditional Bengali menu. But the dilemma I always feel here is this… how many dishes should be included or rather safely excluded so that a person who’s non-initiated to Bengali food gets an elaborately fair idea about the richness of Bengali cuisine? Eventually, I managed to pin down a menu of a sort. The podcast is genuinely beautiful as it delicately weaves through the episode through what we tasted … from Shukto to Dhokar Dalna, Jhurjhure Aloo Bhaja, Cholar Daal, LuchiMurighonto…. Shorshebata, chingrimaacher Malaikari… Kasha Mangsho … Mishti doi and Notun Gurer Rasgolla. My ma’s Rabindra Sangeet in the background track… Rupé today bhulabo na… adds ups the emotional quotient. Although I have spoken about Bengali food many times over on radio, curated Bengali menus for a few special pop ups (at Bookmuch and once at Rang Mahal with Atul Kochhar), I have never felt so complete, sounded so confident or been so happy listening to myself. That may have to do with the fact that the Bengali tigress in me was caught in her own territory – in my own kitchen, talking about my Bengali food to the two sisters who I am very fond of, and who constantly remind me of my own daughters – the Z-Sisters. The passion with which they are pursuing a food business resonates my own passion, specially the urge to speak in an honest voice – notoriously delicious – as I read them mentioning me somewhere!

My menu planning when we have guests at home depends upon two factors – the occasion and the nationalities of the guests. For example, if the occasion is our annual Bijoya celebration, without any doubt I will be making a very traditional Bengali fare. The occasional culinary experiments inspired by our travels are mostly offloaded onto my family and close Bengali friends. But if a guest is a non-Bengali or a non-Indian, the menu tends to be pretty much a summarised CV from my encyclopaedia of Bengali food. There is also always an expectation of a few popular Bengali dishes like Shorshebata maach or the Mishti Doi. Moreover, my frequent behind-the-scene instastories result in friends and guests requesting for some dishes that they may have seen in my instastories… for example, the Kolkata street-style Aloor Dom that I like to serve as a Starter or the Middle Eastern inspired Begun Bhaja, the fried eggplant with yoghurt and fried garlic (picture below). When we lived in Germany, the menu for my German friends would be quite different – I always added a twist to the Bengali recipes that I was learning to cook, as those were my initial days of my foray into cooking Bengali food. The German Kartoffel Purée, thus, would acquired the Bengali status of Aloo Bhaaté, the mashed potato with a twist of fresh grated coconut, a tempering of mustard seeds and a dash of Kashundi. Or say, my phenomenally successful dessert Shondesh Pudding – a fusion recipe of traditional Shondesh and the cream caramel. No such menu trials for my guests nowadays as I have realised that I want to introduce or present them with authentic Bengali food, specially when they are tasting it for the very first time.

আমি রূপে তোমায় ভোলাব না, ভালোবাসায় ভোলাব।

I shall not entice you with my beauty, but with my love ∼ Tagore

Ma’s rendition of the above Tagore song weaves through the podcast and brings back so much of nostalgia. Do listen to the full track here and let me know how you liked it. And this was the menu for the day… if you are a Bengali reading this, I hope that I did justice to the representation of the vast repertoire of our Bengali cuisine.

Shukto, the Bengali ratatouille as I like to call it, served with shada bhaat, or plain white rice
• Dhokar Dalna, Lentil cakes cooked in gravy
Begun Bhaja with Middle Eastern Twist, fried eggplant with yoghurt dip and fried garlic (sometimes I also garnish the dish with pomegranates and sprinkle of sumac)
Jhurjhure Aloo Bhaja, fried julienne potatoes
Cholar Dal, chana or Bengal Gram dal with coconut
Moong Daal with fish head
Moori Ghonto – rice cooked with fish head
Chingri Maacher Malaikari, the sweet water Tiger Prawn cooked in a coconut gravy
Shorshebata Salmon, mustard salmon. Usually, this preparation is done with the extremely boney Hilsa fish, but I use salmon as there are less bones
• Kosha Mangsho, slow cooked lamb, although back home, this preparation will use goat
Tomato Chutney with dates and raisin.

Desserts:
Bhapa Mishti Doi or steamed sweet yoghurt
Notun Gurer Roshogolla – rasgulla filled with season fresh jaggery


Shukto


Begun Bhaja


Chingri Maacher Malaikari


Shorshebata Salmon

Bengali Tomato Chutney
Bengali Tomato Chutney

Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures at home

Do listen to the Frying Pan Diaries podcast on iTunes and iPhone or on their blog, subscribe to them and share the love. Frying Pan Diaries is the first food podcast from Dubai with a focus on food stories from the city and the surrounding region… and to reciprocate the love to the sister duo, they too are a notoriously delicious bunch! In addition to the dishes that I had cooked that day, I had also ordered a few dishes from the Bengali restaurant Zaika Hub in Al Nahda so that I could present a more elaborate menu to the Ahmed sisters. I have also mentioned the restaurant in the podcast. Sad to inform you folks that the restaurant has recently closed down… well, c’est la vie! As we sign off, let us pray for a safer world where faith in humanity may prevail. Let food unite us all despite our varied heritages that make us more distinctive and unique… may we all speak in the common language of food, compassion and love. Shubho Noborsho to all of you… may our celebrations lent themselves to your celebrations as we harvest love and hope for tomorrow and the days to come, for people all around the world. Coming back to my safe haven, we mostly cook up the whole Bengali universe in our kitchen – starting from shukto to murighonto. But apparently, that’s only when we have guests! To be fair, that’s not completely untrue… so the million dollar (or chingri malaikari worth of) question that needs to be addressed first and foremost tomorrow morning – what will the menu be at home for the night!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Also sharing my thoughts that came out in Gulf News a few days back on the essence of being a Bengali in the wake of the recent disturbances in Bengal – it seems quite relevant with our Noboborsho wishes hoping for a bright future. The Bengali Mishti and Maach never fought over religion or borders, so why should the people? Do read the full story here.

Disclaimer: All images are shot by me, excepting the ones with Frying Pan logos, which have been shared with me by the Frying Pan Adventures. This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills have been self paid. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitterand Pinterest.


Do try out these Bengali recipes from my blog:
Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case
Spicy Baby Potatoes or Aloor Dum – Kolkata Street Style!
Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté
Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi!
Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal | BBC GoodFood ME
Notun Gurer Payesh/Traditional Bengali Rice Pudding | Remembering My Dida
Payesh or Rice Pudding For My Birthday | Power of Gratitude Messages
Shondesh/Sandesh Pudding | Guest Post For Cook Like A Bong!

And if you are interested in reading more on Bengali food in my blog:
A-Z of Bengali Fish
Traditional Bengali Cuisine | In ‘Slight’ Details

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A-Z of Bengali Fish

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food ~ Hippocrates

My in-laws left yesterday for Kolkata after spending a month with us here in Dubai. The house seems so empty suddenly, along with the fridge. We had lunch and dinner with all the leftovers from my shashuri – ma-in-law’s cooking…  a few pieces of traditional Bengali fish like Pabda (two more pieces to go), bandhakopir torkari, a cabbage dish, and the summer favourite aam daal – a sweet-sour lentil soup with raw mango. From today, our kitchen will stop showing any semblance to my ma-in-law’s Kolkata kitchen that’s always been aligned to how my shoshurmoshai – father-in-law wants/loves to eat. There will now be pastas and sandwiches with some occasional Bengali cooking over the weekend splattered with the nostalgic reminiscences of how much we overate the past one month. The sadness of their leaving is being compensated to an extent with all the wishes and love that are still pouring in for my birthday (which fell on this Thursday but the celebrations still continue). After a month of eating only Bengali food, with traditional fish preparations holding centre stage, I feel the sudden need to write a post on these lines… A-Z of Bengali fish. It’s also a note of thanks from my side, for the love I get from all of you and how you keep on embracing me unconditionally and repeatedly as a citizen of this world living in this cosmopolitan city, despite my constant proclamations of my Bengali roots.

I am making a home in Dubai …. 3,307 kms away from Bengal, raising two third culture kids and perpetually in a quasi Bengali state of being – I crave for dupurer ghum – afternoon siesta on a Sunday afternoon when all of Dubai are busy getting into the groove of the week with the first working day being Sunday! There’s also the myth (okay the pseudo-truth) that I can never get away from – the Bengali’s love for fish – maach, and sweets – mishti, that I have kind of embraced nowadays. In fact, I have started to relish the curiosity and the talks surrounding these two topics. On the hindsight, I didn’t grow up loving fish as much as I loved sweets. But I seriously – seriously do now, and that’s all because of the two decades of living away from Bengal and also the constant questions and queries that I get from so many people – via emails and messages and DMs – on the topic of FISH. Nowadays, I have started getting whatsapp messages too from strangers, asking for Bengali fish recipes and all that’s related to Bengali fish. ‘Didi, nomoshkar. Apni to Dubai-te onekdin achen. Ekhane Bangali maach paoaa jay/ Hello Sister! You are living in Dubai for a long time. Where can we get Bengali fish here?’ or ‘Please mind korben na eto raate message korchi bole. Ami Meenabazar-e dariye achi. Ekhane kothay Bangladeshi dokan jekhane ilish paoa jay?/ Please don’t mind me messaging so late. I am standing in Meenabazaar right now, where is the Bangladeshi shop here which sells the Ilish?’ From Non-Bengalis, the questions would be more on these lines… ‘Can you share the Bengali fish recipe – I have just bought some Rohu from Lulu!’ or ‘I heard you can have fish from breakfast through dinner!’ Friends, there’s no ONE Bengali fish recipe. And, yes, SOME Bengalis love fish but they don’t exactly brush their teeth in fish oil, although I wished they could (it’s high in omega and good for the skin, hair, heart and eyes), nor do they catch fish in their sleep. Also, we can’t eat fish like the bony Hilsa – the Ilissh, with our eyes closed, as we too are as prone to choking if we don’t concentrate on the fish bones while we eat, as much as any Non-Bengali. But I will let these myths persist. It works towards our advantage and as I say, let’s bask in the glory of our fishy and sweet heritage!

Bhetki Maacher Ghonto
The special bhetki macher ghonto my shashuri made for my birthday – it’s a recipe from my side of the family that she took from my ma over the phone. A nostalgic recipe that ended up in transcending variations of cooking across borders and connecting two families together. 

A conversation started over my birthday instastory where I have shared the Bhetki Macher Ghonto that I had for lunch (above). My day had started with payesh, the traditional rice pudding that ushers in every auspicious occasion for a Bengali… as early as 7:30 in the morning, made lovingly by my shashuri. Dinner was luchi and murgir jhol with aloo. As I hesitated a bit to explain my lunch – my exact words being… ‘Not mentioning the lunch which is a bit complicated to explain ~ ghonto if you know what I mean’, a sudden barrage of comments started pouring in. If you know, ghonto is more like a vegetable ratatouille with pieces of fish, fish head, tails and bones thrown in. I started receiving curious comments on Bengalis’ fish habits.

And a few knowledgeable Bengalis asked, how was I so sure that it was a ghonto and not a chyachra. For the uninitiated, these are complicated terms in Bengali culinary dictionary – preparations as different from macerated fruit to a poached one. I replied saying that my thamma (paternal grandma) used to make this ghonto and my ma picked it up from her. Since it’s my favourite, my ma-in-law who is visiting us, learnt the recipe from her over a long ISD call and made it for lunch – skype is banned in the UAE currently, hence the final product ended up being a very expensive ghonto. So, I know… this was a ghonto. Period!

Shorshebata Iliish or Mustard Hilsa
Shorshebata Iliish or the Mustard Hilsa, one of the most epic dishes from Bengali cuisine – with absolutely no filter! I often chat to my family how the food in my book should look like (if and when it materialises)… should it be stylised or should it be kept just like this… simple and homely? The poll feature in @instagram has been amazing in that sense and thank you for giving your verdict… 87% of you want to see the food like this… ready to attack!

With all the conversation relating or leading only to fish over the last one month with a freezer overflowing with Bengali fish starting from Aar to Bhetki to Chingri to Ilish to Pabda, stocked from the Bangladeshi supermarket (do read my post where you will get an idea to what extent we can go to get the right fish) … thanks to my shoshurmoshai who travels with a menu and routine that he is used to in his Saltlake home, I decided that this was probably going to be the best time to use my (fish) information overload. Also, the protagonist in the bone of contention between my shashuri and shoshurmoshai most of the times, is also the fish – what fish to cook – for lunch and then again for dinner, what preparation and how many pieces she should assign for him. At the dining table, our conversation then would revolve around whether the particular fish that has been cooked here, would taste better and fresher than the one he buys in the fish market and Kolkata. Don’t forget the prices – whether the dirhams spent here was worth the rupees that he generally spends back home. However, the Z-Sisters had the final say – apparently, our Dubai home apparently smelt like Saltlake when their Oma-Dadai when here! Kudos to Bengali fish bought in Dubai then… also, the A-Z of Bengali fish post couldn’t be avoided any longer.

Parshe Maacher Jhaal
Pabda Maacher Jhol

A bit of a dig into my family history here… the preparations and availability of fish in Bengal in India and in Bangladesh is quite different. While my family is based more in Epar Bangla – the Indian side of Bengal, hence termed part-Ghotis and the Bearded Biker’s family is predominantly Bangals originating from Opar Bangla or Bangladesh, the fish preparations that we both have grown up eating are a bit different. My experience of fish eating had been limited to Rui, Iliish, Bhetki and Chingri and my marriage introduced me to a wider variety of fish and fish preparations. While we – the Ghotis can boast of a few iconic preparations like the Chingri Malaikari, the Bangals, as I discovered via my shashuri’s cooking, have a magic wand when it comes to cooking any fish. A simple fish gravy in black cumin paste from Opar Bangla can alone compete with all the elaborate fish kahlias and shorshebatas from Epar Bangla! As an ode to my heritage, here’s the list, A-Z of Bengali Fish and the best possible preparations for that particular fish… admitting that these are only the few where I have had the good fortune of laying my fingers on the fish bones, hence a few alphabets are still sitting empty.

Ilish or Hilsa
Ilish or Hilsa cooked in a light gravy of turmeric, black cumin and chilli with pumpkin. Sometimes, the pumpkin can be substituted by cucumber or eggplant – a preparation that I wasn’t familiar with before my marriage.

A-Z of Bengali Fish

A: Aar – less bones, delicate and very fleshy; Calls for a turmeric-black cumin gravy with aloo and slit green chillies, garnished with fresh coriander leaves.

B: Bata, Bhetki, Basa – While Bata is a long bony fish to be cooked in its entirety in the traditional mustard preparation with a tempering of nigella seeds, Bhetki is a well sought-after Bengali fish and versatile. One of its signature preparation is the Bhetki Paturi, where fillets are cooked in steam in a thick mustard and chilli paste while wrapped in banana leaves. Bhetki fillets are also coveted for the fish fry with an outer covering of breaded crumbs. Basa is one fish that is looked down upon by the Bengali fish snobs as a cheaper substitute for Bhetki fries, so beware!

C: Chitol, Chingri – It’s almost a dying art to scrape the flesh off the main spine so that they can be made into fish balls for the signature gravy – Chitol Maacher Muitha; also the Peti or the abdominal section of Chitol is exceptionally oily and calls for a gravy made with ginger, chilli, turmeric and white cumin. Chingri or the Prawn has many variations – depending upon the size. Galda, Bagda, Chyapra etc. Galda Chingri is the giant fresh water prawn and is most popularly used in the signature preparation – Chingrir Malaikari, a prawn preparation in coconut gravy. Bagda is the Tiger Prawn also used for Malaikari preparation while the Chapra is the smaller variety (both fresh and seawater) that goes well in a spicy fried preparation or as Chingrir bora or spicy fried balls.

D:

E: Eilish… see I!

F: Foli, Fyasha – Foli is more like Chitol while Fyasha is very bony. The former is tasty in a light turmeric, cumin and coriander gravy with vegetables like potatoes and snowpeas thrown in along with bori – fried lentil balls. Like many other Bengali fish, Like Foli, Fyasha is also a small fish that can be cooked in a mustard gravy.

G: Galda Chingri (see Chingri above), Gurjali – Interestingly, Gurjali has been referred as Indian salmon and is brilliant in a traditional mustard gravy with a tempering of nigella seeds.

H: Hilsa… see I!

I: Iilish – The fact that Ilish takes over three alphabets – E for Eilish, H for Hilsa and I for Ilish is not surprising as Ilish is indeed the celebrity Bengali fish. A topic for political debate involving two countries – India and Bangladesh – whether the Ilish from the Padma river in Bangladesh is better than the Ilish from the Ganges and vice versa. No fish has ever been commercialised so much or catapulted to such heights. Come monsoons, hotels and Bengali restaurants in Kolkata are flooded with Hilsa festivals where traditional recipes jostle for space along with fusion recipes. Amongst all the different recipes that exist, the ones that I love are the traditional ones – definitely the epic shorshebata or mustard fish preparation (I have a recipe for a similar preparation in salmon that praises to carry the same legacy), the patla kalojirer jhol – gravy made with black cumin and red chilli paste with either cubes of cucumber, or eggplants or pumpkin thrown in. I also can’t resist having simple fried Ilish with shada bhaat and Ilisher tel – steaming white rice with the oil that has been used to fry the fish pieces. My dida or maternal grandma also used to make a Ilisher Ombol, a sweet and sour chutney with Ilish in light tamarind and turmeric gravy with a tempering of mustard seeds. My ma has a signature recipe of a Ilish Maacher Raita, a yoghurt raita with Ilish, to be savoured cold. And of course, there is the Bhapa Ilish or the Steamed Hilsa, prepared wrapped in banana leaf.

J:

K: Katla, Koi, Kajli, Khoira – Katla comes from the family of Carp much like Rui, but in bigger size. Katla is used in the famous Kalia preparation, a rich oily preparation. Koi is famously prepared as Tel Koi in a mustard oil gravy, or as a Jhaal prepared with mustard paste and a tempering of nigella seeds.

L: Loite – Loite has different names and pronunciations in different parts of Bengal and is also known as the Bombay Duck in Mumbai. I Although there are recipes where Loite is cooked in a curry, I prefer the way my ma-in-law cooks it – Loite Maacher Jhuri… it’s time consuming and the end result is shockingly meagre in volume as compared to how it appears at the start. The constant stirring of the soft textured fish along with turmeric, red chilli, cumin and coriander lets the water from the fish to evaporate out and the mixture becomes crunchy and real spicy.

M: Mourola, Magur, Mrigal – I grew up hearing that tiny sized Mourola is good for the eyes but the way we have always had it probably defined the purpose… deep fried in oil! Magur is a kind of a catfish and small pieces of Magur cooked in a light gravy made with turmeric and cumin is considered a coolant. Mrigel is quite bony and cooked in a dense mustard gravy brings out the fine taste of the fish.

N/O:

P: Parshe, Pabda, Pona, Punti, Pangash – Parshe is best served in a jhal preparation in a mustard gravy, while Pabda can be cooked in a light jhol or a hot jhal, depending upon the size. Pona comes from the same family as Rohu and can be prepared in a similar way while Chara Pona, is the baby Pona and makes a very good light curry with potatoes, green papaya, green banana and Boris. Punti is one of the more popular small fish and is cooked in a jhaal, the dense mustard gravy. Pangash tastes amazing in a Dopiaza preparation which is not a traditional Bengali preparation. The Dopiaza is is a Middle Eastern preparation with a large amount of onions cooked in a thick tomato gravy.

Q:

R: Rui – Rui or Rohu is definitely the most popular fish used for day-to-day cooking and is available with ease. For example, this is the only Bengali fish that are quite easily available in regular Dubai supermarkets like Lulu or Carrefour. Rui is quite versatile and fleshy, and can be cooked in almost all the Bengali fish preparations that one can think of … jhol, jhal, kalia, doi maach and more (refer below for the definitions). A light gravy preparation of Rui with potatoes, cauliflower and green peas brings back memories of my Dida’s cooking – a nostalgic dish conjuring up the winters from my childhood.

S: Shingi, Shol, Shorputi – Cooked up in a light stew with seasonal vegetables like snow peas, eggplants, potatoes (but, of course), Shingi Maacher Jhol act as another coolant with high therapeutic with high nutritional quotients. While I have tasted Shol in a kalia preparation, there’s also a popular recipe where its cooked in a gravy with raw mangoes. Shorputi again, is another variation of Puti and can be cooked in a jhal or a jhol.

T: Tyangra, Tilapia, Topshe – Tyangra is great for a Jhal chochori – with fried Tyangras cooked in a spicy non-gravy preparation. Tilapia is an import and has been adopted affectionately into the Bengali fish dictionary and serves up brilliantly in a Shorshe Jhaal, the spicy mustard preparation. I have grown up seeing my parents and their friends serving Topshe fried in whole, in a gram flour batter sprinkled with either nigella seeds or posto – poppy seeds, as a starter to accompany their Sunday gin and vodka lunch parties, and I can’t seem to remember if I’ve ever tasted Topshe in any other way!

U/V/W/X/Y/Z:

Aar match prepared in a light gravy with turmeric and cumin
Aar prepared in jhol, a light gravy of turmeric and cumin with potato and fresh coriander leaves

When fish names can be so many, fish preparations must match up to the number… so we have ghonto and ghyat, chachra and lyabra, jhol and jhal. If this is of any interest to you, here you go…

Fish is still cooked daily for main course in most traditional Bengali household. Shorshe Maach/Mustard Fish is one of the most popular fish preparations and has found quite an acclaim outside the Bengali home, but it is not the only fish recipe in our pescetarian portfolio. Bengali cuisine is famous for it’s various fish preparations – and there is a lot going into the fish gravy on whether it should be called Maacher Jhol or Maacher Jhaal. Maacher Jhol is where the gravy of the dish is made with ginger, turmeric, cumin powder, green chillis (the ingredients vary from one region of Bengal to another) and Jhaal is where the gravy is hot and spicy and made with mustard paste, turmeric, chilli and other spices. Then there is the Doi Maach, the yogurt gravy with tomatoes and onion, and the Kalia, a rich oily gravy with a lot of prominence of onion, garlic, tomatoes and garam masala – once the mainstay of a wedding buffet. Fish oil, skin, bones, head and tail – everything can go into a dish… while fish head is considered auspicious and is served to the new bride as she is welcomed into her newly wedded family, the rest of the bony remnants also find their holy space into various delicacies either for special occasions or for a daily casual dish. Kata chocchori uses up the kata or the fish bones along with one or more varieties of vegetables or leafy greens cut into longish strips. In Chhyanchra fish head, bones and and fish oil are cooked along with different vegetables and appears more like a soft ratatouille. And then there is the Ghonto where chopped vegetables are cooked in phoron and spices with fish head and fish bones. Muri-ghonto is a particular delicacy where rice is cooked with fish head and bones. We don’t spare Daals too, and the tastiest one is Maacher Maatha diye Moong Daal, where fish heads and bones spruce up a dense moong daal, the yellow lentil soup. While all the above may sound a bit complicated for the uninitiated or even for many Bengalis, the expertise in determining whether a dish is a chyanchra or a chocchori and whether a gravy is a jhaal or a jhol, hits all Bengalis suddenly like puberty and adolescence… but it will definitely happen once in their lifetimes. For some, it hits earlier than others!

Kata fish cooked in a light gravy
Katla cooked in a light gravy – jhol with potatoes, to be supplemented by steaming white rice. My shoshurmoshai still uses a similar plate made with Kansha, or bell metal, a hard alloy used for making bells and related instruments. Ancient Ayurveda attributes the use of different utensils to extract different nutrients and eating in a kansha plate or drinking water in a kansha glass has been an age-old tradition. Although I have inherited a few of these in my kitchen, I use them sparingly for a one-off photo shoot, succumbing to the demands of the modern day dishwasher!

Like any other cuisine in this world, no Bengali fish recipe is sacrosanct and no one recipe is better than the other. The usage of garlic, onion, tomatoes in some fish preparations may feel like a modern interpretation but if you dig in, you may find that they are as intrinsic part of a traditional recipe in some other region in Bengal. What perhaps remains sacrosanct is the use of mustard oil in a Bengali fish preparation and the use of fingers for bhaat mekhe khaoa – to mix the rice in the delicious fish gravy. If you refer to the picture above, you will realise how there can never be another option! Regional variations have co-existed through times and recipe evolutions can be contributed to geo-political changes that have shaped the history of Bengal – from the undivided Bengal of pre-independence India to the one that is now partitioned by the borders of India and Bangladesh, post-independence. My list here is not comprehensive, and it cannot be as my knowledge is limited by what I have tasted in the kitchens of only a few families – my father’s ancestral home in Naihati (very ghoti), my dida’s cooking (again ghoti as she was from Bhatpara), my ma’s very own style of cooking as she picked up recipes from both Naihati and Bhatpara, my ma-in-law’s cooking which has been influenced by her mother and reflects the Bangal way of cooking… and finally every other Bengali family that I have had a meal with – from the shores of California to Singapore, and from the time we made a home in Frankfurt to all the true-blue Bengali homes that we have visited in  Kolkata.

I have deliberately used all the shots that capture traditional Bengali fish cooked in my kitchen in Dubai. I leave it at this, and am hoping that you will be filling me with more fish names and recipes. I am also curious to check what are the new Bengali Fish words that people have been searching in my blog over the weekend – once someone was looking for a ‘maach-boudi in Dubai’, I don’t really want to translate that here. I am just relieved that no body has called me a maach-didi – a fish sister, yet!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Read my other fish posts:
Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case
Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Details

Bijoya celebrations with sindoor khela with IshitaUnblogged

Shubho Bijoya to all | Immersing in the bond of food and love

For the wise man, every day is a festival ∼ Plutarch

Shubho Bijoya! The five-day long Durga Pujo (wiki at your service) evokes a sense of pride, love and communal solidarity among Bengalis, in whichever part of the world they have chosen to call their home. For me, Dubai has been my adopted home for the the last few years and we celebrate it in our own non-ritualistic way. In my childhood, Durga Pujo was all about the excitement of school holidays accompanied by new sets of clothes designated for each ‘bela’, so five days of pujo meant ten sets of new clothes – one for each bela… morning and evening. Much later it became my chance to officially roam around the city 24×7 with my squad, the Bearded Biker being one of the squad members. The essence of the goddess’s arrival on earth – her monumental fight against demons and putting the faith back into humanity – that good always necessarily triumphs over evil, lost its significance to our search for the best phuchkawala in town who would still be willing to serve us at an ungodly hour of 4am. This, in turn, would invariably lead to the eternal fight for supremacy between North Calcutta and South Calcutta (yes, before the city was rechristened as Kolkata) – the para/locality battle of global importance – as if the verdict on the phuchka and the double egg double chicken roll determined the fate of a para. What could have been my purpose of dressing up in those days (much before the matured feminist principles set in –  dressing up for one’s own self)? To attract boys from my hood? from other hoods? show off the best curves? earn an ego flattering tag of being quite a chick… I simply can’t remember now. Today this would have probably tantamounted to garnering a couple of ‘likes’ on social media! But the fact remains – the five days of Pujo every year, are still one of the most amazing days of my life… closely followed by the remembrances of a chaotic Holi… and the long wait culminating in the surreal feeling of attending the midnight mass in St Paul’s Cathedral as we ushered in Christmas. An earlier writing of mine talks about my childhood in Kolkata, a city which raised us to celebrate all the festivities that every religion had to offer. A festival was for celebrating and immersing one’s self in its being… irrespective of the religion. I was born a Hindu, but never told to be one. I worshipped Hindu deities, but never asked not to worship anyone else. I have gone on a Ramadan food trail in Kolkata with the same veneration as I have gone pandal hopping during Durga Pujo. Today when we celebrate Durga Pujo at home, it’s hardly the rituals that I want to bring in perspective, specially for the Z-Sisters. It’s the emotions… emotions of being a Bengali, a Kolkatan and finally being in love with the kaleidoscopic life that only a city like Kolkata can bring.

And for a Bengali, that colour of love is quintessentially red and white.

Bijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's homeA Bengali lady adorned in traditional red and white sari and holds a puja thaliBijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's home Bijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's homeBijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's homeBijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's home Bengalis in Dubai

Whether it is the nine yard draping of a traditional sari, the shakha-pala adorned by the married Bengali woman – the white bangles made from conch-shell and the red bangles made of red corals, or the smearing of the red sindoor/vermilion on the forehead, the vibrancy of the red and white combination that I have grown up watching, is quite addictive. You may want to try out new things, but come Bijoya Dashami… the duotone outdoes all the others in the colour wheel. This year too, we ushered in Bijoya with a small gathering at home, a day earlier on Nobomi to coincide with our weekend. The menu was traditional and consisted of fish fry and mochar chop for starters (I also intended to make some aam paana vodka shots, which I forgot!) followed by the mains – beguni, potol bhaja, luchi, aloor dom, iliish maach bhaja, bhoger khichuri (a bit different from the khichuri recipe I have on my blog), mangsho, tomato khejurer chutney. Desserts consisted of notun gurer payesh, malpoa and a rum cake (courtesy friends) and signing off with the signatory paan. The requests pouring in from friends were endless – if the menu had mansho, then there had to be luchi and the luchi had to be phulko or perfectly puffed up (and if you still don’t know my obsession with it, read my ode to phulko luchi), begunis had to be crispy and hot, preferably not pre-fried. The same went for iliish maach bhaaja. Calcutta Fast Food in Sharjah very kindly took up my delicate proposal of ‘part-catering’, if there can be a word like that. A small live cooking section was arranged outdoors in the garden for frying the fish, mochar chop, beguni, luchi, ilissh maach. The sequence in which these needed to be fried also required some serious attention (and strategy) – the first two in the above list were to be served as starters, and the rest had to be doled out almost simultaneously during the main dinner. Not to forget the delicate balance of not frying too much too early on, or take the cue that the oil in which the iliish maach was fried wasn’t the same for frying the luchi!

 

♥ ♥ ♥ Lil Z created a cute hand written menu (left) which, I forgot to place along with the food. She is still upset with me and nothing can compensate this, not even posting it on my blog now because the moment is gone – it is a three-fold card with intricate design of a hand holding the card and the fingers wearing glittery rings. That brings me back to an issue that I seriously suffer from – always forgetting to serve something that has been created specially for the guests, for example, the chutney which is always left waiting in the fridge!

Traditional Bengali dinner specially created for the Pujo Bengali Aloor Dom Bengali Fish FryBengali Mutton Curry with Aloo             Notun gurer payesh

The Bearded Biker leaves no stone unturned for me to materialise a menu. So a few days earlier, after office, we dashed off to the Backet Supermarket in Rolla in Sharjah, the Bangladeshi wholesaler for Bengali fish and foodstuff. If it had to be iliish, it had to be from the Backet, he said. We decided that we would provide the iliish maach and the mustard oil for frying them, for our part-catering. A 12kgs Katla fish was dangling in our way and was way too tempting but we stuck to our list – for once! The special rice used for making bhoger khichuri and the payesh – the chinigura, which is a good substitute for Gobindobhog and the potol also came along with us from Backet. So did the special gondhoraj lebu, the Bengal lime which has a similar aroma to Thai kaffir limes. Salimbhai (below), helped me to choose the perfectly rounded aloo for my aloor dom and the barrel shaped perfect potols. He also promised that the iliish would taste heavenly and it indeed did so. Although, our need for Bengali fish is adequately met at Mefroze in Karama or from a Bangladeshi shop in Bur Dubai most of the times, this dinner needed to be special. After all, the preparation for a special celebration and it’s anticipation is in a way, a subtle infusion of love and warmth into the moments we create for keepsake memories.

Backet Supermarket in Sharjah Frozen Hilsa available in Backet Supermarket in Sharjah The scraping of scales of Hilsa in Backet Supermarket in Sharjah Salim Bhai in Backet Supermarket in Sharjah

The only time when fashion has to complement food in my blog, is during Pujo. As more and more metropolitan cities in India (and all over the world) are moving towards homogenisation, people are opting out of traditional wear in their daily lives and choosing to wear clothings that are convenient, practical and fuss free. And rightfully so. Festivals and special celebrations are becoming once-in a while special occasions that deserve special adornments. I am hoping that these pictures from my personal album reflect the richness of Bengali culture, despite being diluted in our adaptation at foreign shores. My brother also shared a picture of my Ma and Baba dressed up for Bijoya Sammelani (below) and this was my social media newbie Baba’s first pujo update on Facebook wishing everyone! I also dug into my archives for a picture of my mum-in-law during pujo… she hasn’t yet learnt to take a pujo selfie this year, hence no real evidence of her participation in the pujo. Big Z was a year old in the picture, taken at Iron Side Road in Kolkata, the residential complex where we lived for many years after we shifted from the Magistrate’s House. The stark redness of the sindoor, the crispness of the new saris, the beats of the dhol/ drums from the pandals, the early morning chanting of the priests, and the endless wait for the narkel narus/coconut truffles after the pushpanjali was over – I can feel everything vividly in my senses even today… wherever in the world I am. My brother has been updating live (on social media, of course) from the different pandals that he’s been visiting. I am sharing one of the theme pujos that caught my fancy (do check out his instagram handles @streetbizz and @inbitsnpieces capturing the eclectic world of street vendors and their pursuits). He writes: ‘Modern man’s self obsession with mobiles, is reflected in the theme of this North Kolkata Pujo capturing the attention of the selfie crazy instagram & snapchat generation’. I am sharing a gallery of his beautiful images. And while we are still on the subject, my friend Meher’s write up in Gulf News… ‘Tame that shrew called social media‘, makes for an interesting read.

As I sign off, wishing you all a life filled with happiness, prosperity and peace, my thoughts are with all those people affected by the incidents in Las Vegas today … or Barcelona a few days ago… or the quakes in Mexico… or the stampede at Elphinstone Road Station … or… or… the list is endless. How can we pledge for more tolerance? How can we nurture a non-judgemental society that is more compassionate, kind and respectful than it’s previous generation – and that cares for every fellow human being, irrespective of his/her religion, sexuality, ideology and geographical origin? And I beg you not to ask the nittygritties of my religion (a few challenging remarks have started pouring in recently). For I know nothing. I don’t have a particular religion. All I know is that I have embraced many things from many religion and many philosophies that have resonated with me… I chant Buddhist mantra and seek solace in praying the rosary, soak in the muezzin’s call for prayers and shut my eyes in veneration as I offer flowers to the deities in temples. And I derive the same sense of worshipping when I cook for my family and friends… and try to bring a few hearts together to sew a few good memories!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Pssst: I have been shortlisted in the Top 10 list in the BBC GoodFood Awards ME 2017 under the ‘Food Influencer’ category. Do cast your votes for me to win!

Image credit: My friends – Bireswar, Soumitro, Nilanjana, Sumana; my brother Aveek and myself

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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Food, Love And Good Memories Travelling in My Suitcase!

Shondesh

Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity. ∼ Robert Morgan

And maybe packets dripping with sugar syrup and home made sauces, fried fish and random biscuits – all stuffed in a suitcase while flying back to Dubai from Kolkata… rephrasing it… flying back to my adopted home from my childhood home. Expats have an amazing way of converting wherever they are living into various folds of manifestation of their roots – bringing back food memories via cans and jars and sealed packets and digging out pockets in the city they are living, which sell them. Sally Prosser, author of My Custard Pie caught me red handed with Potol/Parval and bottles of Kashundhi in my suitcase for her article for the Fall edition of FoodEMag dxb. And I am relieved to discover that I am not the only one and actually have many foodie partners in crime! Well, as much as our suitcases are packed with incredulity, the awards for ingenuity goes to our parents (both original and the law-ed ones!) – can you imagine bringing in fried fish (bhetki maach fillet complete with breaded crumbs) and notun gurer roshogolla (so what if the current debate is on whether roshogolla belongs to the Bengalis at all!) dripping in sugar syrup, wrapped in layers and layers of plastic – all in the name of love? On this love note, let me wish you all Shubho Bijoya and Happy Dussehra… may peace find a permanent place in this world and your hearts!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………October Edition of FoodEMag dxb……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If you are a Bengali or an Indian living in Dubai, chances are that you will be getting a lot of fresh ingredients and produce – including different kinds of fish in the markets out here:

  • Backet in Sharjah or Deira fish Market source traditional fish, even the exotic ones – like Koi, Pabda, Eilish, Parshe, Chitol and also the most common varieties – Rui/Carp, Pona, Chingri/Prawns. Aar etc. Any fish associated with traditional Bengali recipes, chances are that you will find it. Excepting Bhetki.
  • City Mart in Rolla Street, Bur Dubai flies in fresh fish from Bombay everyday – Aar, Koi, Eilish and Tyangra, the latter when in season. They also stock Bhetki from Bangladesh and is different from the ones that we have grown up eating.
  • Lulu keeps small sized Rui; also Mefroz in Karama and Fruit & Vegetable market.

Spices are available in most supermarkets in Dubai, with a few exceptions like Radhuni that go into Panch-Phoron or the 5 spices-mix. While the fish comes frozen, air packed and sealed from Thailand, I have also found an array of local fish that can substitute for the traditional ones (for example Salmon can be used for Shorshe Bata/Musatrd Salmon with great success). One of the things that cannot be substituted while cooking Bengali fish is the Mustard Oil. Without this, a Bengali fish is absolutely incomplete and only a few brands can do justice to the Bengali kitchen – Tez and PRO – again both easily available in regular supermarkets.

Bengali Sweets… every street in Kolkata has a sweet shop and Bengali sweets are so popular that Indian sweet shops would often have a corner dedicated to ‘Bengali Sweets’. In Dubai there are many Indian sweet shops, but only a few of them have such sacred sweet corners. A small list:

  • Bikanervala (our favourite here is Chinese rasgullas, Indrani cups)
  • Puranmal (Anandmadhuri, Rasmadhuri, Malai Sandwich, Raskadam etc)
  • Shree Gangaur (Gurer Rasgulla, Triveni cup, Mishti Dahi etc)

What comes inside our suitcases? All the ones that have been pictured below and more!

Notun gurer roshogolla

Notun gurer roshogolla

Potol/Parwal

Godhoraj Lebu

Kashundhi and Jharna Ghee

Darjeeling Tea

Red chillies Fried coconut

Mouth freshners

Pabda fish

Mocha

My mum-in-law doesn’t spare bringing in anything that I love eating – starting from bringing in half fried bhetki fillets, fried balls of chitol maach that would later go into gravy to half-cooked mocha/banana blossom flower. Also stuff from specific shops or specific brands – Mithai’s Mishti Doi, Balaram’s Baked Rasgullas, Bancharam’s Baked Mihidana, Mukhorachak Chanachur, Gondhoraj Lebu (Bengal lime which has a sweet aroma much like the Thai Kaffir lime), Jharna Ghee (yes nothing but the brand ‘Jharna’), Kashundi (a pungent mustard sauce) and Five Star (a chocolate from Cadbury that tastes like Mars) – the list is pretty endless! What definitely doesn’t travel with us and I wish that it could – are Posto/poppy seeds as these are banned in this region although Middle Eastern cuisine does have a lot of usage of poppy seeds.

Eager to hear what comes back in your suitcases apart from love and good memories?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: If you are tired of seeing the same table background in the above pictures, here’s a warning – we have got a new dining table after a decade and you might have to bear with that in the oncoming posts!

Disclaimer: The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding | Autumnal Sunshine Of The Eternal Mind!

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ∼ George Eliot

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Images of Durga Pujo (the annual autumn festival for Bengalis worldwide when Goddess Durga descends upon earth and photobombs peoples’ selfies!) have started to flood across Facebook and its drilled in my head thousand times over which new dress or saree that my Bengali friends would be wearing on each of the days of the Pujo. That translates into 5 days of Pujo, 5×2 *belas* or times (mornings and afternoons) that they would be changing/wearing new clothes (that makes 10 new dresses plus a few more bought over the online shopping portal on top of what Rangapishi or Fuldimoni bought in a boutique exhibition!). What happens in Dubai? A lot for those who are involved – there are many Pujos being celebrated privately and an official one in the Sindhi Hall in Meena Bazar. But for many of us who try to struggle our daily school and office routine with Pujo, we look forward to the weekend with friends. While my Ma is probably too busy to even whatsapp ‘Happy Pujo’ right now and Baba is too proud to declare that although we have the tallest building on earth in Dubai, the tallest Durga idol – a 80-feet tall fibre-glass Durga idol has just been inaugurated. And now I hear – for the first time ever in the history of Kolkata’s pujo, a near stampede has forced down a Pujo. To move on with the good things in life – here’s a beautiful recipe – an unusual one I would say – to bring on the Pujo… where ever you are, whether you are a Bengali or not.

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Recipes differ across the border – and S’s paternal family originally coming from Bangladesh, have many such recipes that are new to my family. A few years back when Kakima, S’s auntie came to visit us, she brought along with her a treasure trove of recipes that I had never known existed or had tasted. Like the Sour Spinach Chutney. Neither did I know that a vegetable existed in the name of Sour Spinach nor had I any iota of how that sour spinach would taste. Or a payesh/pudding made with Carrots! And cabbage! And Sweet Potato! And Beetroot! Honestly, I pity how geographical boundaries have made our perspectives narrow and knowledge slim. So here I am digging my resurrected albums (remember I had said once that my computers had crashed?) to find some beautiful recipes that needs to see the fire of the oven.

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Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali

Ingredients

2 lt low fat milk (many prefer to use sweetened condensed milk – in that case you will need much less milk)
1 cup moong daal or yellow lentils
2 cups sugar or 1 cup sugar with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp ghee
2 green cardamoms
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 cup pistachios or cashews, 1/4 cup raisins, soaked in water*
1/2 cup almond slivers*

* Optional – for garnishing

Method

  1. Soak the moong daal in water for some time and drain out.
  2. Add ghee in a Dekchi/a flat bottomed pan (Dekchis are usually used for cooking Rice. Please note that all types of payesh are always made in utensils meant for cooking rice or kept separately and hasn’t been used for any other type of cooking. This is because of it’s susceptibility to catching the smell of other cooked items. Constant stirring is required so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t get burnt).
  3. Add the moong daal and stir it along with ghee taking care that the grains don’t get burnt. Set aside.
  4. Boil the milk.
  5. Add the moong daal when the milk comes to a boil. Throw in bay leaves, cardamoms and a bit of ghee.
  6. Keep on stirring so that the lentils are boiled properly and the milk thickens to almost three-quarters of it’s original quantity.
  7. Add the sugar and the sweet condensed milk only towards the end, and keep stirring continuously so that the payesh doesn’t get burnt at the bottom.
  8. Take it off the fire when your desired thickness and consistency has been achieved (some prefer it runny, some prefer it a bit thick).
  9. Garnish with pistachios, raising, cashew Nuts. Serve it cold. Many prefer to eat payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire – so the intensity of sizzle is up to you!

A bit more stirring and thickening of the payesh will probably result in a Halwa. Do try out the other traditional payesh recipes in this blog – Rice Pudding, Notun Gurer Payesh, Gajorer Payesh/Carrot Pudding or the Simuiyer Payesh/Vermicelli Pudding from my blog. If you are looking

2Moong Daal Payesh

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What do you do when you miss something that you have grown up with – a festival, a ritual, a dish or those special people? We make believe! I tell Lady M (my lady Friday)… oh I completely forgot, it is Durga Pujo in Kolkata and everybody will be doing something special – wear new clothes, eat amazing food and catch up with friends and family. She said ‘Lets do something special too’ and that’s what we did… an impromptu makeover to her chilli chicken on our lunch menu! And what a makeover… complete with table setup and her suggestion that I should pour myself a Chablis – wow!

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Doesn’t this dessert look devastatingly destructive (promised myself I will not be using the adjectives like awesome, delicious, fabulous and the most common one – yummy)? Festive or not, desserts are meant to tug at souls (not the diabetic ones). And autumn brings in the new edition of FoodEMag dxb, Do have a flip through – its really beautiful and much shorter. Do share pictures with me when you try this recipe… any new twist that you can bring into it? Curious – whether its only a Bengali who thinks of converting every vegetable on this planet into a dessert or there are more such species like us? Happy Autumn, Happy Navratri, Happy Durga Pujo… and hello fresh hope!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Where Will You Eat Bengali Food In Kolkata? | From Traditional to Bohemian

Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture. ∼ Mark Kurlansky

Traditional Bengali meal at Ma's place

There was a time when finding a Bengali restaurant in Kolkata was difficult. It was limited to either the ‘no-frill canteen’ Suruchi or the ‘hotel restaurant’ Aaheli in Peerless Inn. And much later an inclusion of few Bengali dishes in the menu of Sonargaon in the 5-star ambiance of Taj Bengal. Suruchi is Kolkata’s first Bengali restaurant established in 1969 by the All Bengal Women’s Union and has been frequented by stalwart guests like Satyajit Ray. But it was, and still is, a no-frill joint serving good home-style Bengali food at a very reasonable cost. Toay, the tables have turned and there are innumerable good restaurants in the city that can make traditional home cooks (read my mum and mum-in-law) happy and serves a menu that boasts of traditional dishes that are becoming extinct even in the staunchest of traditional Bengali kitchens. These are not limited only to special delicacies but also regular dishes that once featured daily on our dining tables.

Traditional Bijoya dinner at home

While Bengali food is gaining popularity, the cuisine itself is cerebral and much like French cuisine, has much layers to it, doling out in courses. Whether it is because of the elaborateness or naivety, Indian restaurants in India or outside India, still refer to either the North Indian cuisine – the Chicken Tikkas and Butter Chicken or the South Indian Dosas and Idlys… a culinary sabotage that necessarily happens when a country is vast with each region boasting of a strong and unique culture and cuisine.

How did the Kolkata dining scenario that typically boasted of ‘awesome’ Chinese and Awadhi restaurants and the stiff-lipped ‘Club Culture’ where Bawarchis specialised in Continental cooking suddenly change? Over the last few summers that I have spent in Kolkata, I have seen a surge of restaurants that serve traditional Bengali food not only from ‘this side of Bengal’, but also specialise in Bengali food from ‘that side of Bengal’ – the Dhakai cuisine from Bangladesh {Do read my encyclopedic post on Bengali Cuisine which also talks about the food and cultural conflict of Bengalis who have been torn by partition and comprise the two sides of Bengal – ‘this side – the Ghotis‘ and ‘that side – the Bangals‘… Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Details}. And most of these restaurants seemed to be doing a damn good job. The reasons probably are:

• The new generation Bengalis (just like in many cultures around the world) are not cooking at home so much. Recently, we got introduced to the owners of a Bengali restaurant in Gurgaon – Ki Hangla. We were told that working couples order plain daal, rice and jhirjhire aloo bhaaja/julienned potato fritters and coincides the delivery timing so that the hot food reaches them when they enter home. They are too busy/lazy even to warm the food in the microwave!

• The Bengalis are now taking pride in their own cuisine. While earlier dining out or a treat would necessarily mean indulging in other cuisines, it isn’t like that anymore. Across many cities in India, Bengali cuisine has become quite popular – Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. In fact, my friend and popular food blogger Kalyan Karmakar of Finely Chopped says that there are more Bengali restaurants in Mumbai than Maharashtrian restaurants prompting him to organise Bengali food walks in Bandra! While Bengali food is gaining popularity, the cuisine itself is cerebral and much like French cuisine, has much layers to it, doling out in courses. Whether it is because of the elaborateness or naivety, Indian restaurants in India or outside India, still refer to either the North Indian cuisine – the Chicken Tikkas and Butter Chicken or the South Indian Dosas and Idlys… a culinary sabotage that necessarily happens when a country is vast with each region boasting of a strong and unique culture and cuisine. At most there can be a Mustard fish preparation inspired by Bengal {In Chef Vineet’s Indego in Dubai, there is!}

Thankfully, in my mother’s kitchen or in my mum-in-law’s kitchen, Bengali food hasn’t died – the first picture reflecting a spread in my Ma’s home on a casual day! Although with the mothers aging and gradually lacking their earlier enthusiasm, many delicacies which require elaborate cooking – like Mocha/Banana Blossom, Thor/Banana Plant pith, Paturis/steamed preparations in leaves, various Chutneys and pickles, different types of sweet preparations like Pithe – these are rarities nowadays. Back in our home in Dubai, I do take a lot of pride in cooking traditional Bengali food, but not for everyday meals. Our annual Bijoya dinner {the picture of the food spread earlier was from a Bijoya dinner at home} comprises of paanch rokom bhaja/5 types of fries, khichuri {my Khichuri post here}, narkol diye cholar daal/Bengal Gram Lenti with fried coconut pieceskarai shuti diye bandha kopir torkari/cabbage with green peas, labra or chyachra or chechki/different kinds of vegetable ratatouille, niramishi mangsho/mutton cooked without onion and garlic, chatni, rasamalai etc {and jhalmuri and jhal aloor dum spicy aloor dum a la Vivekananda Park style to go with the drinks!}. When we have guests at other times, I try to stir up ‘Bengali inspired’ dishes – like the Mustard Salmon {the picture above with my quick recipe here} or the Shondesh Pudding {again my recipe here}. Interestingly, a pop up last year in a city restaurant was a testimony to how amazingly palatable Bengali food can be to non-Indian palates – of course under manipulated cooking!

The following are my top places to showcase Bengali cuisine in Kolkata, depending upon the demands of the occasion and there are new restaurants opening up in almost all locality and neighborhood – almost every month.

 6 Ballygunge Place

6 Ballygunge Place ∼ traditional food with a glimpse of Bengal’s culinary heritage

A traditional Bengali meal platter at  6 Ballygunge Place

Buffet at  6 Ballygunge Place

Buffet at 6 Ballygunge Place 6 Ballygunge Place

Family get together at 6 Ballygunge Place Hilsa Bhapa

As the name suggests, 6 Ballygunge Place is the address where the white resplendent bungalow that once belonged to a former Rai Bahadur was converted into a restaurant in 2003 when there were still not many restaurants serving Bengali food in the city. The name has become a credible brand now with branches in other parts of the city and franchises in many other Indian cities. When I met the the founder-director of 6 Ballygunge Place – Chef Sushanta Sengupta two years back, he told me how his research involved cookbooks spanning different eras, including the cooking that took place in Thakurbari {the house of Tagores}, specially Pragya Devi Sundai’s recipes. She was a scion of the Tagore family, who used to write a column in a vernacular news paper on various recipes. That perhaps was the first column of its type in the end of 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century.

What do I love about the Menu? The menu is elaborate and boasts of many delicacies – the dishes are creatively named. The mocktails are named after famous streets in Kolkata – 3 Gour Mohan Chatterjee Street, 1/1 Bishop Lefroy Road {served as a residence to the legendary Satyajit Ray} and so on. The Aam pora Shorbot/smoked Raw Mango Sherbet and Gondhoraj Ghol/Lassi with Bengal Lime are available seasonally and probably have started the trend of traditional Bengali beverages in Bengali restaurants. From the elaborate Starters menu, here are my top picks {dishes which are painstaking to make at home!} – Chingrir Kabiraji Cutlet/Prawn mince cutlet fried with egg net batter, Hansher Deemer Devil/Duck egg crumbed croquettes stuffed with minced lamb, marinated and deep fried Gondhoraj Chicken strips, Mourala Maacher Peyaji/fritters of the delicate Mourala fish. For the Bhajas or Fries, the eternal favourites are jhir jhire Aloo Bhaja/julienned potato fritters and Posto Narkel Bora/ground poppy seeds and roasted coconut croquettes {although it always feels like just 4 boras in a plate are never enough and paying Rs 100+ again for another plate is also too much!}. From the Vegetarian section, the hard-to-make-at-home-dishes are always the repeat orders for this die-hard non-vegetarian foodie. Some of the dishes being – Dhokar Dalna/fried lentil cakes cooked in gravy, Pur Bhora Doi Potol/delicately stuffed wax gourds cooked in gravy, Mochar Ghonto/banana blossom balls cooked with potato in gravy, Echorer Dalna/unripe Jackfruit cooked in gravy and… the home-style Chanar Dalna/fresh made cottage cheese dumplings simmered in a tomato-yoghurt gravy. The choices from the Mains are too many – some highlights would be Galda Chingrir Chine Kabab/stuffed Jumbo Prawns, Daab Chingri/prawns cooked inside tender coconut or the Chingrir Malaikari/Prawn Curry cooked in Coconut Milk, Eilish Paturi/Boneless Hilsa wrapped in Banana leaf and grilled (deboning the Hilsa is not a mean feat), Chitol Maacher Muitha/Chitol fish dumpling cooked in gravy, Tel Koi/Koi fish cooked in Mustard oil, Kancha Lanka Dhone Pata Murgi/Chicken in green chillies and coriander. How do we sign off? This is one time when the Bengali fusion desserts are more attractive than the traditional ones – Nolen Gurer Icecream/icecream flavoured with season fresh date jaggery and the Baked Pantua.

When do we visit 6 Ballygunge Place? The interiors don’t resemble any restaurant and is more like a home. Every year we gather here – with immediate family members from both sides (mine and S’s) – and we occupy one of the inner rooms… even in our Kolkata visit this time, we celebrated my in-laws 48th marriage anniversary (picture above). Our choice on such occasions is to go for the grand Buffet that more or less suffices to reflect some of the more popular dishes from the wide spectrum of Bengali Cuisine – from Shaak to Mishti Doi and order a few delicacies from the a la carte to supplement what is missing in the buffet spread (like we did the Hilsa and the Bhetkis this time). {Excepting Sundays, buffets are available during lunch and are priced at Rs 450+/person, with the Saturday buffet offering a bit more (Aam Pana and 4 non-veg items instead of the regular and priced higher)}.

In recent times, 6 Ballygunge Place has set up a chain of “Thali” restaurants across Kolkata – in Behala, Kasba and Saltlake. The thali/platter offering the best of Bengali cuisine like fulko luchi, kasha mangsho, dhokar dalna, shukto, chatni, misti etc. For me it’s a great concept to bring Bengali food at reasonable prices {a veg thali is priced at Rs 175/person while a non-veg thali is priced from Rs 275/person}, although my parents who have actually tried in the Kasba outlet differ in their opinions. According to them if one adds on items, one ends up with a huge bill – so might as well visit the flagship restaurant and eat in a better ambiance {and dig into more food!}

Bhojohori Manna ∼ for unashamed and unabashed indulgence into traditional fare!


Bhajahori Manna is my absolute favourite and although there are many branches all over the city, I would still run to the tiny little garage space in Ekdalia Park where the first outlet rolled out from – even though it is crowded and there is long queue. Once we even had lunch in the Ekdalia outlet while the floor was submerged in ankle-deep water, with our legs folded up in our chairs. You don’t need to wait much – piping hot food is always getting prepared {and vanishing}. Started by 5 foodies that including our close family friend – the award winning director Goutam Ghosh, Bhojohori Manna has also developed into a credible brand and have franchises across other Indian cities. Named after the famous Bengali song rendered by Manna Dey in the 70’s, Bhojohori Manna had been the magical cook who travelled to different lands. The endeavour is to promote the old world concept of a ‘pice hotel’. The menu is handwritten every day on a whiteboard {no not the chalk arts that you might visualise in urban cafes!} and uses season fresh ingredients.

What do I love about the Menu? Almost everything! From the different types of ratatouille that the Bengali kitchen boasts of – Chyachra, Lyabra or the Maacher Matha Diye Ghonto {the latter cooked with fish head and fish bones} to simple home styled preparations of Postor Borar Jhal/fried balls of ground Poppy seeds cooked in gravy or the Panchmeshali Chochori – the five vegetable mishmash, the menu is really long and elaborate. Where else can one order Rui Macher Deemer Bora/croquettes of Rohu fish eggs – the caviar version of the Bengali variety! Also a lot of fish preparation comes with the availability of desi fish – desi Pabda, desi Tyangra, desi Parshe, desi Koi and even the Chara Bhetki. Other top picks are Potoler Dorma/stuffed wax gourd, Chingrir Bora and the various nitty gritties of preparations with fish head and fish bones – Muri Ghonto/Rice preparation with fish head and bones, Ilisher Matha Diye Pui Shaak or Kolmi Shaak/Basella leaves or Water Spinach with Hilsa Fish head, regular Bhetki Kata Chocchori. More than the chicken or the mutton preparations {although the special Dak Bungalow or the Goalando Steamer curry are tempting enough}, I think the highlight of the Bhojohori kitchen is all the fish preparations – Pabda, Parshe, Chitol, Iilish, Rui {even Gurjali Maacher jhaal} and the prawn and crab preparations, specially the regular features from home kitchens – the Desi Koi Aloo Phulkopir Jhol/Desi Koi with potatoes and cauliflower or Begun Bori diye Maacher jhol/fish preparation with lentil balls and eggplant. Talking about desserts, although the city is not short of any sweet shops, a few of these restaurants are keeping up with some of the intricate desserts that aren’t being made at homes these days. I prefer to sign off my meal at Bhojohori with Chandrapuli or Patishapta – something that is still not available in many regular sweet shops.

When do we visit Bhojohori Manna? While I wouldn’t be treating my heel-clad guests in the Ekdalia outlet, preferring the one in Hindustan Park, I myself will hop only into the Ekdalia outlet if I had to – I simply love the ‘two pice’ charm – the very essence with which Bhojohori started. Bhojohori Manna is for indulging as well as just digging into a piping hot traditional Bengali meal, quickly and on the go. Every time I pass by the Ekdalia outlet and see the uniformed security guard at the gate waiting to usher guests in {the only anomaly here with the simple ‘two pice’ canteen look of the tiny interiors}, I am tempted to just step in an sit down for an indulging meal!

Last heard, Bhojohori Manna is in talks to venture into Dubai – and I am guessing that it is not the ‘two pice’ concept but the rich heritage of Bengali cuisine that will be showcased {I will be the loudiest cheerleader once this happens!}

Bohemian ∼ food that does cabaret on the senses with trusted flavours from Bengal but in a new appearance!

Bohemian Restaurant in Kolkata

Bohemian is another place that has come up recently on the city’s culinary radar {Do read my review on Bohemian and an interview I took of Chef Joymalyo}. Please don’t expect the traditional Luchi, Aloor Dum and Cholar Daal here {although my brother ordered exactly that!}. Gondhoraj Lebu Sorbet & Gondhoraj soufflé, Vegetable Monihari with tender Coconut & Gondhoraj Lebu, Prawn Gondhoraj, Bhetki Gondhoraj dance on the senses and the food is exotic fine-dining although I wouldn’t describe the ambiance as fine-dining – its more like a causal cafe restaurant. Chef Joy has been the head Chef of Oh! Calcutta and has a pretty credible name. Chef Joy’s words rings in my ears – ‘“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.’

Recently, Bohemian has had a change in its menu and I haven’t yet the chance to taste it. So my comments here are naturally based on its earlier menu but I have this feeling that the experience from the new menu wouldn’t be much different.

What do I love about the Menu? The Panch Phoron laden food of course! 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. Our pick from the Starters – Panch Phoron flavoured Chicken Escallops, Vodka soaked Prawns with Grilled Garlic Aioli, Joyous Mutton Chops (above left in the 2nd row) and Chilli Pickle n Cheese baked Crab with Kolmi Greens (in the last row in the above picture). The definite must-try would be the palate cleansers – Green Mango & Honey Sorbet, Orange & Aam Adaa Sorbet, Gondhoraj Sorbet. For the Mains, my picks are Daab aar Gondhoraj Diye Shabji-r Monihari/vegetable with coconut & gondhoraj lime, Phoolkopir Malai Curry/cauliflower malai curry, Pabda Rolls stewed in cherry tomato & spinach broth, 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 items, my pick will be Spicy Pork Curry (cooked with Anglo-Indian spices), Royal Bengal Roast Mutton with Bhuna Sauce, Mutton Vindalaoo (Calcutta style), Ham Steak – Chef Joy’s style. Again the desserts border on fusion – Malpua Cheese Cake, Gondhoraj Soufflé, Spiced Mango Soufflé, Mustard and Tender Coconut Mousse, Channa Panch Phoron Mousse.

When do we visit Bohemian? When we want to surprise our senses to what ‘new’ is being served which has the flavours of Bengali cuisine. Definitely not for those who want a showcase of traditional Bengali food but definitely for those who are in love with great tasting gourmet food. Also definitely not when you don’t want to splurge. The bill is high which probably accounts for the novelty of the menu but not the ambiance. The new menu just like it’s earlier counterpart is intriguing and interesting – and like the earlier menu is elaborate and calls for return visits just to ‘cover’ it… the Guava and Rock Salt sorbet as palate cleanser or the Toffee Roshogolla and the Pantua Baked Alaska! My belief is on the Chef himself – and I would like to congratulate him on the ‘bohemian’ and Rancho-inspired track he is on to re-invent himself, of course flavoured with Bengali spices!

Last heard, Bohemian has changed its menu and a few of my foodie friends who are Bohemian fans are a bit disappointed. I am yet to taste the new menu. Last year on my summer visit to Kolkata however, we chose Bohemian over 6 Ballygunge Place for our annual family grand-get together. The upper level was yet to open but the Chef opened it just for us {yes, I believe a lot of people have come to Bohemian – specially from Dubai, after reading my review} and we were pampered to the hilt. As usual, Bohemian didn’t disappoint us – neither our mothers – which is the toughest litmus test!

Oh! Calcutta ∼ an oft visited place in yesteryears, but now lies as the forgotten pioneer in my book.  I keep reminding myself once in a while that the bill is lesser than Sonargaon in Taj Bengali and the menu more authentic!

Oh Calcutta!

Neglected in my book at this hour and day when traditional Bengali food is available at many places and at half the bill, I have to admit that it was Oh! Calcutta which first started this new chapter of serving traditional Bengali food in. Continuing with Chef Joy’s conversation – ‘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.’ However, like Anjan Chatterjee’s other restaurant Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta has had a phenomenal growth across the city as well the country and I still remember the excitement of eating traditional Bengali fare in a wood panelled elegant ambiance with customised plates at its flagship outlet at Elgin Road. But I detest the crowd and the long queue of Oh! Kolkata in shopping malls, however popular the buffets might be or however attractive the a-la carte menu is priced at.

What do I love about the Menu? I think I had my first Boneless Hilsa and the Bhetki Maacher Paturi/Bhektki fillets marinated and wrapped in banana here. Or the Vodka Aam Pana. My top picks are Aam Kashundi Kakra/Crab cooked with Mango and Mustard, Chitagong Masala Murgi/Chicken cooked in Chitagong style, Kacha Lanka Murgi/chicken cooked with green chillies and coriander, Kasha Mangsho/Lamb pot roasted with potatoes and thick gravy. No special desserts to choose from the menu though.

When do we visit Oh! Calcutta? When I have to showcase Bengali food to my non-Bengali and non-Indian friends with some fine wine accompanying my Bengali food – it will have to be Oh! Calcutta at the Silver Arcade on Bypass. The bill is still lesser than Sonargaon in Taj Bengali and the menu more authentic! I would challenge the team to however reinvent itself – I would like to see how a Chochori or a Chyachra can be served in a fine dining manner {no fusion here please!}

Last heard, Anjan Chatterjee had been in talks to open one of his flagship restaurants in Melia Dubai – when I had interviewed Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, he said that he had requested AC to open a restaurant in Dubai and he was contemplating bringing in Mainland China over Oh! Calcutta – sigh:(

Here and there ∼ it’s not the end of the road, but almost all roads lead to a Bengali Restaurant in the city today!

Kasturi Dhakai Cuisine

Kasturi Restaurant (est 1994): Recently, we had lunch {the evidence is as above} at the outlet near Patha Bhavan and our experience was fabulous. The menu is elaborate and claims that it serves Dhakai cuisine, but apart from a few Bhortas, I felt that the stress is more on the Bengali cuisine from this of Bengal. I had ordered a Sampoorna Bhoj with prawn and it came with Moong Dal, Jhur Jhure Allo Bhaja, Aloo Posta and more. We had also ordered their signature Kolmi Shaak diye Chingri/prawn paste with water spinach – a taste that perhaps is going to bring me back. But if my sole focus was on good traditional Bengali food with no preference of any ambiance or lack of elbow space, I would rather hop into the Ekdalia outlet of Bhojohori Manna. If my focus is on a bit of an ambiance I would go to 6 Ballygunge Place. A bit of emphasis on the interiors may help – why keep a statue of an Egyptian figurine on the shelf when it is all about Bengali food?

Kewpie’s Kitchen (est 1989): This is one legendary place located at one legendary house – Minakshie Dasgupta’s house. Starting off as a 12-seater eatery in the garage of the house, today the entire house has been converted into a restaurant. A lot of recipes are from Minakshie Dasgupta’s famous books “Bangla Ranna” & “Calcutta Cookbook”. Today, her daughters Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta and Piu Purnima Dasgupta run the restaurant and it is pretty much a pleasure when the former is around to explain the dishes served to the guests. The interiors are more eclectic than 6 Ballygunge Place as this has been a formally lived in space for its celebrated owners and is always filled with foreign guests, students and others who are interested in learning more about Bengali Cuisine. Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta occasionally imparts cooking classes here in collaboration with a market walk with Iftekhar Ahsan of Calcutta Walks {here’s my experience of one of my walks with them} that follows a lunch experience in Kewpie’s Kitchen. Again the menu has its fair share of Ghonto and Maacher Jhaal, but the charm is having the food in specially designed clay thali/plate and batis/bowls. Although my last visit to Kewpie’s hasn’t been all that great, I do recall fond times at Kewpie’s much before the times of SLR and smartphones – when we dined out without the intention of taking selfies first or Facebook updates!

Here, I have listed ‘my one-stop culinary destination for Bengali food’ under different circumstances. A discussion on the topic with foodie friends on Facebook resulted in a lot of names – the list is long and not comprehensive though…  Rajbarir Khao, Bhooter Raja Dilo Bor, Sholo Ana Bangali, Panch Phoron, Dhaka Puran, Radhuni and Prince in Free School street, Byloom with a small menu, Padmaparer Rannaghar, Kashe Kasha and more. Do live in a city where your regional cuisine is well represented and do you think that traditional kitchens are dying?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: Thanks Anindyo, Kaniska, Kalyan, Monalisa, Sumitava, Jayita, Mamta, Milon and others for joining in the discussion. All meals have been paid from my own pocket. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Payesh or Rice Pudding For My Birthday | Power of Gratitude Messages

Payesh or Bengali Rice Pudding

It is just 3 days past my birthday – and belated birthday wishes are still pouring in on Facebook. And I ain’t any celebrity. Social media makes you feel like one though – of course, if you choose it that way and keep your birth date visible in the settings. I chose to – because, face it… which other day would friends (as in all who are in the Facebook Friend list – close friends, good friends, foodie friends, family, school friends, college friends, ex-colleagues and casual acquaintances included) from all corners of the world, and from all walks of life, write to you. The first wishes started pouring in from India much before the clock struck 12 in Dubai and heralded my birthday here. I woke up in the morning with a Google notification reminding me of my age. Facebook screamed that aloud as well. Really, time did fly very fast. Usually, these are feelings associated with seeing your children grow up in front of you, not yourself. I woke up to an older myself, and I changed the settings so that the age was now invisible to friends.

Lil Z in the corridor with milk chocolates from Candilicious

How was I going to celebrate my birthday? What were the big plans? Well, I had been in self-imposed exile for the last few days because of chicken pox. Not one to publicise it on Facebook, only a few of my friends knew about it. And the rest – whoever called up to wish me screamed out – ‘But how did you manage to contract it?’ ‘Are you kidding me?’ ‘Really? Didn’t you have it when you were a kid?’ I was in an apologetic mode – ‘Sorry buddies, I don’t know why I have got it, and how I have got it. Maybe I am not that old not to get it.’ Yes, that struck a chord. I am not too old to have chicken pox. I am pretty young to have got it actually. Gratitude begins there. The Z-Sisters would have to remain outside my room while I would be inside – Lil Z offering her chocolates and ‘air huggies’ and hand made cards. This had been the toughest part – staying in isolation and trying to be away from the girls. It must have been tough for S to have managed the school runs and Lady M who has had to do everything alone. Gratitude again – to have them in my life. In fact, the power of gratitude message harnesses itself many times, more so in times of emotional stress.

Egg Curry from Appa Kadai

Once you become a parent, what you want to eat, which cake you want to order becomes irrelevant. While going out to school, Big Z placed an order (to me, of course) for a 4-cheese pizza while Lil Z wanted a pepperoni one. And of course, the cake would have to be chocolate and almond flavour. Who cares about the birthday girl? Does it matter that me – the mum – the birthday girl – pretty please – might prefer a mutton biryani from Shiraz or a home cooked Khicuri? And then what about ordering from one of her favourite budget eats – from where food comes home within 20 minutes of placing the order – Appa Kadai (Jasmine aka Pear Tree Diaries mentions it also as one of her fav budget eats). Did I ever write a post on it? No, never. Where was my gratitude? My gratitude poured in later via ordering a birthday treat.

Egg curry from Appa Kadai

A dream lunch from a few days back played on my mind – bull’s eye appam, beef sukha, egg curry, chicken chettinad, Malabar fish curry… Appa Kadai delivered home. Disregarding the outbursts from Lil Z that would ensue  soon – ‘Mama it’s too spicy, I never ever want to eat from Appa Kadai again, not even their Chinese’, Mama’s order for her birthday lunch soon was egg curry and bull’s eye appam… and a mutton sukha! Just to mention here, Appa Kadai borders on being a multi-cuisine restaurant, much to my dislike. The Appa Kadai lunch was followed by cake cutting in the evening from (Brownie Point) – yes, I took a chance to come out of my bedroom into the living room – feeling like a heroine in a movie who would soon see her hero – in slow motion. And that was followed by pizza from Papa Murphie’s. A birthday spent at home, amongst family, with food and lots of love showered on me.

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gratitude

ˈɡratɪtjuːd/
noun
noun: gratitude
1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Often, we don’t think much of what we have, what we should be grateful for – in that particular moment, or on that particular day, or the days that have gone past. A home delivery or a cake order that one is expecting anyway doesn’t make one feel grateful – as if these things are granted in life. Not until a few surprises jerk you up and make you feel tearful. Like the flowers that arrived from my Punjabi friend Shelly living in the same building or the Payesh, the traditional rice pudding that my Marwari friend Seema had sent the day earlier (of Gulab Jamun Rabri had been her recipe, and the special Marwari dinner of Daal-Bati-Churma was at her place). Or the huge bouquet of fruits that arrived from Edible Arrangement, order placed by Bohochics – a group of 8 girl friends – my soul sisters now, with whom I travel to a new destination every 18 months (started with Prague and our last destination was Florence).  But why fruits? Because, I had been off sweets for a while due to medical reason. So much of discussion, so many secret group chats (sans me of course) must have ensued. Yes, my gratitude.

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But why suddenly talking of gratitude? Has this birthday made me more wise? Not at all. Actually in the last month, we have been doing a round of gratitude messages amongst the friends in Bohochics – a gratitude message from each of us, every day… we are already into our third round and what is fascinating is how each message connects to everyone and makes them feel grateful for having a similar person in their lives as well. It made me think of people that I hadn’t thought of in many days, some in many years – but who I am grateful to, for what I am today. It made me remember moments that have given wings for me to fly, and shaped my dreams. It made me think of my family – my loving brother, my extended family, long lost friends, special relationships and random incidents. It also made me realise the power in following some sort of a prayer or a ritual of thanking that exists in many religion. Isolation from my own family, and these gratitude messages made me realise how much I have got in life and how grateful I should be today. I wish I could share these gratitude messages here, but I can’t as many are very private. We have become so busy in our daily lives today that we rarely pause to think of people around us. Think of special privileges that surround us – like the precious hand written card that comes from my mum-in-law every year before my birthday. Now, I have taken it almost for granted – Ma will definitely send one. Or the phone call that comes from my parents early in the morning, trying to catch me before I become busy in my daily chore. That too, I have taken for granted – my parents and brother will obviously call me up.

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The list continues. The fact that I am surrounded by adopted family and friends, who have stood by us for years and are more than family now. I have also found foodie siblings across the world – a British sister in Debbie Rogers (author of Coffee, Cakes and Running and also working with me in Food e Mag dxb), a Bengali brother in Kalyan Karmakar (author of award-winning blog Finely Chopped whose blog post on Dubai made me that I had grabbed the main character role in a foodie blockbuster), another Bengali sister in Asma Khan (supperclub organiser in London and author of Darjeeling Express). I have found love and acceptance by a huge fraternity of blogger friends from Fooderati Arabia, braced and guided by the Mama duckie for all – Sally Prosser aka My Custard Pie. We bounce our ideas with each other, guide each other and most importantly support each other. Yes, I have found love. And gratitude. And much to my excitement – Payesh.

Payesh or Traditional Rice Pudding

Payesh or the traditional Rice Pudding is what brings on the birthday celebrations in a Bengali household. All celebrations for that matter. Payesh is reserved for an auspicious ocassion. It is the first non-solid food that a Bengali child eats and it is the ultimate symbol of celebration (I have written about it here). Payesh is drilled into our DNAs like a lot of other dishes. Like Luchis – the crispy puffed up flour flat bread – lost in translation yes, but resurrected in explanation and genuine feelings. Like Mishti Doi – the sweet yogurt, after a celebratory dinner. Like Khichuri and the very many fritters when it rains in a Bengali dictionary. Cake cutting, champagne and whatever fancy puddings you might offer, but at the beginning of it all, it has to be Payesh. At the beginning of all, literally. Payesh brings back a lot of nostalgia – my Dida or my maternal grandmother, her love for cooking – her dedication to her 7 children and their sub-branches.  Specially, when it is sweetened with season fresh jaggery instead of sugar – Notun Gurer Payesh (above). As for my birthday Payesh, I poured Seema’s Payesh in a silver bowl that had been used for my Annaprashan, when I was five months old (below) and felt my Ma’s love surrounding me immediately. On the mornings of my birthday, she would wake up early to make Payesh, so that I could have a spoonful, before I left for school. A silver spoonful of Payesh – a spoon from the many spoons that grace my cupboard today – brimming with love, memories and nostalgia – essential ingredients to my cooking. I don’t have my Ma here, but my birthday Payesh had been there. Again, my gratitude.

Payesh or Bengali Rice Pudding

Payesh or Bengali Rice Pudding

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali

Ingredients

2 lt low fat milk (many prefer to use sweetened condensed milk – in that case you will need much less milk)
1 cup fragrant white rice or Basmati rice*
2 cups sugar or 1 cup sugar with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp ghee
2 green cardamoms
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 cup pistachios (optional – for garnishing) 1/4 cup raisins, soaked in water (optional – for garnishing)
1/2 cup almond slivers, (optional – for garnishing)

Method

  1. Soak the rice in water for some time and drain out.
  2. Boil the milk in a Dekchi/a flat bottomed pan (Dekchis are usually used for cooking Rice. Please note that Payesh is always made in utensils meant for cooking rice or kept separately and hasn’t been used for any other type of cooking. This is because of it’s susceptibility to catching the smell of other cooked items. Constant stirring is required so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t get burnt).
  3. Add the rice when the milk comes to a boil. Throw in the bay leaves, cardamoms and a bit of ghee.
  4. Keep on stirring so that the rice is boiled properly and the milk thickens to almost three-quarters of it’s original quantity.
  5. Add the sugar and the sweet condensed milk only towards the end, and keep stirring continuously so that the Payesh at the bottom doesn’t get burnt.
  6. Take it off the fire when your desired thickness and consistency has been achieved (some prefer it runny, some prefer it a bit thick).
  7. Garnish with Pistachios, raising, Cashew Nuts. Serve it cold. However, some prefer to eat this Payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire!

*The fragrant Rice that is traditionally used in making the Bengali Payesh is a special type of rice called Gobindobhog. Wikipedia defines it as ‘Gobindobhog is a rice referenced in ancient Indian literature. It was used as an offering to the gods because it was known to be, “The rice preferred by the gods”. It is a short grain, white, aromatic, sticky rice. It is grown traditionally in West Bengal, India. It has many traditional Bengali recipes intended for it specifically. It has a sweet buttery flavor and a potent aroma. There is a type of rice which comes from Bangladesh – the Chinigura Rice (similar to Basmati and Jasmine rice but with very tiny, short grains, resembling sushi rice). The latter, though less fragrant than Gobindobhog Rice is easily available in Bangladeshi shops in the Sharjah Backet. Also try the Notun Gurer Payesh or the Gajorer Payesh/Carrot Pudding or the Simuiyer Payesh/Vermicelli Pudding from my blog.

Payesh or Bengali Rice Pudding

Last February, I met up with a very old friend of mine – Buddy, a film maker whose debut film Teenkahon, is doing the rounds of the international festival circuits in a big way. His film has been one of the most powerful films that I must have watched in recent times. Cinematic influence, melodrama, chicken pox hormones – blame what you may, but a story built up in my mind and I shared it with him the story of a woman… it’s very difficult  when you are not physically handicapped, yet not able to touch your children… and see them gradually getting used to not asking for the mother (specially the little one)… I imagine myself to be that woman who’s suddenly have to be confined indoors for life because of some contagious illness that she has contratced. Her entire view to the world is through her smartphone, the computer and a window that looks out into a building with 100 windows staring back. What about the husband? What about the children? How long would they need her and remember her? And what if she slowly gets bored and tired and broken down emotionally and slowly brainwashed by some extremists… the woman who is a travel writer traveling the world until she fell ill… There was obviously more to it. But right now, I am grateful that I have come out of that character and have shed my spots and tucked my girls in bed last night! Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: None of the outlets mentioned have sponsored any of the food! The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Payesh

Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal | BBC GoodFood ME

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Eid Mubarak and Shubho Bijoya to all of you! Born a Hindu and brought up embracing all faiths, I am always amazed to find how different festivals from different faiths almost always coincide with each other – as if underlining my belief that we are ultimately bound by only one faith – that of humanity. It is all destined. Much like how my feature on a Food Safari of Bengal in BBC GoodFood Middle East’s 7th Anniversary Bumper issue coincided with the timing of writing a blog post on Bhapa Mishti Doi or the traditional steamed sweet yoghurt. I have been penning this down several times but it never got finished. I was determined to publish it during Eid and Bijoya. The latter is the culmination of the 5 day long autumn festival that surrounds around Durga Pujo – the most important festival for the Bengalis world wide. Every year, around this time, I anxiously wait for the Facebook uploads from our Bengali friends and family living around the world for an annual update on food and fashion ideas that are born during the Durga Pujo! This time, my brother led me through a journey of ‘Pandal hopping’ in Kolkata. He also shared his experiences of witnessing the Bishorjon or the immersion of idols in the River Ichamati – along the borders of India and Bangladesh, under the strict vigilance of the Border Security Forces. All via Whatsapp (I have shared the gallery below)!

Food Safari of Bengal in BBC GoodFood ME

Food Safari of Bengal in BBC Good Food Middle East, October issue: The article chalks out my childhood, my food and travel memories and Bengali cuisine, followed by the recipes of Bhapa Mishti Doi and Shorshe Bata Salmon or the Mustard Salmon (another version of the Mustard Salmon – with French mustard paste – in my blog). Both dishes are legendary *items* in Bengali Cuisine (obviously not the Mustard Salmon, but Mustard fish), although it doesn’t encompass all that Bengali Cuisine has to offer. If you are so interested, take a look at my post on what I often call, an encyclopaedic post on Bengali Cuisine. Following are some of the behind the scene shots of the photo shoot on the day the BBC GoodFood team came home. The photographs in the actual feature looks even more gorgeous (taken from the other side of the table!), so do grab yourself a copy and let me know what you think… Untitled-5Untitled-6Untitled-8

The Travel Show of Dubai Eye 103.8FM: The protagonist in the last few months in my life has definitely been the Mishti Doi. Just a few days back, I had been chatting with Mark Lloyd and Lucy Taylor on the Travel Show of Dubai Eye 103.8FM about Kolkata, Bengali food, my blogging journey, Mishti Doi and more. Listen to the podcast – please relish the mmms as both Lucy and Mark taste the Mishti Doi on air!

The clay pots to hold Rôshogollas @traditional sweet shop in Kolkata

Mishti Doi story and my thoughts on it: Mishti or sweets ‘belong’ to Bengalis. You will find many famous Indian sweet shops outside Bengal with a ‘Bengali Sweet’ Counter. Yes, even in Dubai – in Bikanerwala, Chappan Bhog and others. Sweets are a necessary sign-off for a traditional Bengali meal. A meal ends with a Chutney (a sweet, tangy paste that can be made with every conceivable fruit and even vegetables). After the Chutney comes the formal dessert tasting and the choices in Mishti/Sweets are absolutely endless. While Roshôgolla or the Rasgulla rules the popularity chart (yes, I have written an essay on them as well), the one dessert that comes a close second is definitely the Mishti Doi. While the making of the traditional Mishti Doi can be pretty time consuming and there is always the apprehension of whether the setting of the Doi is perfect, the Bhapa Doi or the steamed yoghurt can be pretty easy – you just have to steam it a bit longer if you find that it’s not set yet! In Kolkata, if you enter any sweet shop, you will get to see a stack of earthen pots in different sizes (above) – Mishti Doi is set in earthen pots like these. The traditional preparation of Mishti Doi calls for an elaborate process – caramelising the milk with sugar or Notun Gur / season fresh jaggery. The thickened milk is then let to ferment overnight in a container which has been coated with fresh yoghurt, which helps in the culture. An earthen pot allows gradual evaporation of water through its pores and provides the right temperature for the yoghurt to set in. Trust me, make Bhapa Mishti Doi instead! IMG-20140608-WA0009

I feel that Mishti Doi can cater to a non-Indian palette more than any other Indian desserts. As I spend more time with food and meet different people through my blogging, I have come to the conclusion that although people may enjoy and experiment with different types of cuisine, it’s not the same with desserts. My non-Indian friends may love Indian food, but when it comes to Indian desserts – they feel that they are too sweet. I absolutely love Thai food (having had a brilliant experience in the country along with some authentic Thai cooking lessons), I don’t get excited by Thai desserts. The liking for desserts, by and large, is probably an acquired taste. This is where Mishti Doi wins hands down over other Indian desserts. The texture and the taste resembles the crème brûlée or the pudding or the Dulce de leche – Journey Kitchen writes about her version of Mishti Doi – the Baked Dulce de leche Yogurt. The other day, I had dropped in at my friend and food blogger Debbie’s place (she writes as Coffee Cakes and Running) when she was in the midst of making her famous Banoffee Pie. The caramel toffee she had prepared tasted exactly like the Mishti Doi. A few blogger friends who had attended one of my Bengali Gourmet pop up in Book Munch earlier on (above), commented how the Mishti Doi would taste like a cheese cake filling if it had been thickened more – thus giving me new ideas – to set a thicker Mishti Doi in a pie crust. That would be my Mishti Doi Tart!Untitled-7

My own experiments on Mishti Doi: While the Mishti Doi Tart is yet to be born in my kitchen, there has been a few successful variants that I am already proud of. My friends and family are an integral part of my kitchen experiments – while the Z-Sisters are never tired of my experiments with Bengali fusion recipes, some friends willingly lend themselves to being the untiring guinea pigs (thanks Shelly). And there are other friends who are my *recipe consultants*.  For example, Sumana. She is my authority on desserts – my *dessert consultant*, while with Neel I am always exploring new recipe possibilities. The former has successful inherited the recipe of Bhapa Mishti Doi, after having tweaked the original recipe from one of my favourite Bengali food blog – Bong Mom’s Cookbook. My recipe has been re-tweaked from Sumana’s. Often we brainstorm on different Mishti Doi variants. While different flavours of Mishti Doi are not unusual in Kolkata, like Elaichi Doi or the Mango Doi … from vintage sweet shop *Balaram Mullick*(estd in 1885!), we are currently experimenting variations of toppings, without changing the flavour of the original Bhapa Mishti Doi. Here are a few of them…Untitled-10 Untitled-10aIMG_20140605_154736

Bhapa Mishti Doi with pomegranates or the saffron topping – both worked very well (Lucy Taylor commented that the latter tasted like honey). Again, Debbie accidentally discovered during my Bengali Gourmet pop up event, the Mango chutney topping (above), which I have to admit worked really well! The next on the pipe line is the hard caramelised topping a la the crème brûlée! I have also tried setting the Bhapa Mishti Doi in one big earthen pot (below) – the challenge lies in not burning the surface, while making sure that it has thickened consistently. I ended up burning the surface as well as the earthen pot and spoilt the look by scraping off the burnt crust. It tasted very good, nevertheless!Untitled-15

Bhapa Mishti Doi or Steamed Sweet Yoghurt

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 1/2 can of sweet condensed milk (I use Nestle, each can = 350 gm)

1 can of evaporated milk (I use Rainbow, each can = 410 gm)

1 kg of plain yoghurt

1/2 tsp saffron strands

Method

  1. Whisk the sweet condensed milk, evaporated milk and yoghurt finely or beat with a hand mixer or in the blender till nice and frothy
  2. Pour them into small ceramic pots (if you can’t get hold of earthen pots)*
  3. Sprinkle Saffron strands on top
  4. Pre heat Oven to 350º F. Fill a large baking tray with water. Put each pot with the mix in it so that water is half way up. Do not cover the baking dish
  5. After 30 – 35 minutes the yogurt will set. If not, allow a couple of more minutes. It’s ready when the top and the edges start browning a little. At this point insert a tooth pick lightly to see if it is done (the tooth pick should come out clean. It might be a little wobbly but cool in the refrigerator for 5-6 hrs or overnight to set completely). Take it out and chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

Why don’t you try out pomegranates for a topping?

*Note: I get my earthen pots from the Bombay Chowpatty, located in the food court of Lulu Al Barsha. The smaller ones cost Dhs 2/piece. Normally they don’t sell these but I persist. Al Adil Supermarkets also stock them – but they are more expensive – Dhs 5/piece. Please wash them in running water and let them dry out before you use them.

(As shared in BBC GoodFood Middle East, October 2014)

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I have thought of writing this blog post so many times and have clicked various pictures at home. Probably, it wasn’t time yet! Not until now, I guess. I am happy that the Bhapa Mishti Doi gets a bit of publicity and so does the Z-Sisters! Do let me know what you think of it… and also the Food Safari on Bengal. I have been really keen on a write up on Bengali food in BBC GoodFood Middle East from the first time I got a mention in the magazine as ‘Meet the blogger’ – way back in August 2012! Do have a look at the incredible gallery of Durga Pujo in Kolkata – including the royal Shovabazaar Raajbari Pujo, and also the Bishorjon in the River Ichamati, as shared by my brother (@Kolkatan on Instagram). Stay blessed!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

@Kolktan’s pick of the most creative idols…

Shobhabazaar Rajbari…

Immersion in River Ichamati…

And finally, Pujo fashion…

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Opening Up My Bengali Kitchen For Dima Sharif

Traditional tea kettle or the *kettly*Ramadan Kareem! As I leave Dubai for the summers and settle down in Kolkata for almost two months (my summer hibernation as I like to call it, and probably for a lot of Dubai expats as well), I am overcome with tremendous guilt. Guilt for leaving my adopted home for far too long and also the guilt for feeling excited and longing to update my nerves and soul on what I might have missed out in Kolkata in the last two years… and in effect cheating my beloved Dubai! Although, I have left the shores of Bengal for long, Bengal hasn’t left me. The more I have tried to be neutral about my roots and heritage, I have ended up seeking more of my Bengali roots, Bengali food etc. So when my friend and food blogger Dima Sharif, wanted to capture some moments with me on video, I had been utterly confused as to where I should begin. There were so many stories to tell – stories about my journey as a food blogger and how I am trying to showcase my regional cuisine to the international audience, how we are raising our two girls – the Z-Sisters, in a cosmopolitan city like Dubai and infusing a bit of Bengaliana in their subconsciousness, of course in a subtle way without overwhelming them with the knowledge of a culture that they are not growing up in. And then there is Mela, my Lady Friday and how both of us are trying to adapt to a new home in a different city, different culture, different country –  as expats living far away from our respective homes and how our lives become intertwined.Bengali Cookbooks

If I write one more word, it will not do justice to Dima’s tremendous efforts in creating a video (above)  in which I have opened up my Bengali kitchen and lay my soul bare with the dilemmas of expat living. You want to be international, and at the same time aware of your roots. The menu for Dima had been simple (I wish I could feed her with more dishes) but a very traditional Bengali one – Luchi, Daal, Begun Bhaja/fried Eggplant, Roshogolla, Mishti Doi/Sweet Yogurt, Aamer Chutney/Mango Chutney, Shorshe bata Maach/Mustared Fish and Masala Thumbsup! I took out all the Bengali cookbooks and coffee table books on Kolkata I had, and all the inherited family tableware, put on a CD playing my Ma’s songs – just so that I could create a Bengali ambiance for Dima. My Ma's RabindraSangeet CDBefore signing off, let me mention the significance of this video. Dima’s blog has a tradition and in her own words… Every Ramadan I have a Ramadan Special, which is daily posting of recipes and stories throughout the Holy month (30 days). This Ramadan Special, I am posting daily recipes and cultural stories to explore with you the Culture of Ramadan, its various colours and the now and then of Ramadan Traditions. About how and why she started this Ramadan special blog postings, she tells me… In the beginning it started more like sharing recipes. I knew that most practicing women like to cook at Ramadan, specially when the whole family is fasting the whole day. They are looking for recipes or inspiration. Ramadan to me is a time for self introspection, contemplation and reflecting on how we are living and how we want to continue living. This is also the time when we have a bit more time in hand and I though why not give back something more to my readers and give some ‘food for thought’. I thought of taking the Ramadan practices and incorporate that in my blog. At the end of the day we all have different triggers that inspires us and there will be something or the other that will connect to people, make them nostalgic, remind them of their roots or make them feel inspired. This year, she has made videos on each person that she has met on the path of food. I do feel humbled and honoured for being part of her special webepisodes. Hope you join in her special journey and mine too and enjoy the trailer as well as the actual video. And for those of you who have stayed back in Dubai, here’s a roundup of a few Iftars and Suhoors that you shouldn’t be missing and may your lives be blessed by the holy month of Ramadan!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: A few days back too, I had created a Bengali Gourmet menu and I feel very privileged to have been surrounded with the love and support of media and blogger friends, including Dima. The event had been aired on Zee TV ME.

The table settingMy Dida, an inspirationMasala ThumbsupThe traditional spreadRecipes from the Kichen of the TagoresUntitled-21Shorshe bata Maach Moonger DaalRoshogollaRoshogolla Luchi in the making Dima capturing the Luchi Dima Sharif Dima Sharif Dima Sharif Dima Sharif

A few Bengali posts in my blog:

Traditional Bengali Cuisine | In ‘Slight’ Details – An etymological explanation of my food-fetish
Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case | Shubho Noboborsho!
Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi!
Dilipda’s Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park | World Famous In Kolkata!
♦ Pickles | Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles!
♦ Momos in Tiretti Bazar | The Last Chinese Remnants!
Khichuri As Harbinger of Hope & Kolkata Soaked In Rains
Firni or Ferni, Ramadan or Ramzan, Mallick Bazar or Karama | It’s The Same Festive Sentiment!
Terraces and Beyond – Kolkata
Shiraz Golden Restaurant, Dubai | From Lucknow To Kolkata And To Dubai!
Rôshogolla (রসগোল্লা) | Bengali’s Own Sweet
Stories of Love, Nostalgia And Memories – The Ingredients To My Cooking

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

 

How Did I Fare In Showcasing My Bengali Cuisine? | On Zee TV Middle East

Bengali Gourmet Dinner for #CookTheBooks @BookMunch

The Bengali Gourmet evening at BookMunch was very important and special to me. This was the first time I had attempted to showcase Bengali Cuisine in a bit more elaborate way – a modern menu that had been created with all the nuances of traditional Bengali cuisine. It was for the ‘Cook The Books’ in BookMunch, an unique monthly event where the host Chef talked about his/her cookbook or some recipes from their favourite cookbooks, followed by a dinner where the menu had been created by the host Chef. I wanted to create a dining experience where Bengali puritans would nod their heads in agreement – ‘yes, the food had all the Bengali flavours that one would expect in traditional Bengali cooking’ and the non-Bengalis who were tasting the food for the first time would certify – ‘this was delicious food and something we haven’t tasted before’. I am told that I have passed with flying colours. With important media personalities, food critiques and bloggers around, I was aware that I would have only one chance. If I didn’t cracked it that night, no body would be giving me a second chance and a ‘gourmet’ Bengali Cuisine in Dubai shores would remain just a dream and my shout outs on Bengali cuisine simply another popular post in my blog.Bengali Gourmet Dinner for #CookTheBooks @BookMunch

As all of you are aware, I have left no stone unturned in telling the world about my roots, where I come from and how delicious Bengali food is. But it had been important for me to explain to my family, close friends, blogger friends and my readers that the concept that I was proposing, was not just a regional cuisine for a regional audience. It would appeal to everyone, irrespective of their country of origin – because at the end of it, it was a rich cuisine we were talking about. In the future, I have plans to make films on Kolkata so that the diner is surrounded by the noise and sound of Kolkata as he/she is transported to the kaleidoscopic city itself. All of that in my next leap of faith. But for the time being, I am glad that the first hurdle has been crossed. The curiosity and the response to the event had been phenomenal – we had to turn down many guests from the morning. I basked in the spotlight throughout the evening, guiding the diner through each dish and shared stories of how and why I started my food blog, my Bengali heritage, how my Kolkata nostalgia shaped my current living, what stimulated my food senses and how the menu for that evening had been inspired by both traditional Bengali cuisine and Kolkata street food. And most importantly, how food connected me to each and every diner attending the dinner that night. Unfolding the evening as has been captured though the eyes of my husband (oh, how I wish the Z-Sisters were there – Big Z being such a foodie and a supporter in all my endeavours), my blogger friends and their social media shares on Instagram. I am also waiting for Ross Saldanha from Ross MediaWorks who has filmed the evening and Zee TV Middle East, who covered the event – I will be sharing the videos with you once I have them in hand.

Table decoration with personal silver bowls, folk artefacts from BengalCoffee table books depicting the art of Bengal, including those from the Tagore family

To all those who were present that evening, I can’t thank you enough. Although I was sure that the food will connect with you all, I hadn’t expected such an overwhelming share on social media. I feel very privileged to have been surrounded by your love and support… Sudeshna Ghosh of BBC Good Food ME, Arnab and Manoj of Zee TV Middle East, TV chef and cookbook author Suzanne Husseini, my blogger friends… Shaikha Ali of When Shaikha Cooks, Sarah of The Hedonista, Debbie of Coffee, Cakes and Running, Dima of Dima Sharif, Sandy Dang of Ginger & Scotch, Minna of Naked Plate Blog… all those who have seen my blog evolve… Kanaka, Keka, Sumona – Samyo, Brinda, Darryl and Jason… and my better half S (he has taken a lot of brilliant pictures here)… virtual supporters whom I met for the first time that evening – Mita and her brother and his wife (who cancelled their Oman plans)… readers like Jonathan with whom I have connected through our love for food... and the others with whom I was interacting for the first time. Also to many others who couldn’t join in but had always supported me. Huge thanks to Chef Alfred and Dareen from Book Munch who made this possible – an incredible feat from their end to come out of their comfort zone and create the menu exactly as I had perceived. A small dream materialised, paving the way to a bigger dream!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Table decoration with personal silver bowls, folk artefacts from Bengal
Table decoration with personal silver bowls, folk artifacts from Bengal
The menu and Jhaal Muri or Puffed Rice Masalafied
The menu and Jhaal Muri or Puffed Rice Masalafied; Photo Courtesy: Dima
The Gourmet Starters - Shrimp Churmur or Crumbled Panipuri, Kalojeere Asparagus (Asparagus with Black Cumin), Potoler Dorma stuffed Parval); Photo Courtesy: Dima
The Starters Platter – Shrimp Churmur or Crumbled Panipuri, Kalojeere Asparagus (Asparagus with Black Cumin), Potoler Dorma stuffed Parval); Photo Courtesy: Dima
Traditional Cholar Daal with Arabic Fatoush bread
Traditional Cholar Daal with Arabic Fatoush bread; Photo Courtesy: Dima
The Gourmet Main Course - Mustard Salmon wrapped in Banana leaf
The Gourmet Main Course – Mustard Salmon wrapped in Banana leaf
Mishti Mukh or the sweet signoff - Mishti Doi and Aamer Chutney Sorbet; Photo Courtesy: Dima
Mishti Mukh or the sweet signoff – Mishti Doi and Aamer Chutney Sorbet; Photo Courtesy: Dima
Dareen from BookMunch introduces me
Dareen from BookMunch introduces me before the menu is revealed
Ross Saldanha from Ross Media filming the evening and I am doing what I love the most - talk about how my blog started and my food quest
Ross Saldanha from Ross Media filming the evening and I am doing what I love the most – talk about my Bengali heritage, my food quest and my Kolkata nostalgia juxtaposed against Dubai living; Photo Courtesy: Debbie
All the diners fo rthe Bengali Gourmet dinner
From top: Sudeshna, Sumana (pic1); Devjani (pic2); Jonathan (pic3); Debbie (pic4); Sarah, Mina, Dima, Suzanne Husseini and me (pic5); Kanaka (pic8); Minna, Kanaka, Mita and his brother and wife (pic9), Daryl, Jason, Sandy and other diners (pic10), Manoj, Arnab, Brinda in striped top (pic 11); Photo Courtesy: Dima, Debbie and S
The evening via Instagram
The evening captured via instagram; Courtesy – BBC GoodFood ME, Coffee Cakes And Running, The Hedonista, The Naked Plate Blog, When Shaikha Cooks and Suzanne Husseini

 

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Book Munch | Join Me For A Bengali Gourmet Meal On The 4th June

Cook The Books with Ishita Saha

I don’t think that I have left any stone unturned in telling the world about my roots, where I come from and how delicious Bengali food is. Often I am inundated with mails from readers – Where can we have a Bengali Meal in Dubai? Is there any good Bengali Restaurant in Dubai? I don’t have any answers. I try to showcase Bengali cuisine at every little opportunity that I get (I’ve cooked the Kolkata Biryani in Lafayette Gourmet, I’ve written about the Phulko Luchi In Ahlan! Gourmet, written an encyclopaedic blogpost on Bengali cuisine – I can go on! But this would perhaps be the first time that I am attempting to showcase in a bit more elaborate way – a Bengali menu that I have created for a very special event that’s coming up this week. I am hosting the ‘Cook The Books’ in BookMunch, the award-winning restaurant cafe in Al Wasl Square (it won the Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014 for the Best Family Restaurant). This is an unique monthly event where the host Chef talks about his/her cookbook or some recipes from their favourite cookbooks, followed by a dinner where the menu has been created by the host Chef. They have had renowned host Chefs in the past like Suzanne Husseini, Fiona Archibold and others. It’s my honour to be the host Chef in the month of June.

A little background here… most of the food posts in my Culinary Travel blog have been juxtaposed against my Kolkata nostalgia or my living experiences in the UAE. While I still haven’t come up with my book, I do nurture a dream to write one – till then all my culinary experiences are penned down in my blog. Dareen, the inspiring lady behind this novel concept, is giving me an opportunity to pull out pages from my ‘potential book’ and my love for Bengali food. There is a lot of effort on her part and the team in the BookMunch kitchen to actually create a menu that they haven’t actually aren’t accustomed to. We have all worked very hard for this – I have cooked, fed the Chef and the team (above), we have discussed and then finally he has recreated them, adding his touches too. What we hope is to present a ‘Bengali Gourmet Menu’. While I don’t want to reveal too much, here’s a little peep into what could possibly be in the evening’s menu on 4th of June*. Do click here to confirm your attendance in the event… hope to see you there!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

* The final menu is subject to change, depending upon availability of products and ingredients.

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Shrimp Churmur

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Potoler Dorma
Potoler Dorma
Mustard Salmon wrapped in Banana Leaf
Mishti Doi
Mishti Doi

 

Stories of Love, Nostalgia And Memories |The Ingredients To My Cooking

What’s the one item in your kitchen you can’t possibly cook without? A spice, your grandma’s measuring cup, instant ramen — what’s your magic ingredient, and why? Photographers, artists, poets: show us KITCHEN… that has been the WordPress Daily Prompt and I am waking up to it.

If there is one ingredient that I can’t possibly cook without, then that is some story. A story with some magic attached to it along with my childhood memories and nostalgia, the aroma of cooking from the kitchen, each dish arriving on the dining table, cooked with much love by some loving hand – either my Ma‘s, or my Thakuma’s (paternal grandma) or my Dida‘s (maternal grandma) or some Mashi (aunt) and much later, my Mum-in-law’s. Today, that secret ingredient is sourced from antique cookbooks or handwritten recipes, that have been duly passed onto me. Each recipe unfolds from some story or the other. And each story surrounds around some delicate and delicious food moment that I have experienced in my childhood. I intend to pass on the same magical ingredient to my girls – the Z-Sisters. Along with my collectibles and memorabilia from the kitchens of my childhood – some old pots and pans – some torn pages of recipes – a few tattered cookbooks – many rusty silver spoons – and innumerable stories surrounding them all. Capturing the secret intangible ingredient through old photographs, old pots and pans…

We (my husband and I) have inherited the silverware from both our families – and we have used them as children!
Thakuma’s iron wok to make Narkel Naru/Jaggery Truffles
Narkel Naru or Coconut Jaggery Truffles … my Thakuma’s recipe
This is my Ma. Desh, Anandobazaar and Rabindranath* defines her.
Pickles made from my Mother-in-Law’s handwritten notebook – her ‘Diary of Pickles’
Special glass jars dedicated only for making pickles... I've inherited all of these
Special glass jars dedicated only for making pickles… I’ve inherited all of these
Notun Gurer Payesh or Rice Pudding… my Dida’s recipe. I have inherited the silverware from both families – from my husband and my side.
My Dida and my unforgettable memory of her culinary skills
The silver glass that my husband used during his ‘Annaprashan’ or the first rice ceremony – when he was six months old!
‘Amish O Niramish Ahaar’ by Pragyasundari Debi. A scion of the Tagore family, Pragyasundari used to write a column in a vernacular news paper on various recipes. That perhaps was the first column of its type in the end of 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century!
‘Amish O Niramish Ahaar’ by Pragyasundari Debi… heritage recipes, some of them unique and unusual
Hand written scribbles of recipes – both traditional and modern, Bengali and western.. I have inherited these from my Mum-in-law!
‘Jhinuk’ – a soup like spoon used to feed milk to infants. This belongs to my husband!
An etched ‘Shil Nora’ – a grinding stone used in most Bengali kitchens to make Masala Pastes where one rolls the mortar back and forth on a stone slab sitting on the ground
An earthen fish mold (almost 9 inch) to make the traditional Bengali sweet – ‘Shondesh’. This belonged to my husband’s Dida (maternal grandma)
An enormous iron container belonging to my husband’s Thakuma (paternal grandma), which now holds all my food magazines and food cutouts
What goes out, comes back in a circle… now the magic is transferred to my kitchen with me trying to enamor my kids with food stories!
My kids now create the same magical flavour to the sweet corn that they make!

Before signing off, one advice that has been re-iterated by all these special mentors of mine – it is resonated in the Bengali phrase ‘je radhe, shey chulo badhe’. Translated, this would probably mean ‘she who cooks, also takes care to do her hair’… So cook and serve, but serve beautifully. And most importantly, look beautiful. As a reminder, the little mirror (below) has been passed on to my girls from my beautiful Mum-in-law!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

Below are the posts from my blog that have already captured a bit of the secret ingredient…
Narkel Naru or Coconut Jaggery Trufflesmy Thakuma’s recipe
Hot Garlic Pickle | The Pickled Diary – Episode 1 my Mother-in-law’s recipe
Pickles | Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles!my Mother-in-law’s recipes
Notun Gurer Payesh/Traditional Bengali Rice Puddingmy Dida’s recipe
Khichuri As Harbinger of Hope & Kolkata Soaked In Rainsmy Ma’s recipe
Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Detailsmy essay on Bengali Cuisine
Purple Haze Yoghurt with Purple M&Ms my kids’ recipe
Cuppa-Corn Sweet Yellow Momentsmy kids’ story

 

Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case | A Detour From Thailand To Wish Shubho Noboborsho!

All men are equal before fish ~ Herbert Hoover

Shorshe Bata Maach or the Bengali styled Mustard Fish

This post probably should have happened a long time ago. The Shorshe Bata Maach or the Bengali Mustard Fish is the most sought after dish in a Bengali’s life (sounds cliched? But its as cliched as taking a Kolkata selfie with Howrah Bridge at the backdrop – or as inevitable as having the Eiffel Tower in Paris). It is also the most searched term in my blog. A Bengali blogger at the end of the day has to blog on Maach/Fish, Shorshe Bata/Mustard Paste and Rôshogolla/Rasgulla. On Rôshogolla, I already have. On Shorshe Bata, I haven’t. I have been feeling a bit nervous lately with the invisible ostracisation (from the Bengali community) notice hanging over my head. So, I take the opportunity of the Noboborsho, first day of the Bengali New Year, to write my long overdue post on Shorshe Bata Maach. This is a slight detour on my blogging atlas – I’ve been hovering in Thailand lately with my last few posts being:

• Koh Klang in Krabi, Thailand | A Photo Essay of An Island Life
• Ruen Mai Restaurant In Krabi | A Tantalising First Experience Of Thai Food {In Thailand, That is!}

Before I write my third post on the Fishermen’s village in Thailand and the floating restaurant where I paid another visit to learn Thai cooking from Bao, the cook at the restaurant and before I share more fish recipes… I thought my Bengali Macher post has to come through! [Updating in March 2018… by this time there’s also a fishy post by the name of A-Z of Bengali Fish]

Shorshe Bata Maach or the Bengali styled Mustard Fish

I have tick marked all the right check boxes to prove my Bengali genes by writing an ode to Luchi in the lifestyle Gourmet magazine {Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi!}, Mishti Doi in BBC GoodFood Middle East {Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal }, I have even made Rôshogolla for the local television channel Dubai One for a special episode on Ramadan {Rasgulla Macapuno On TV & Shubho Bijoya to all!} and prepared the Bengali Aam Pana for another channel {UAE National Day… Aam Pana | My Dubai My City}Rôshogolla in {Rôshogolla (রসগোল্লা) | Bengali’s Own Sweet} and some more sweets {Bengali Sweets That Came By Parcel!} … I still feel incomplete because I haven’t written on Shorshe Bata Maach!

Shorshe Bata Maach or the Bengali styled Mustard Fish

Probably every Bong is born into this world expected how to cook Shorshe Bata or how to categorise a dish cooked in Shorshe Bata as oshadharaon/fabulous or joghyono/horrible. Taking cue from a Bengali phrase, this post is not about Mayer kaache Maashir golpo bola (which loosely will translate into… saying things to a person that are already known to him!). What I mean to say is that… this is what I do when I cook Shorshe Bata for our non-Bengali friends or non-Indian friends. The taste is traditionally Bengali, the cooking technique mostly not. And most of the times, the fish too is not what a traditional preparation would typically expect – Rui or Katla. My freezer doesn’t regularly stock Bengali fish – the frozen Bengali fish bought from the Bangladeshi markets, until and unless our parents are visiting us. Or, some fussy relative visits us from back home who cannot digest his/her meal without a Bengali fish and that too cooked in a typical Bengali jhol or jhal (below)!

One of the things that cannot be substituted is naturally, Shorsher Tel or the Mustard Oil. The gravy (above) that gathers once cooked in Mustard Oil is, then Bong certified! Getting the right Mustard Oil can be sometimes tricky on foreign shores. The Asian supermarkets do stock different types of Mustard Oil. Here in Dubai, even regular supermarkets like Spinneys, Choitram’s, Carrefour or Lulu Hypermarkets stock Mustard Oil but a few of the brands are taste very bland and flat. A small study into Mustard Oil {here...} probably will help in choosing the right Mustard Oil. It has to be really pungent, must be very deep in colour and have a strong Mustard smell. I have been using a brand that is called PRO (probably there are more brands around, but this is readily available. I remember using another brand called Tez while we were in Frankfurt. I’ve found it in Dubai too, but which currently is unavailable). Do look out for this term ‘Kachi Ghani‘ where the term refers to cold press extraction process of Mustard Oil so that it may retain more oxidants and vitamins.

The second most important ingredient is Mustard Paste. Traditionally, Mustard Paste is made by grinding the brown Mustard Seeds (above) on a Sheel Nora, the traditional grinding stone used in Bengali kitchens but a look at my etched Sheel (below) will probably tell you that I’ve figured out other ways to get my Mustard Paste done! A modern day Coffee grinder works just as fine though my Mum and Mum-in-law wouldn’t agree to that. And if this is also a bit too much of a chore, I’ve experimented with a whole lot of bottled Mustard Pastes available in the supermarkets and have found my soul mate – the Mailler’s Moutarde D’Ancienne Mustard Paste (down below). You may probably stumble upon your own version but definitely do use a Mustard Paste which has these visible seeds in them and is not a smooth paste – in order to give the authentic Bong Shorshe Bata feeling. I’ve been also fine-tuning the Aloo Bhaate or the simple Mashed Potato with this Mustard paste {Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté} to make a gourmet presentation for my German friends who die for Kartoffel Purée!

Mustard Paste, Mustard Oil, Green Chillis

Shorshe Baata Maach/Mustard Salmon

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Category – Main Course; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali

Ingredients

4 pieces big Salmon steaks, longitudinally cut into halves
2 tbsp mustard paste (brand – I use Mailler’s Moutarde D’Ancienne. Use less if you don’t like the pungent mustard paste but as I’ve mentioned before, definitely use a Mustard Paste which has these seeds and is not a smooth paste)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp black cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin powder – 1 tsp (my Mum-in-law’s secret tip, specially so if your are grinding mustard seeds to make a paste. this prevents the paste from tasting bitter)
3 tbsp mustard oil
1/2 cup grated coconut (optional)
4 pieces green chilies (slit them if you want them more spicy)
salt, as per taste

* If you make the mustard paste by grinding mustard seeds, the proportions are –
2 tbsp brown mustard seeds, grinded into a paste

Method

  1. Marinate the Salmon steaks with turmeric and mustard paste for half an hour.
  2. Pour 1 tsp of mustard oil in a wok, add black cumin seeds and let them splutter. Put them aside.
  3. In a large pan, put the marinated Salmon steaks. Add salt, red chilli Powder and 1/2 cup of water. Pour over the rest of the mustard oil. Cover the pan and let the fish cook in low seam (Make sure that the fish doesn’t stick to the pan when the gravy thickens and the fish gets cooked. You may have to add a bit of water depending upon how you like your gravy to be).
  4. Salmon has a lot of oil of it’s own and you’ll notice that a lot of oil releases eventually as the fish is slow cooked.
  5. Add the sliced green chillies, grated coconut and black cumin seeds.
  6. Let it cook for a while. Serve hot with white rice.

Some prefer their fish to be fried slightly. Whisked yogurt is also added to thicken the gravy. But we prefer it without the Yogurt as it tends to make the taste of the gravy go slightly sour. Also, I do not use grated coconut so that the preparation is light on Z-Sisters’ tummies. Although we like the gravy of our Shorshe Bata Maach to be a bit thick – what I’d describe as makha makha, I try to get the same by slow cooking cooking as much as possible so that the Masalas get cooked in the fish’s own oil and it separates out and floats dreamily on top!

Different takes on Mustard Fish

I sometimes grill the fish marinated with the same ingredients after wrapping the pieces in Banana leaf like a Paturi (above) or add more water to make a patla Jhal/light gravy (below) depending upon our mood! Shown below is Nile Perch cooked in the Bengali Mustard style, while the above shows Hummour fillets. We’ve stopped using Hammour completely as they are being over-fished’. in the UAE waters.

Taking the fishy excerpt out of the Encyclopaedia that I’ve written on Traditional Bengali Cuisine:

Fish is still cooked daily for main course in most traditional Bengali households. Bengali cuisine is famous for it’s Maacher Jhol or Maacher Jhaal. Maacher Jhol is where the gravy of the dish is made with ginger, turmeric, cumin powder, green chillis (the ingredients may vary from one region of Bengal to another) and Jhaal is where the gravy is hot and spicy and made with mustard paste, turmeric, chilli. Shorshe Maach/Mustard Fish is a very popular fish dish.
Shown below are various Bengali fish delicacies (starting from top left) – Chitol Maacher Muitha/Chitol Fish Dumpling Curry, Pabda Maacher Jhaal/Pabda Fish Spicy Curry, Tel Koi/Koi Fish in Oil, Rui Maacher Kalia/Rohu Fish Kalia. There are obviously many many more types of fish preparation – Doi Maach/Fish cooked in yoghurt, Bhapa Maach/Steamed Fish, Maacher Paturi/Fish marinated in different spices and wrapped in Banana leaves and then steamed.

Bengali Fish

Special mention has to be made to the Hilsa fish. The Hilsa or the Iilish Maach is synonymous with Bengal and is considered the ‘queen’ of all Bengali fish. Hilsa is also of political importance. It is a serious bone of contention between India and it’s neighbouring country Bangladesh. Which Hilsa is better – the Hilsa that is found in the Padma river in Bangladesh or the Ganga river, the last phase of which flows through Bengal before it merges into the sea-waters of Bay of Bengal?

The entire month of July and August, that is during the Monsoons, Kolkata is gripped by Hilsa fever. Hilsa festivals and special Hilsa lunches are organised in different clubs and hotels. Each conversation revolves around Hilsa. This year had been hard-hitting for the Hilsas with the prices shooting upto as high as Rs 1,500/kg (Dhs 100/- approximately!). The fish markets in Kolkata are in itself a subject for immense discussion – perhaps better kept for another future post. The bony Hilsa is a delicacy and is prepared traditionally in many ways – the Shorshe Baata/Mustard Hilsa, Kalo Jeerar Jhol/Black Cumin Curry, Bhapa/Steamed etc.

Hilsa

The discussion of Bengali fish can go on for ever. To cut it short we bring in the topic of Prawns. Bagda Chingri/Tiger Prawns and Golda Chingri/Indian Scampi go into making exquisite Bengali delicacies – Shorshe Chingri/Mustard Prawn (below right), Prawn Polao (below left), Narkel Chingri/Coconut Prawn and the famous Chingri Maacher Malaicurry/Prawn Curry where Coconut milk is used to make the gravy and is made on very special occasions.

Prawns/Chingri

Where will you get Bengali Fish in Dubai?

Many of us who have now made our homes on the shores beyond Bengal, have substituted various things to complement our Bengali Cooking. We have adapted ourselves and learnt to make good of what is available in the local markets. Most of the Bengali friends of my generation grew up studying for exams and not entering the kitchen that much. We ate what we were served by our Mums. It’s only when we began living our own lives that we started resorting to Bengali Food as our fall back comfort food. Binging on traditional Bengali meals when visiting our parents’ homes on holidays and waiting for someone more experienced in Bengali cooking – were the only ways to experience the meals that we grew up on.

Where will you get Bengali Fish? Most Bangladeshi markets stock frozen packets of the different fish that are used in Bengali cooking. So you’ll get Koi Fish frozen fresh, packed in Thailand and flown many miles to Bangladeshi markets world wide. While we didn’t find any Bangladeshi market in Colombo, Srilanka, our stay in Frankfurt wasn’t devoid of Bengali Fish! Our stint in Colombo, Frankfurt and Dubai has taught us that if one is looking for Bengali  food products that are available outside India, they can only be found in Bangladeshi shops and Asian supermarkets selling Bangladeshi products.

In Dubai, a few Bengali fish is available in the supermarket Citi Mart near Imperial Suites Hotel, located on Rolla Road, Bur Dubai (Tel: 04-3523939). It’s quite likely that on Friday mornings you’ll bump into Bengalis who have come to do their fish-marketing. All varieties of Bengali Fish are available at the Bangladeshi markets in Backet in Sharjah. Rui Maach/Rohu fish is available at Lulu Supermarket in Al Barsha but the sizes of the fish being smaller than 1.5 kgs results in a bit if disappointment in taste.

The different fish that are available in the local supermarkets in Dubai that I often use to make traditional Bengali fish preparations… Lady fish fried in batter substitutes well as Topshe Maach Bhaja, Sultan Ibrahami cooked with Black Cumin Seeds substitutes well as Pabda Maacher Jhol, Cream Dori fillets wrapped in Banana Leaves substitutes well as Bhetki Maacher Paturi. Salmon steaks cooked in Mustard Paste and Mustard Oil substitutes, well sorry there can be no substitutes for this – the Hilsa! But it works quite well. Almost! Red Mullets can be cooked like Bhetki Maach and Needle fish can be fried crispy like Mourala Maach.


I’ve gathered the following Mustard fish recipes from my blogger friends (they are food bloggers first and then Bongs!). Some recipes use traditional Bengali fish, some don’t – as my friends too have learnt to cook with substitutes while living on foreign shores.

Food connects people, cultures, countries and minds. I cooked this dish for Dima, a food artisan herself. She came back from her culinary trip from Mauritius and told me that there’s a traditional Mauritian dish – the Vindaye, which is very similar to the Shorshe Bata Maach that I had cooked for her. Here’s her recipe to the Calamari & Shrimp Vindaye – Mauritius Specialty Mustard Curry.


With this post I am a satisfied Bong soul, even though I had written so many Bengali posts previously, including my encyclopedic post on traditional Bengali cooking {Traditional Bengali Cuisine | In ‘Slight’ Details}. Shubho Noborsho to all my readers and here’s explaining the Bengali Mustard fish or the quintessentially Bengali preparation Shorshe Baata Maach for those not acquainted to Bengali cooking – this may not be the traditional Shorshe Bata Maach but it definitely has the same traditional taste, values and emotions!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Traditional Bengali Meal thali for Shubho Noboborsho

Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Details

An etymological explanation of our extreme Food-Fetish… I would simply say, ‘Blame it on our Bengali genes’!

An array of traditional Bengal meal

[Note: This post was originally written on 15 October, 2012 during Durga Pujo. I’ve changed the date of publishing in order to feature it on my homepage in a certain order]

This is an emotional post for me, tugging at all the nostalgic nerves that I have in my body. It has taken me long to gather my thoughts, photographs etc – to explain as simply as I can, the nuances of traditional Bengali Cuisine. It is a cuisine that is vast and elaborate, but every time someone asks me, ‘What comprises Bengali Cuisine?’, I falter for a while as there is no simple answer to that. There are so many layers to the cuisine, so many regional variations and if we probe into the evolution of the cuisine, it will also reflect the history of Bengal.

Most people I have come across are pretty much aware of Indian food. This awareness however stops at Biriyani, the Chicken Tandoori or a Butter Chicken. Or perhaps, the Dosas and the Idlieswhich are completely different to North Indian food originating in the Southern states of India. Bengali food belongs to neither of the above categories and definitely not in between. An Indian map will certify that. Bengal is situated to the East of India and borders Bangladesh. And that’s where all the food stories begin.

Map of India with its different states and union territoriesIndia comprises of 29 states (regional classification, officially) and 7 Union Territories (the union territories are ruled directly by the federal government, unlike the states which have their own elected governments) which are further subdivided into districts and so on. And the food is as diverse as it gets (read here) with each regional cuisine significantly differing from each region. (Map Courtesy: here)

Talking about myself (you can read more about me here), I am a true-blue Bengali or a BONG to the core, the latter being the colloquial equivalent to describe a modern Bengali – the urbane and the cool version. Born and brought up for the most part in Kolkata, FOOD has shaped my personality and character. My Bengali genes are to be blamed not only for my relentless creative pursuits but also my unsatiated taste-buds. FOOD is also our most important travel companion. If there is one thing we as a family, always agree upon unanimously, then that is this – ‘WE ARE HUNGRY!’ And yes, we are proud to have been able to transfer our genes to our little ones – the Z-Sisters!

Annaprashan or the ‘First Rice’

Annaprashan or the Bengali First Rice Ceremony

But how and why did this food fetish start? For a Bengali, this food fetish begins quite early – almost at infancy as you can see from the picture above.

The first ceremony or celebration that a Bengali child witnesses is Annaprashan or the ‘First Rice’. This Bengali tradition initiates an infant of barely 6 months to his/her first intake of food other than milk (the child is six to eight months old when the ceremony takes place, odd months for girls and even months for boys). Dressed up in the finest traditional attire (the girl child or the boy child resembling a mini bride or a groom respectively), it is a cute little sight to watch. Provided the little ones do not break into howling (see above how Lil Z reacts while our little nephew seems to be enjoying the adulation) which usually is the case considering the kind of spotlight the child is under! Usually, the Mama/Maternal Uncle or the Dadu/Grandfather according to some family tradition, does the honour of feeding the child a spoon of Payesh, the traditional Bengali Rice Pudding.

Bengali Payesh

An excerpt from my earlier post explains the significance of Payesh

The only other way to explain the importance of a traditional Payesh/Rice Pudding to a Westerner is to probably compare it with Champagne. If one can understand the importance of the Champagne to bring on a family celebration, then one can probably understand the importance of Payesh. Or say, cutting a cake on a birthday. For a Bengali, a spoonful of Payesh is a must on any special occasion. Also, the first spoon of non-solid food that goes into a Bengali child during Annaprashan or the First Rice is the same auspicious Payesh.

In effect, Payesh is the celebrity dish that cuts the ribbon in an opening ceremony!

Traditional Bengali Meal thali for Shubho Noboborsho

What follows there after is a royal initiation (shown above) into food. The first vision of ‘solid food’ comes in the shape and size and form –
• Drops of Ghee (traditional Indian clarified butter)
• Payesh (a sweet dessert made with rice, milk & sugar – traditional Rice Pudding)
• Shukto/Bitter vegetable preparation
• 5 types of Bhaja or fries – Aloo bhaja/Potato fries, Potol bhaja/Parwal fries, Kumro bhaja/Pumpkin fries, Begun bhaja/Eggplant fries, Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries
• Torkari or an assorted vegetable dish
• Daal or lentil soup
• Of course, a variety of fish preparation accompanied by yes-you gotta-believe-me, a FISH-HEAD and a FISH-TAIL!
• Chutney, a palate cleanser and an informal initiation into a formal dessert tasting

As you probably can understand by now, the groundwork for a Bengali’s taste buds’ perpetual yearning for FOOD is built at almost his/her infancy!

Bengali tradition is reflected by two colours – Red & White

Bengali lady smeared in vermillion during Durga Pujo

Bengalis world-wide are at this moment caught up in a festive frenzy. Every autumn a festive mood hits Kolkata as if Goddess Durga, comes to life. Thousands of Pujo Mandaps are built all over the city and there are thousands of ‘themes’ on which these Mandaps are built. The lightings, the structures, the extravaganza… the atmosphere is electrifying, almost carnival-like. The Durga Pujo or Durgotsav, as it is called continues for 5 days. Goddess Durga with her two sons (Ganesha & Karthika) and two daughters (Lasksmi & Saraswati), is believed to come down to earth from her heavenly abode in Mount Kailash. On the last day of the worship, the married women wear their traditional white saris with red borders and perform the Sindoor Khela where the married women smear each other with sindoor or vermillion. Well, I miss all these in Dubai although I try to replicate a few things at a special Bijoya gathering at home (yes, that’s me in the above picture and my mum-in-law during sindoor khela in 2005).

Kumortuli in Kolkata

During our Kolkata visit on our summer holidays this time, we visited Kumortuli – the place where the idols are made. The artisans at this time were busy making the idols, only a few of them had been given a poach of paint. But it was still a long way to go for Pujo at that time (above).

Traditional Bengali food in Banana leaf

Bhog, the food dedicated to the idol during Pujo is very special – it feels divinely aromatic and traditionally served in banana leaves. The picture below is from a special Pujo dinner at our home and probably shows the extent that we go to in-order to replicate the things and moments that we have grown up with! [Here’s a glimpse into a Bijoya dinner at our home, edited in 2017]

What comprises a traditional Bengali meal?

What follows below is an elaborate and a very traditional Bengali meal – a thing that can be conjured up only in my dreams – only because in reality how many of us are being able to cook up such elaborate and traditional meals on a daily basis?

Rice – plain white rice is the main accompaniment to all dishes, unless it’s made into a Mishti  Polao. Firstly, Rice is eaten with starters (mainly vegetables) with Ghee or Daal. Rice is eaten in the Main Course too, either with fish, meat or chicken. Traditionally, Bengali dishes, specially the fish, are cooked in Mustard Oil. Rice is also the main ingredient in the preparation of some Mishti or desserts – for example, the Payesh – the rice pudding, or the Pati Shapta – rice crepe with a filling of kheer.

Squeezing a bit of Gondhoraj Lebu or the Bengali Lime (shown below) in Dal/Lentils, specially Mushurir Dal/Masoor Dal or Bhaja Moonger Dal/Fried Moong Dal is very unique to lunches at Bengali homes. These limes have their own aroma and something that I haven’t been able to find beyond the shores of Bengal. although we have found substitutes for many things that we miss from Bengal as we continue to lead our Bengali lives in non-Bengali shores. The closest I’ve come to the aroma of Gondhoraj Lebu is the leaves of Thai Kaffir Lime!

Kancha Lanka/Green Chillis, Gondhoraj Lebu/Bengali Lime and a pinch of Salt in the corner of plate is a trademark of traditional Bengali food serving!

Gondhoraj Lebu, Lanka

Starters

• Bhaja or Fries: Crispy vegetables deep fried in oil. Examples – Aloo bhaja/Potato fries, Potol bhaja/Parwal fries, Kumro bhaja/Pumpkin fries, Begun bhaja/fried Eggplant, Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries. Sometimes fried fish may also accompany the white Rice

or

• Bhaaté or mashed steamed vegetables – Examples – Kumro bhaaté/Mashed Pumpkin, Aloo bhaaté/Mashed Potato, Uuche bhaaté/Mashed Bitter-gourd
• Shukto: A bitter vegetable preparation using Korolla or Uuche/ Bitter-gourd
• Shaak: Steamed or lightly cooked leafy vegetables. Examples – Palong shaak/Spinach, Methi shaak/Fenugreek, Lal shaak/Red Leafy Vegetables
• Torkari/ Mixed Vegetables
• Dal or lentil soup: Sometimes Dal contains various seasonal vegetables or fruits in it. Very famous is Aamer Dal/Mango Lentil Soup or Amrar Dal/Dal with Gooseberry. It may also be cooked with fish pieces or fish head and fish bones in it!

Bori BhajaAloo Bhaja
Bori Bhaja/Fried Lentil Balls (left) and Aloo Bhaja/Fried Potato (right)


Begun bhaja/Fried Eggplant (left) and Jhurjhure Aloo bhaja/Potato Fritters Bengali Style (right)


Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries, Beguni/Eggplant batter fried in Besan/Gramflour (left) and Mourala bhaja/Mourala Fish fritters (right)


Kumro bhaaté/Mashed Pumpkin (left) and Aloo bhaaté/Mashed Potato (right)

Traditional Bengali Shukto
Shukto or the Bengali ratatouille as I like to call it

Begun Bhaja
Beguner Dorma/Stuffed Eggplant (left) and Potoler Dorma/Stuffed Parwal (right)

Aloo Potol-er TorkariChochori
Aloo-Potoler Torkari/Potato Parwal (left) and Paanch Meshali Chochori/Assorted Mixed Vegetables (right)

Aam Dal against the print of Tagore's writing
Maacher maatha diye bhaja Moonger Dal/Fried Moong Dal with Fish-head (left) and Aam diye Musurir Dal/Mango Masoor Dal (right)

Kaancha Moonger DalKarai Shuti Diye Moog Daal
Kaancha Moonger Dal/Moong Dal (left) and Karai Shuti – Phul Kopi Diye Moog Daal/Moong Dal with Green Peas & Cauliflower

Aloo-Potpl-Kumror Chokka
Cholar Dal diye Luchi/Bengali Puri with Bengal Gram Dal (left) and Aloo-Potol-Kumror Chokka/Potato-Parwal-Pumpkin Mixed Vegetable (right) is another popular food pairing.

While making Luchis, a dough is prepared by mixing Maida/Flour with water, a spoonful of Ghee/White Oil and a pinch of Sugar and Salt. Small balls are made out of these dough and flattened flattened and individually deep-fried in Oil or Ghee. When Maida/Flour is substituted with Atta/Wheat Flour, it is called a Poori. And a stuffed Luchi is called Kochuri. Karaishutir Kochuri/Kochuri stuffed with mashed green peas is an absolute delicacy.

Another Bengali delicacy that I miss very much and is not available in Dubai is Posto or Poppy Seeds as it is banned in the UAE because of its addictive quality (read here). However, Poppy Seeds also known as Khaskhas in other parts of India is widely used in cooking. In some regions of Bengal, Posto forms a part of daily meal. Aloo-Jhinga Posto/Potato & Ridge Gourd with Poppy Seeds (below left) or simply Aloo-Posto/Potato with Poppy Seeds is one very popular Bengali preparation. Another very simple yet very delicious Posto preparation is to stir in the Poppy Seed Paste in a bit of Mustard Oil with a slit green chilli thrown in. This is known as Bati Posto (the first picture below).

Posto/Poppy Seeds

Main Course

Fish is still cooked daily for main course in most traditional Bengali households (do read my write up A-Z of Bengali Fish). Bengali cuisine is famous for it’s Maacher Jhol or Maacher Jhaal. Maacher Jhol is where the gravy of the dish is made with ginger, turmeric, cumin powder, green chillis (the ingredients may vary from one region of Bengal to another) and Jhaal is where the gravy is hot and spicy and made with mustard paste, turmeric, chilli. Shorshe Maach/Mustard Fish is a very popular fish dish.

Shown below are various Bengali fish delicacies (starting from top left) – Chitol Maacher Muitha/Chitol Fish Dumpling Curry, Pabda Maacher Jhaal/Pabda Fish Spicy Curry, Tel Koi/Koi Fish in Oil, Rui Maacher Kalia/Rohu Fish Kalia. There are obviously many many more types of fish preparation – Doi Maach/Fish cooked in yoghurt, Bhapa Maach/Steamed Fish, Maacher Paturi/Fish marinated in different spices and wrapped in Banana leaves and then steamed.

Bengali Fish

Special mention has to be made to the Hilsa fish. The Hilsa is synonymous with Bengal and is considered the ‘queen’ of all Bengali fish. Hilsa is also of political importance. It is a serious bone of contention between India and it’s neighbouring country Bangladesh. Which Hilsa is better – the Hilsa that is found in the Padma river in Bangladesh or the Ganga river, the last phase of which flows through Bengal before it merges into the sea-waters of Bay of Bengal?

The entire month of July and August, that is during the Monsoons, Kolkata is gripped by Hilsa. Hilsa festivals and special Hilsa lunches are organised in different clubs and hotels. Each conversation revolves around Hilsa. This year had been hard-hitting for the Hilsas with the prices shooting upto as high as Rs 1,500/kg (Dhs 100/- approximately!). The fish markets in Kolkata are in itself a subject for immense discussion – perhaps better kept for another future post (the image below shows a fishmonger showing his Hilsa catch with a lot of pride). The bony Hilsa is a delicacy and is prepared traditionally in many ways – the Shorshe Baata/Mustard Hilsa, Kalo Jeerar Jhol/Black Cumin Curry, Bhapa/Steamed etc.

Fishmonger in Kolkata fish market

Hilsa fish

The discussion of Bengali fish can go on for ever. To cut it short we bring in the topic of Prawns. Bagda Chingri/Tiger Prawns and Golda Chingri/Indian Scampi go into making exquisite Bengali delicacies – Shorshe Chingri/Mustard Prawn (below right), Prawn Polao (below left), Narkel Chingri/Coconut Prawn and the famous Chingri Maacher Malaicurry/Prawn Curry where Coconut milk is used to make the gravy and is made on very special occasions.

Prawns/Chingri

Meat or chicken substitutes fish occasionally. Generally, Rice accompanies the fish, meat or the chicken. On special occasions, Rice can be substitued by Polao/Bengali Fried Rice. ‘Luchi’ and Radhaballavi/Paratha stuffed with green Peas may also be served. Luchi is famously paired with Kasha Mangsho/Mutton cooked on slow fire.

Sunday afternoons at some Bengali houses are still reserved for Kochi Pathar Jhol/tender Goat Meat Stew Bengali Style (all pictures below excepting the extreme below right which shows Chicken Curry) cooked likely in a Pressure Cooker. Equally important is the Mangsher Jhol/Mutton Gravy and Mangsher Aloo/Potatoes cooked in the Mutton Curry!Mangsho

And finally when Fish or Meat or chicken is unavailable, the Bengalis would also cook up a delicacy out of Eggs – the Deemer Dalna/Egg Curry!

Rice – the perfect Meal Partner

I have already stated earlier that plain white Rice is the main accompaniment to all dishes. However, different types of Rice dish are made for different occasions. Polao, the Bengali version of Pilaf is traditionally cooked in occasions and compliments splendidly with Kasha Mangsho or Mutton/Lamb cooked on slow fire, in the Bengali way. Another Rice dish is Khichuri – a combination of Rice and Lentils cooked together and is an absolute must on a typical rainy day. Unlike Khichuri cooked in other parts of India, the Bengali Khichuri is not a comfort food during illness but is an absolute delicacy when accompanied by various types of vegetable fritters (below).

Khichuri

Though Biryani is not a traditional Bengali dish (but an integral part of Kolkata cuisine), but if ever a Bengali craves for Biryani…. and a majority of Bengalis do crave for Biriyani quite often, then it is mostly Mutton/Lamb Biriyani and must be essentially cooked in the Awadhi or the Lucknowi style!

Sweets/Dessert:

Sweets are a necessary sign-off for a traditional Bengali meal. You end your meal with Chutney, only to move onto the more formal session of dessert tasting. Chutney is a sweet, tangy paste and can be made with every conceivable fruit and even vegetables! For example – Aam/mangoes, Jalpai/Olives, tomatoes, Anarosh/pineapple, Tetul/tamarind, Pépé/papaya and various other type of fruits. Dry fruits like Khejur/dates, Kishmish/raisins may also be added to it the Chutney which is also splashed with Phoron/Mustard seeds cooked slightly in oil or Paanch-Phoron/5 seeds cooked in oil). The Bengali Chutney slightly differs from the other Indian Chutneys in the sense that hey are not eaten as dips with snacks and savouries but as a mini sweet sign-off before the actual desserts. Papad/Big chips like flakes made up of Potatos or Dried Dal usually accompanies the Chutney. Below is the

Tomato chutney, Bengali style

After the Chutney comes the formal dessert tasting! After Fish, Bengali Sweets is a quintessential Bengali topic of discussion. The choice in Mishti/Sweets is absolutely endless. This is a category that has catapulted Bengal into a different quotient of sweetness. Mishti Doi/ Sweet yogurt, Bhapa Doi/Steamed Yogurt, Payesh/ Sweet dessert made with rice-milk-sugar, Rôshogolla/Rasgulla, Rasamalai, Pantua, Lyancha, Chamcham, Chitrakoot, Chanar Jilipi, Kalakaand, Mihidana & Shitabhog, Rajbhog, Rasakadambo, Shondesh… the list is endless!

Perhaps the most famous of Bengali Sweet is the Rôshogolla or the Rasgulla (below) – inspiring me to write an entire post on it.

Rasgulla or Rôshogolla - perhaps the most famous of Bengali Sweets

Shondesh is another unique Bengali sweet that is not very easily available in Bengali Sweet shops outside Bengal. Prepared with Chena/Paneer or Indian Cottage Cheese along with a variety of garnishing is very quite easy to make at home. Below are the famous Shokho Shondesh resembling the shape of a Conch or a Shonkho.

Shondesh

You’ll find a sweet meat shop in every alley and every lane in Kolkata – whether they are small locally known shops or big branded ones – a topic that will probably come revisit my blog again. Sweets like Mishti Doi/Sweet Yoghurt and ones dipped in Sugar syrup – for example Rasgulla, comes in a clay pot as shown below. The sweets that follows (clockwise starting from the Mishti Doi) – Nikhuti, Komlabhog or a type of Rasgulla made with Orange rinds giving out strong aroma of oranges; Kalo Jaam and the Bengali Rabri. This famous version of the Rabri hailing from Kolkata is a bit different from the other Indian varieties. As the sweetened milk starts boiling, a layer of cream begins to form on the surface of the milk. That is taken off and kept aside. Repeated process of the same results in the Calcutta Rabri. Needless to say this is extremely rich and creamy and is bound to be heavy on the stomach and extremely fattening.

Mishti/Bengali Sweets

Shown below (clockwise from top left) are Mishti Doi/Sweet Yoghurt in a clay pot; Gujias, a traditional festive sweet and the Jibe Goja (Jibe means tongue and these sweets are elongated tongue-shaped ones, hence the strange name!); Pantua which is not the same as the famous Indian sweet Gulab Jamuns and Jolbhora Shondesh which literally means ‘filled with water’!

An except from an earlier post on Bengali Sweets…

Opening sweet boxes opened the floodgates of my childhood nostalgia. I started telling the Z-SISTERS everything about Bengali sweets and tried explaining to them how each sweet shop in Kolkata or a region and town in Bengal has it’s own signature sweet, a comprehensive list of which has been brilliantly done here.

Shondesh

Apart from the never-ending lists of sweets easily available in sweet shops, some Bengali Sweets are traditionally made at home. Or rather used to be made at home. Needless to say that there are many varieties of these as well and require elaborate skills . Shown below are some of the sweets that are still made at our home in Kolkata… the Pithe Puli – Pithas are primarily made from a batter of Rice flour shaped artistically with a Pur or sweet fillings. Then these Pithas are dipped in milk or other types of sweet preparation. These are specially made during the harvest season and has an incredible number of variations (read here). Taaler Bora/Sweet Palm Fritters (below) is another festive home-made traditional Bengali sweet made during Janmashthami, the day when Lord Krishna’s birthday is celebrated.

While Pickles don’t exactly come under Bengali Sweets, it is also a dying home-art and is being gradually being outsourced to small Pickle factories and is being relegated to a small-scale industry. I am fortunate to have a traditional Mother-in-law who is holding on to the art of pickle-making so painstakingly. I have started tracing out her journey with my first post on Pickles.

Nitty-gritties of a traditional Bengali Kitchen

In most Bengali households the Rice is cooked in a Dekchi (shown earlier along with Rice Polao). What is a Dekchi? Sutapa, the grand-dame of Bengali food blogging (14 years into food blogging!), describes it as ‘the handleless modification of the sauce pan – the rimmed, deep, flat-bottomed Dekchi which is a hallmark of the Bengali kitchen!’ Most of the cooking is done in a Kadai or an iron Wok (shown below). The Mutton is likely to be cooked in a Pressure Cooker. The ladle that is used to cook up all the delicacies is called a Khunti and the tongs or the Sharashi helps to transfer the hot pots and pans firmly from the fire to the kitchen counter. Haata is the aluminum serving spoon that is used to serve food and you’ll be having Bhaater haata to serve you Bhaat/Rice; Daaler Haata to serve Dal/Lentils and so on. Spices are ground with a Shil Nora – a grinding stone used in most Bengali kitchens to make Masalas Pastes where one rolls the mortar back and forth on a stone slab sitting on the ground. Vegetables are cut using a Boti where  a long curved blade on a platform is held down by foot and both hands are used to cut the vegetables by moving it against the blade. The cooking oil used is mostly Mustard Oil though most modern households have shifted to other cooking mediums that are being advertised as heart-healthy! The unique Bengali spice is Panch Phoron/the 5 spice Mix (picture shown earlier along with Chutney).

Traditional Bengali Kitchen

Bengali Kitchens outside the Bengal shores, specially my kitchen in Dubai

Many of us who have now made our homes on the shores beyond Bengal, have substituted various things to complement our Bengali Cooking. We have adapted ourselves and learnt to make good of what is available in the local markets. Most of the Bengali friends of my generation grew up studying for exams and not entering the kitchen that much. We ate what we were served by our Mums. It’s only when we began living our own lives that we started resorting to Bengali Food as our fall back comfort food. Binging on traditional Bengali meals when visiting our parents’ homes on holidays and waiting for someone more experienced in Bengali cooking – were the only ways to experience the meals that we grew up on.

Where do I get Bengali Fish from? Most Bangladeshi markets stock frozen packets of the different fish that are used in Bengali cooking. So you’ll get Koi Fish frozen fresh, packed in Thailand and flown many miles to Bangladeshi markets world wide. While we didn’t find any Bangladeshi market in Colombo, Srilanka, our stay in Frankfurt wasn’t devoid of Bengali Fish! Our stints in Colombo, Frankfurt and Dubai have taught us that if one is looking for Bengali  food products that are available outside India, they can only be found in Bangladeshi shops and Asian supermarkets selling Bangladeshi products.

In Dubai, a few Bengali fish is available in the supermarket Citi Mart near Imperial Suites Hotel, located on Rolla Road, Bur Dubai (Tel: 04-3523939). It’s quite likely that on Friday mornings you’ll bump into Bengalis who have come to do their fish-marketing. All varieties of Bengali Fish are available at the Bangladeshi markets in Backet in Sharjah. Rui Maach/Rohu fish is available at Lulu Supermarket in Al Barsha but the sizes of the fish being smaller than 1.5kgs results in a bit if disappointment in taste. And of course, the Backet in Rolla in Sharjah (you can read about my experience here).

Substitutes that I’ve adapted over the years: Gondhoraj Lebu or the Bengali Lime has been the hardest to substitute so far. The closest I’ve come to the aroma of Gondhoraj Lebu is to drop in a few leaves of the Thai Kaffir Lime!

Gobindobhog or the fragrant Rice that is traditionally used in making the Bengali Payeshis a special type of rice. Wikipedia defines it as ‘Gobindobhog is a rice referenced in ancient Indian literature. It was used as an offering to the gods because it was known to be, “The rice preferred by the gods”. It is a short grain, white, aromatic, sticky rice. It is grown traditionally in West Bengal, India. It has many traditional Bengali recipes intended for it specifically. It has a sweet buttery flavor and a potent aroma.’  There is a type of rice which comes from Bangladesh – the Chinigura Rice (similar to Basmati and Jasmine rice but with very tiny, short grains, resembling sushi rice). The latter, though less fragrant than Gobindobhog Rice is easily available in Bangladeshi shops in the Sharjah Backet.

Notun Gur/Season fresh Jaggery can be perfectly substituted by using Date Syrup. One of my blogging friend Yummraj suggests that Maple Syrup works great as well.

Aamshotto/Aam Papar/Dried Mango Bars if not available can be substituted by Dried Apricot Bars easily available in Carrefour and Lulu Hypermarket.

Narkel Kurano/Freshly grated Coconut can be substituted almost perfectly by soaking dessicated coconut in canned Coconut Cream or in the worst case, fresh Milk! Dessicated coconut packets are available in frozen sections of most supermarkets.

The different fish available in local supermarkets in Dubai that I often use to make traditional Bengali fish preparations… Lady fish fried in batter substitutes well as Topshe Maach Bhaja, Sultan Ibrahami cooked with Black Cumin Seeds substitutes well as Pabda Maacher Jhol, Cream Dori fillets wrapped in Banana Leaves substitutes well as Bhetki Maacher Paturi. Salmon steaks cooked in Mustard Paste and Mustard Oil substitutes, well sorry there can be no substitutes for this – the Hilsa! But it works quite well. Almost! Red Mullets can be cooked like Bhetki Maach and Needle fish can be fried crispy like Mourala Maach.

Cookbooks and Bengali Food Blogs

As and when we started craving for Bengali food, we ended up learning from different cookbooks and the all-knowledgeable internet. Some of these Bengali bloggers have now become friends. However, more than the internet my go to guide to any type of cooking is a simple cookbook that has been my trusted guide for the last 20 years – N.I.A.W Cookbook.

Bengali Foodblogs:
• Introduction to Bengali Cooking by Sutapa, the grand-dame of Bengali food blogging (14 years into food blogging!) and her site Bengali Recipes on the Web
Cook like a Bong by Sudeshna and Kalyan who’s created a comprehensive one stop site for Bengali food
eCurry by Soma who’s demystifying the magic of Indian Cooking with quite a lot of focus on authentic Bengali recipes
Bong Mom’s CookBook by Sandeepa whose writing connects to everyone and is doing a brilliant job of ‘passing the legacy of Bengali food to my two little daughters and all the other little ones out there who growing up in a foreign land will find a way to connect to their Bangla roots through the smell and taste of Bangla cuisine’.
Finely Chopped by Kalyan whose Twitter introduction says it all…”They used to tell me stories to make me eat when I was a kid. Now I look for stories when I eat’. Food & travel blogger. Bengali based at Mumbai. Kalyan has recently come out with his book The Travelling Belly.
Pikturenama by Madhushree and Anindya. In their words, “We cook, travel and we take pictures. This is our story. This is Pikturenama.”

Bengali CookBooks:

The N.I.A.W. Cookbook ∼ This has been an indispensable resource of recipes by Kolkata’s best ladies-who-cook and my go to guide for the last twenty years on every kind of recipe in this earth… from Burmese to Chinese… and of course Bengali! (couldn’t track it on Amazon or the Net. Available in Bengal Home on Chowringhee Road, Kolkata)

I read a lot on Heritage Cooking and am specially intrigued by the recipes that were followed in the famous Thakur Bari (Rabindranath Tagore’s family) with the ladies of Thakur Bari churning up exotic dishes after having exposed to international cuisine during the times when most Bengali women hadn’t ventured out of their homes. My book shelves are stacked with some of the following cookbooks. These offer great insight into the art of cooking rather than mere recipes… Thakurbarir Ranna by Purnima Thakur, The Calcutta CookBook by Meenakshi Dasgupta, Amish O Niramish Ahaar by Pragyasundari Debi (PragyaSundari Devi, a scion of the Tagore family, used to write a column in a vernacular news paper on various recipes. That perhaps was the first column of its type in the end of 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century). Again, I couldn’t track this book to Amazon or online book store but you may read a bit on the first Bengali Kitchen Queens here.

And a whole lot of books by Chitrita Bannerji, whose immaculate writing doesn’t only chalk out food guides but also the cultural history by weaving intricate relationship between food, rituals and art in Bengal.

Lunch in a Kolkata home

A lunch at a traditional Bengali home

All pictures of Bengali food experiences here are from my very known kitchens – either mine or mum, mum-in-law or other close mums… and a few exceptional Dads’ as well! Sadly, not every dish or delicacy could be captured here – even in the pictures above which are examples of lunches at our homes during our visits to Kolkata (the first one at my mum-in-law’s place and the second one at my ma’s place). But I’m hoping that I have been able to tempt you to Bengali Cuisine and realise how difficult it is being a Bengali and not being a foodie!

Dear Bengali readers, Shubho Mahalaya to you all! I would love to hear from you whether a tiny bit of justice has been done to Bengali Cooking. To the rest of my dear readers – Welcome to my world of Bengali Cooking! I haven’t even mentioned what we eat for Breakfast, or for snacks or on special occasions. Keep pouring in your comments and make my day delicious please!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills have been self paid. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Do try out these Bengali recipes from my blog:
Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case
Spicy Baby Potatoes or Aloor Dum – Kolkata Street Style!
Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi!
Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal | BBC GoodFood ME
Notun Gurer Payesh/Traditional Bengali Rice Pudding | Remembering My Dida
Payesh or Rice Pudding For My Birthday | Power of Gratitude Messages
Khichuri As Harbinger of Hope & Kolkata Soaked In Rains

And if you are interested in reading more on Bengali food in my blog:
Shubho Noboborsho | A traditional Bengali menu for Frying Pan Diaries podcast
A-Z of Bengali Fish
Pickles… Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles! – My Pickle Nostalgia
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Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté

Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté

Steamed in Rice or ‘Bhaaté’

In Bengali, mashed steamed vegetables are called ‘Bhaaté. The term literally means ‘In Rice’. It must have originated because very often these vegetables were traditionally steamed in the same pan in which the rice has been cooked. Mashing these steamed vegetables – assorted vegetables or any particular vegetable along with a dash of Mustard Oil or Ghee (Indian clarified butter), the Bhaaté creates a delicious and a healthy accompaniment to plain white Rice and Daal (lentils). Bhaaté or Mashed Vegetables of Aloo/Potatoes, Kumro/Pumpkin, Ucche/Bitter Gourd etc are very popular. Add to the Mash a bit of chopped green chillis or onions, may be some fresh coriander leaves, a little dash of Mustard Oil and a bigger dash of Kasundi, a pungent mustard sauce used as a dipping (specially for another Bong favourite – Fish Fry)  and a quasi side-dish is ready!

Bhaaté is also called Makhaa (literal meaning – squashed or mixed) but I prefer to address by the former as the latter meaning connotes a lot of mess. Bhaatés make me absolutely nostalgic. I have got the strongest holiday memories of Bhaatés. When we would return from vacations and holidays and my Mum would be too tired to stir up anything in the kitchen, she would just steam a whole lot of vegetables and put the Daal/lentils (usually Masoor or Moong Daal) in a soft white cloth and tie it up and cook them all along with the Rice. Occasionally, she would put eggs into the crowd as well for boiling. And our lunch would be plain Rice, Daal, vegetables and the boiled eggs – all mashed up with a pinch of salt and dollops of butter or a generous spoonful of Ghee! The simplest recipe and the simplest meal – but absolutely divine.

Well, I am so glad today that ‘take-aways’ or ‘home-deliveries’ were not in fashion in those days and my Mum had to stir up something even when we came home tired. I am not a selfish or an inconsiderate daughter. Just thinking whether my childhood memory of a topic like Baahté would at all exist had there been such frequent ‘take-aways’ or ‘home-deliveries’ when I was growing up!

Our 2 year long stay in Germany has made me realise that you can have an entire blog dedicated to Potatos. Though Potatos do play a very important role in Bengali Cuisine, it’s not a topic for mass hysteria as it is in Germany. Hence the Bong Aloo Bhaaté with some add-ons would always satisfy my German friends as I would introduce the dish as their very own Kartoffelpüree in der bengalischen Weise gekocht (mashed potato cooked in the Bengali way)!

Following are the characteristics of all recipes doling out of our little hands, big hearth
♥ Easy to cook
♥ Regular canned products off the shelf may be used (However, we advocate using fresh products)
♥ Goes well both as a regular or party dish
♥ Children can easily help in making the dish (My two little sous-chéfs are aged 8 and 3 years!)
♥ And lastly, guaranteed to be tasty!

As I re-create the Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté with French Mustard Paste in the age of Microwaves and French Fries…

Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté

Category – Vegetarian Side-Dish ; Cuisine type – Bengali Fusion

For the printable recipe→

Serves 1-2 persons

Preparation time – 20 minutes (microwave -10 minutes; mashing, garnishing and the additional frills – 10 minutes)

Ingredients

1 Big Potato

For Garnishing
Mailler’s Moutarde D’Ancienne/ Mustard Paste – 1 tbsp (You may use less if you don’t like the pungent mustard paste but definitely do use a Mustard Paste which has these seeds and is not a smooth paste)
Freshly grated coconut/ dessicated coconut – 3 tsp
1/2 Onion – sliced
Coriander leaves – 1 bunch, finely chopped (you can reduce/ increase the amount as per individual preference)
Mustard Oil – 1 tsp
1/2 Green Chilli (optional) – chopped finely
Salt as per taste

The journey as captured by my camera, starting with the ingredients…

Boiled Potatos, Freshly Chopped Coriander leaves, Sliced onionsMustard Paste, Mustard Oil, Green Chillis, Dessicated CoconutMustard Paste, Mustard Oil, Green Chillis

Method of Preparation

– Boil the Potato (Takes about 5 minutes in the Microwave for 1 Potato but do make sure that it is covered with enough water so that the boiled potato doesn’t become hard-crusted)
– Hand-mash the Potato, do not purré in the blender (we want this coarseness!)
– Add Mustard Paste, Mustard Oil, onion slices, grated coconut, chopped green-chillis (optional) to the mash and mix it further
– Make the mash into a mini Potato ball
– Roll the Potato ball slightly over the grated coconut

My endless experiments of photographing this journey can be found here.

Both the Z-SISTERS love the part where we are making the Potato Balls. I tell them stories of how Big Z used to make snowballs from all the snow lying on our terrace when we lived in Germany. Here living in Dubai I cannot replicate that snow (until and unless we pay through our nose and visit Ski-Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East and that too inside a shopping mall!) but we could at-least add the ball-making experience into my Middle-Eastern Moments. So what if there’s no snow ball – there’s always a Bengali’s Aloo Bhaaté or a German’s Kartoffelpüree or a Frenchman’s Purée de Pommes de terre to do the honour. But remember – no throwing at each other – leave that job to the snowballs!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Other Recipes 
Cumin Beetroot Cold Salad – A Summer Salad
Mango Lentil Soup/Aam Dal – The Summer Combat
Daal Maharani Befitting the Queen (And Also Us)
Sikarni Raan/Marinated Lamb Shank from Yak & Yeti
Purple Haze Yoghurt With Purple M&Ms
Easter Egg Curry Cooked By Easter Bunnies!
Icecream Rasgulla with Blueberry Sauce Inspired by Holi