As much as I crave a good sambar rice, I hanker for Ilish Bhapa with equal fervor. My love for Bengali food often sees me land uninvited to Bengali homes. I unabashedly ask for leftovers of macher johol (yes they taste better the next day) and even tag along with Bengali friends to Durga Puja for the mahaprasad of khichuri and bhaja. So when I heard Sofitel Mumbai BKC had a East Bengal / Bangladesh food festival I did the obvious – drove there and ate till I was in food coma!
East Bengal/ Bangladeshi food is very similar to West Bengal barring the fact that Bangladeshi food has a slight Mughlai touch. Both cuisine favour fish and the use of mustard and poppy seeds are similar. The food festival at Novotel is put together by chef Sirajul from Novotel Kolkata.
We started with a non vegetarian snack – Chicken Kabiraj. It’s a cutlet made with minced chicken and spices dipped in egg and coated with breadcrumbs. Like other chop cutlets, this recipe too is the result of British influence on the Bengali cuisine. Needless to say it was crunchy on the outside and succulent inside. Though I missed Illish bhapa one of my favourite Bengali dishes, I was glad to see another favourite – Kosha Mangsho – a mutton dish. The perfectly cooked, juicy meat had a Mughlai touch with the use of whole spices and a thin layer of oil floating over it. Yummy. The Katla Macher Kalia (fish curry) was heady from the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, chillies and ginger paste.
The amount of respect Bengalis pay to vegetables is unprecedented. Simple ridgegaurd is elevated with the use of poppy seeds and mustard paste in Jinghe Posto. It goes beautifully with steamed rice. The simple yellow dal tempered with mustard seeds is akin to the Maharashtrian waran with strong hints of ghee.
Bongs love to have their fish in unthinkable ways. Apart from frying, steaming, baking and dunking it in gravies they also put it in pulao! The Ilish Polao a great combination of spicy Ilish with rice was full of depth. Though Bengali food is known for its liberal use of green chilies, and Bangladesh in particular is famed for having some of the hottest dishes in the world, the dishes at the food festival have been toned down to suit various palates. Among the desserts I loved the misti doi and gurer kheer.
Pondicherry Café the venue of the festival is dressed in Bangla fervor with a cycle tonga at the entrance, terracotta pots and jhal muri cycles.
Where: Pondichéry Café, Sofitel Mumbai BKC
Date: 18th to 27th March 2016
Time: Lunch – 12:30 pm onwards and Dinner – 7:00 pm onwards
Price: Rs 3,400 (all inclusive)
For reservations, call +91 (22) 6117 5115
NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR