Sunday, April 16, 2006

Shubho Noboborsho

It was around seven thrity in the evening. Eighteen dignified and sophisticated employees of one of the largest MNC met outside a posh Hyderabad restaurant on the 15th of April 2006. The ones who were late profusely apologised in the most refined tones. The terrace garden restaurant was on the top floor of the building. They got out of the lift and .............

The date changed from the aforementioned to Poila Baisakh 1413 ( Baisakh 1, 1413). No they were not testing the time machine brought out by their company. They had just become a part of an expatriate group of Bangalis( we are not bengalis, just like the Japanese are actually Nippons) celebrating their new year. The new year by itself did not mean much to them because the Gregorian calender was as much a part of their lives as David Beckham, Ashley Giles or Sir Richard Attenborough's. This was just an occassion to bring out the Bangali in them. If one is allowed to simplify further this was an occassion for them to just be.

They were accompanied by a hundred other of their clan in this foreign city, all part of this Bangali Food Festival in this particular restaurant. If you have ever met a Bangali you would not have a doubt about which community was kept in mind when someone said for the first time , "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach". Probably during those days our women were a little shy about their love for good food but surely not anymore. The ambiance could not have been more appropriate for a full-up to-the-throat dinner. This particlar group 'managed' (we Bangali's don't do, we manage) to get four large round tables together for themselves. Uttam Kumar (Bangla's Amitabh Bachchan, just thrice the popularity) was at his comic best in Mouchak (an all time Bangali favorite comedy) on the large screen put up there. You could hear more chatse Bangla (complete with acolorful words and devoid of English/American slangs) on that terrace than on any of the terraces of any South Kolkata high rise.

The adda session was just about getting started but the how long can you keep a bunch of hungry Bangalis ( and a few obangali friends) away from food, that too Bangla khabar. The bunch of men and women surrounded the fuchkawalla (pani puri/gol gappe/ gup chup wallah) and even though the entire dinner was a buffet for a fixed amount per plate, which meant they could take as much as they wanted of everything, not many forgot to ask the fuchka walla their fair share of 'fau' (one extra) and helpings of the legendary tetuler jol mixed with gondhoraj lebu (tamarind water mixed with a particularly Bangla variety of lemon). No sooner than five to six rounds of this fuchka session was over, the Bangla appetite reared its head in all of their faces. Immediately there was a beeline for the buffet menu, which of course was devoured in five to seven rounds to the table. What follows is a description of the menu skittled to down to the following few lines, which could as well have been the size of the next Harry Potter book.

Fuchka - Hollow balls of flour, filled with a tangy potato and chick pea paste and some of the tamarind water described above.

Salad - not very different from the salad from any other part of the country or other other countries, besides Russia of course.

Aamer Chatni - A tangy and sweet syrupy side dish made from raw mango.

Tomato Chatni - Pretty much like the aamer chutni, only difference being this one is made of tomato.

Alu Sheddho - Mashed Potatoes with some of the skin not peeled, some sprinkling of of spices and ghee and very different from the Western Variety of the same dish that we know. This one is synonymous with traditional and daily banagali meals.

Kumro Sheddho - Mashed pumpkins, mixed with salt and mustard oil, another perennial favourite starter.

Neem Begun - This is one of the many fried side dishes Bangla food is so full off. Diced egg plant and Neem leaves (yes the same ones the Americans are trying to take out a patent for) fried in, what else, but mustard oil.

Dharosh Bhaja - More fried items on the platter, diced ladies fingers this time around.

Kurkure Alu Bhaja - And now comes the king of Bangla fried side dishes, circular slices of crispy deep fried potato. Most Bangalis claim they can spend their entire lifetime by eating just this and luchi. Description of the latter follows soon.

Bhat - Plain old steamed rice, and the entire Bangali cuisine has developed keeping this as constant as the rocks of Gibraltar.

Luchi - Small UFO shaped flour dumplingd deep fried in oil. Very close to the puri variety as is better known as in the rest of the country. Aloo bhaja's partner in crime in helping the bangalis add those extra kilos.

Veg. Pulao - The most non bengali dish of the night. As the name suggests it is Vegetarian Rice of the aristrocatic pulao variety. Again a little fried with lots of spices and condiments and nuts and raisins to boot.

Shukto - This one again is more Bangali than the Howrah Bridge or Victoria Memorial. (Funny isn't it how the monument in the memory of the British Queen has become a symbol of Bangaliana (bengalism)?). So this shukto is a hotchpotch of slices of vegetables like potatoes (yes we use that in almost all our dishes), radish, bitter gourd, nuggets made from dal (called bori in Bangla), Egg plant, beans and whatever else our moms find close at hand. Sort of cloose to the Avial from South India, but Shukto doesn't have any trace of curd.

Dhokar Dalna - I am not certain about this one, but I think its a curr of barfis made from dal paste. Please do a Google search for more on Dhokar dalna. And yes its a tricky name, as dhoka as a standalone term is to betray!

Alu Potoler Torkari - Alu is potato again and its a curry again, but for the life of me I cannot come up with an English translation of Potol. Padwal for those who know a bit of hindi, but in case you don't then just assume its one of those local vegetables, superstar in its state but an unknown entity elsewhere.

Chholar Dal - A must go with Luchi. A sweetish dal made from whole chick peas. Short, simple and sweet.

Alu Posto - By now you don't need me to tell you alu is potato, and we Bangalis just can't seem to have enough of it. Posto, as far as I have been taught, are poppy seeds. Not at all related to the deadly drugs, but some bangalis will tell you, just as addictive.

Murighonto - This one requires a warning message. The description is not suited for those with not-strong-enough-stomachs or vegetarians. A particular kind of rice, gobindobhog for the more curious, mixed with all the various parts of the heads of fish. The high intellectual level of Bengalis is sometimes attributed to this particular preparation.

Lau Chingri - Now the non-veg part of the menu has come in all its glory. This one is a snake gourd and prawns curry. Just the perfect blend of both the ingredients gives it that heavenly touch.

Kosha Mangsho - This one again definitely comes in the Bangali Top 5 of all time. Mangsho is mutton, and Kosha here stands for just the right amount of gravy required to take it to the Top 3.

Rui Machh - Bangalis have tasted all kinds, forms and shapes if fishes possible, but this one is a little special. Its not exactly a delicacy, but its one which we start having before Lactogen or Cerelac. Okay a slight exaggeration, but you get the drift, don't you? And there are those clear divisions between the lovers of rui machher - peti, gada and lyaaja. Well lets just leave those divisions as various parts of the fish.

Pona Machh - In most cases this machh (or fish) is the same rui machh mentioned above, but in its infancy. And the preparations and taste are totally different. Another exaggerated comparison would be with that of the egg and the chicken. We are just talking about taste here.

Ilish Machh - This one will arguable win the 'Bengal's Favorite Food' Award by a neat margin. In case the name Ilish mach doesn't familiar, try replacing it with Hilsa fish. If the choice is between one whole months salary versus no hilsa fish for one entire season, we will happily accept a paycheck less. Long live Ilish. And may it come straight to our plates after that.

Mishti Doi - Doi stands for curd, and mishti for sweet. So a pretty uncreative name I guess, but its as much a part of Bnagali culture as curd rice of Tamil Nadu or its neighboring states. A major Bangali export actually.

Rosogolla - Trying to describe a rosogolla might be blasphamous enough to have me excomunicated.

Langcha - In simplest terms its a Gulab Jamun in Jalebi form. More forms coming up.

Ledikeni - Gulab Jamun in a sausage form.

Sandesh - Low calorie easy to digest sweets made from cottage cheese. Unlike the ones mentioned above, this one is very dry and has hundreds of varieties by itself.

All this was completed in five to six trip to the buffet table. And yes the kata chamoch (fork and spoon) were well substituted by the haath (hand).

[Click here for the photos of the night]

The Venue: Hotel R V, Hyderabad

Time: 7:30 PM - 10:00 PM

Attendees: Soumyajit, Dipanjan, Swayambhu, Chirantan, Mahesh, Maheswari, Sushmita, Natasha, Ujjyini, Antara, Kanupriya, Sujasha, Nidhi and Your's truly.

Aschhe Bocchor Abar Hobe ( I will NOT translate that!!)


Anonymous said...

The last thing I wanted to read at 9pm, when food still seems quite some time away.... and am really angry ... grrrr!

Does that sound like a compliment; it better do :)

Tanushree Baruah said...

Potol or Potola as it is called in Assamese is also a superstar in Assam and places where the Assamese stay. I walked for one full hour in the market place to find potola.
Potola rules.

Autumn Leaf said...

Very comprehensive! Sorry I am a little late but let me just add to your list of translation! This one was for foreign tourists at a restaurant in northern India.

Dahi Vada : Lentil donuts soaked in yogurt.

ThePoliticalCat said...

Dekho, doesn't anyone have a RECIPE for murighonto? I haven't eaten the damn thing for over twenty years, and reading this khabar-khobor post of yours was enough to make me explode with envy.

Bikram Das said...

You had the entire menu indeed...looks like a restaurant menu!!! that was gr8

Anonymous said...

Erm...two years lte, I know. But was searching for what potol is called in English. But of late have noticed that people do call it 'wax' gourd, but then I find it hugely confusing to decipher the gourd family...

Suhel Banerjee said...

@Shashank - A very hearty compliment!

@Tanushree - I notice it's quite inconspicuous here in the North.

@Autumn Leaf - Lentil Donuts somehow just doesn't conjure images of Dahi Vada, does it?:)

@Bikram - Yes, it was nothing but great.

@Anonymous - Sorry, I am also two years late in responding to your 2 year late comment! I have decided to go ahead with with potol forever, have ended my search for an English translation.