Yes, I was in Calcutta last week!
Although I don’t bring you food, I will have you know shukto is my new favorite mixed vegetable! In the two work-filled days I did manage two wholesome Bengali meals. And loved every morsel of them! I had no idea I might like Bengali food so completely! Though I can begin to guess why it should be so… mustard oil, fish, rice…aren’t these the best foundations to build a cuisine on?! 😉
Bengalis really love mustard. Mustard seeds, mustard paste, mustard oil, and mustard Ambassadors. I agree with all of the aforesaid mustard avatars. I even love the nose-stinging pungent mustard paste served with mouralla machher peyaji at 6 Ballygunj Road. Dinner here the night before I flew out was outstanding. I again requested shukto, sauted mixed vegetables in a sauce rich with poppy seeds, mustard seeds, and milk. Our colleague’s wife guided us through the rest of the menu to help order an everyday-Bengali meal that included bhetki paturi (fish seasoned with mustard paste and steamed in banana leaves), moong dal, kasha mangsho (rich Bengali mutton curry), a posto of potatoes and tori (marrow) – I forget what it was called – served with crisp puffed loochi and steamed white rice. I couldn’t do justice to the mutton but did save myself some room for mishti doi, the only one in the gang to do so that night.
Lunch the previous day had comprised of jhur jhure aloo bhaja – the finest fried juliennes of potato, pabda jhal – a sweet water fish cooked in a mustard gravy (surprise!), shukto (this one was a mix of green beans, eggplant, bittergourd, drumsticks, bori, and green bananas), masur dal, aloo posto, and pineapple chutney, served with steamed white rice. It was a surprisingly authentic Bengali lunch for a dingy place that called itself Sweet and Sour… no surprise – it also served Chinese. We would have been pushing it had we ventured any further (from work) in the middle of that hectic humid day; this was just across the road and the Bengalis on the team ate there.
Many eons ago I had made an attempt to cook the most basic of Bengali dals – moong dal – from the very reliable A Taste of India which had ended in utter disappointment. It was my first attempt at roasting dal that was not for a podi or part of tempering, and I likely, roasted it a tad bit too much. It was enough to put off further explorations into this fine cuisine. What a loss it has been!
The one Bengali dish I do know how to cook, and one that is a favourite, is begun bhaja – sliced eggplant (or sectioned, when using the smaller long variety) seasoned with salt and turmeric and fried in mustard oil. That is all there is to it (there you have it, the recipe!). Give me two fat slices of that soft eggplant imbued with the distinct smokiness that is mustard oil, and I am a happy camper. In fact, I make extra rotis when begun bhaja is on the menu!
Alas, I had no time for the myriad street foods I saw Bengalis gorging on all over the sidewalks of Calcutta. But not for long; I plan on being back there pretty soon!
Before that, tell me what I must not miss when in Udupi – I am headed there! I might be able to squeeze in Mangalore as well!