mostly about food and cooking, but also the stories about the Bread and the Butterflies!

The Land of Mustard and Fish

In Bengal, Travel on July 8, 2009 at 10:09 pm


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!

  1. Kolkata to you, missy!

    • Why just me – you live in different times? Actually Bengalis have always called it that – Kolkata – haven’t they?

      • Well, if you had called it what they always called it then… and just in case you turn the tables on me, it will alluz be Bombay.

  2. I am green with envy! That dish you mentioned sounds absolutely wonderful! 😀

    I have a recipe for machher jhol from one of those old cookbooks that is unforgettably-out-of-this-world delicious! Definitely a cuisine worth furthur exploration; shukto first.

  3. ooooohhhhhhhhhhh!!!! I was in Bengal for the past one month!!! 2weeks with mom n dad in siliguri and two weeks with ma in law in kolkatta!!!! and I ate every single dish u just described….over n over!!! U r right!!! Can’t get enuf of it!!! Next time u should try the Iliish in shorshe too or bhapa iliish with shorshe or iliish maacher jhol!!! It is awesome if u can survive the bones!!! And the chingri maacher malaikari(prawn in coconut sauce!)!!! I ate iliish n chingri to sustain me for a year!!!
    As u can see my name is just an alphabet away from being converted into shukto!!! And funnily enuf its bengalis who rib me the most!!! Coz i guess they are the only ones whose vocabulary would feature ‘shukto’! Meanings are very different tho!!! My name translates to pearl oyester and u know what shukto is as it is your latest fav dish!!!Cheers to many more visits to kolkatta!!! U should go in winter…it is awesome!!! And try the patali gur….date molassess that melt in your mouth with gorom gorom ruti!!! Hot chapattis!!!
    hehehehehehe…as u can tell yet another foodie Bong!!!

    Must tell u i am a diehard fan of your blog and try out most of your dishes!!!

    Lots of love,
    Shukti Dutt

    • Shukti – Pearl oyster – nice!

      Love love love patali gur! I am so looking forward to the next visit!
      Fish bones are no problem – in Delhi Rohu is our preferred fish!

  4. What an I say? Welcome to the mysteries of Bengali cuisine.
    You just found yourself a new addiction! 😀

    Shukto and Aviyal are my two favourite mixed vegetables. I totally second Shukti’s thought you must try the “patali” and patishpatas made with this gur in the winters.

    That reminds me haven’t cooked shukto for a whole month! Must try!

    • It was really interesting that of all the fab and exotic dishes I tasted I fell in love with shukto the most!
      Yes, I have discovered a new cuisine – one that compliments my love for rice!

  5. Due to bloggin hve tried several bengali recipes and i luved them all,hve published them do hop in if interested,;-) do try mangalorean gashi,kodi gashi,out there with kori roti ,..:-)

  6. Anita, you’re making me nostalgic… I would love some kasha mangsho and pabda jhal… 🙂

  7. That mourala pyaji sounds lovely. Have heard 6 Ballygunje place is great, but haven’t tried it. Next time try a place called Kewpies, again heard they serve great bengali food

    When I was in Kolkata (as in lived there), there were hardly any decent place serving Bengali lunch.

  8. If you’re in Mangalore, then the ice-cream at Ideals or Pabbas. And the fish curry/fry and pork sorportel(if you eat pork). 🙂

    (I’ve been following your blog for awhile, it’s the first time I’m commenting. Mangalore-Manipal is home to me.)

    • Thanks, Purely-Narcotic!
      I have eaten pork, just don’t feel pork is safe enough here in Delhi. Hope to try the sorportel!

  9. Well, after reading your post, next stop Kolkata for me.Yum!!

  10. Anita,
    Do try the neer dosas, ,mangalore buns, goli baje, kane fry when in Mangalore

  11. Wow… all that food! I agree with you Avial and Shukto are also two of my favourite mixed vegetable dishes! In fact, I just made shukto, matar dal with radish and beans poriyel yesterday and getting ready to make avial and steamed hilsa wrapped in banana leaves today!

  12. Next time you come here eat at Bhojo Hori Manna – have the Murshidabaadi raan 🙂 Keep more time for Kolkata bloggers and call us!

  13. Hi Anita
    Yes, that brought it all back! My first trip to Calcutta blew me away on the food front. We ate at Kewpies and the mustardy fish will linger forever in my top 10.


  14. You made me drool by your vivid descriptions. I have never tried any begali recipes except for rasogollas. But often drool over the platters of “Bong mom – Sandeepa”. Have a great foodie time at Mangalore 🙂

    • Let me tell you that the rosogolla is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg! I have now bookmarked a couple of recipes from Sandeepa’s blog…

  15. This didn’t show up on my reader… I wonder why.

    You’ve had a great time I see. I have a couple next door… the lady’s Punju, but married to a Bengali and she makes these things all the time 🙂 I have never ventured into the area though 🙂

    I’ve been told the Gudbud icecream is very famous in Mangalore 🙂

    • Venture forth, on the double! Don’t wait anymore! I got some more shukto (amongst other things) the last two days!

      We did try Gudbud – a rather grand dessert with different flavours of ice creams dressed up with a lot of chopped fruit and nuts.

  16. OK, now I’m all nostalgic, trying hard not to weep over the keyboard while typing and madly dialing up my Mom back at home!
    Begun Bhaja is the only Bengali dish you know how to cook? Well, its the only veggie dish I’ll eat!! And when I’m home, I have to have it everyday!

    • 😀 Let me add some fuel to the fire…I am just back from my second visit!
      I agree with you on begun bhaja – worth having everyday!

  17. The way you decribe everything it’s really mouthwatering and can’t wait for Udipi cuisine.

  18. I am not Indian but cook a lot of Indian food, and never liked Bengali food – too bland, too mustard-y, not as exciting as other regional cuisines. That is UNTIL I went to Kolkata two years ago! Boy was the food good, and I came back jazzed to recreate it, including shukto. I can report that now I quite like Bengali food and cook it often. It is unknown and under-appreciated in the US, and that is a shame.

  19. […] back to the topic of Bengali food.  So, you found me raving about Bengali food when I finally discovered it on a visit to Kolkata not so long ago.  I have made begun bhaja […]

  20. Fabulous – and let’s have more photos! I wrote about Calcutta in The Gunpowder Gardens – the tea trade, the monsoon rains, the auction houses and the faint air of helpless inanition that hung over the city back then… I love your lively post. best Jason

    Thanks, Jason.

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