Post Poila Boishakh Musings & the Bengal in Bandra Finely Chopped Walk…Hangla, Sweet Bengal, Bong Bong
I leave town on 18th morning for Barcelona where I will have honour of speaking in the Asia Tourism Congress as a guest of Casa Asia. The topic, ‘how to use social media to drive tourism from India.
From there I head to London primarily as a guest of Chowzters as a part of the jury behind the Fast Feast Awards. Over there I will also go to Asma Khan’s Pop Up restaurant in The Cinnamon Club to talk about Calcutta food which is the theme of the lunch. I will also have to loosen my trousers as Zoe Perrett, who is the biggest lover of Indian food that I have come across has enlisted me as a judge of the International Chocolate Awards. I also hope to go to Canterbury while in London and also meet up with Meera Sodha who is writing a book on her mother’s recipes.
Do drop in a mail if you are at either city at k(dot)finelychopped(at)gmail(dot)com
Talking of quaint Bengali mannerisms, much is said about the way in which Bengalis speak Hindi. This YouTube link is of the ABP Majha segment when I tried to talk about Bengali food in Hindi to the channel’s Maharashtrian audience during the walk.
Poila Boishakh or Bengali new year
It was the Bengali new year on 15th April.
Wished folks on the 14th? No problem. The Bengali new year date fluctuates as most Hindu calendars don’t coincide with the English one. There were a spate of new years which happened recently. The Irani Nowroz, Sindhi Chettichand, Punjabi Baisakhi, Maharashtrian Gudi Padwa…ours was the last of the lot.
So what do we do on New Year or Poila Boishakh as it is known?
When I was in Kolkata fifteen years back, before Bengali restaurants came up there, PB was primarily a day to wear new clothes. In many families including ours, this was the only occasion to buy new clothes except Durga Pujas. Apart from wearing new clothes we would go to the neighbourhood shops who would hand out Bengali calendars and the more coveted boxes of sweets. The opening of the new books of accounts is called Haal Khaata if I remember right. Apart from this, neighbours in an apartment complex like ours would send boxes of sweets to each other.
Yes, celebration in the pre-liberalisation, pre-consumerist era were fairly Spartan.
Bengali New Year attained a much bigger meaning in my life after I moved to Mumbai. As hey say immigrants often make a stronger attempt to hold on to their roots than those who haven’t left home.
“Holding on to one’s roots” for many Bengalis is often just an excuse to eat with a clear conscience. Over the years I have gone to Oh Calcutta and gorged on the multi-layered buffets with friends and once we even went to Ling’s Pavilion!
At the end what matters to us Bengalis is good food and a good adda when it comes to making a fresh start. The rest takes care of itself.
The Bengal in Bandra Finely Chopped Walk
This time I brought in the new year a couple of days before the 15th with the Bengal In Bandra Finely Chopped Walk on Saturday evening.
It was hot and humid, sweltering in fact. I was worried about how the walkers would hold up. At the end they did me proud…right from the 17 year old to the senior most. We had an interesting mix for this walk. It was not a traditional Bengali walk after all. It was more a walk to experience how the roots of Bengali food have grown through this suburb of Mumbai. In this walk we had folks from Mumbai including those who had moved in from Pune, Chandigarh and Chicago. We had folks who had come in from Bangalore and London to visit Mumbai and who joined in. We had a couple of Bengalis. Probashis who don’t reside in Bengal. Folks like me. We had a Punjaban who loves food. A UP-Mumbaikar who has come to each of the four Finely Chopped Walks so far. We have had others too who have encouraged us by coming for more than one walk, but Jyotika, is my lucky mascot. We had a probashi Bengali who was trying to show his vegetarian non Bengali wife that Bengali food needn’t be as daunting as the machhed jhol or kosha mangshos make it seem to her. We had a Tambram who was here with her Bengali mother in law looking to connect on food. We had lawyers, we had marketers, we had publishers, we even had a former Mumbaikar and now Londoner who is a restaurant recruiter.
A motely mmix of 12 walkers…a cross-section which was so typically Mumbai.
The idea of these walks is to keep them personal and to replicate a walk with friends. I feel that 8 – 12 at the most is what works and which is why I hardly advertised the walk this time as we got filled up pretty soon.
A big part of the Finely Chopped Walks is the warm up where people get to know each other. This time we started at 6.30 pm in the little park opposite Hangla. A relaxed setting for a good Bengali styled adda.
Unfortunately we were cut short as the park shuts at 7 pm and only half the folks got to introduce themselves. We crossed over to Hangla where Apoorva Subedar of ABP Majha joined us. She and her crew were shooting the walk.
Soumitra Ghosh’s Hangla
A crowd begin to gather outside Hangla with the shoot on. I ditched the intros and ordered the food at Hangla. Mutton rolls, egg rolls and paneer rolls as per dietary preferences. Rolls cut into two so that one didn’t get stuffed. I gave my tips on ordering…fried onions, no ketchup (except in egg rolls) and a history lesson followed with tales of rolls from Nizams and then a biryani tasting with tales of how the biryani came to Kolkata from Awadh. All this while K hopped across and got bottles of water for the walkers. Fish chops, cutlets and camera bytes and we were ready to leave when Soumitra Ghosh dropped in.
Soumitrada, a photojournalist, is the man behind Hangla. He told us how he started with his first stall in Lokhandwala when he realised that Mumbai doesn’t have good snack options unlike in Kolkata. Response was initially slow as people came in expecting frankies and walked off when told they would get rolls. He then started giving out free rolls to convert the frankie loving Mumbaikar and soon the Hangla footprint spread. Bandra is the third store of this chain which serve Kolkata street food prepared by cooks from Kolkata.
Chanchalda at Sweet Bengal
We then walked down Waterfield Road down some seriously traffacked inner lanes to reach Sweet Bengal where Chanchal Chakraborty was there to welcome us like the elder brother of the groom in a wedding. He is a part of Anjan Chatterjee’s Speciality Restaurant Group and manages Sweet Bengal and helped set it up.
He told us a story similar to that of Hangla’s. Probably the inspiration for folks like Soumitra later to take the brave step that that they took. Chanchalda told us tales of setting up their first shop with sweet makers who had come from Kolkata. He too told us how it took a while to get local Mumbaikars to get used to the idea of a Bengali sweet shop and that too in the Maharashtrian heartland of Dadar. He spoke to us of patiently waiting for footfalls to begin. Of belief and conviction that made Sweet Bengal establish its presence in Mumbai.
It’s institutions like Sweet Bengal & Hanga that have made Mumbai seem more like home for ex Calcuttans.
We listened to Choncholda’s tales as folks tried out the dual textured kheer kodom, their highest selling item. Pantua, which is made from chhana unlike the mava based gulab jamun. The soft and juicy ‘unladdo’, dorbesh and some salty stuff too…veg chops and kochuris to go with shondesh.
In Bengal sweets are not about an after meal dessert. They can can be had at any time of the day and that’s what we did as we headed for dinner after the jolkhabar (snack) of sweets.
Surjopriya’s Bong Bong
Our last stop, the newest of the Bengali establishments in Mumbai, Bong Bong. A restaurant which it’s owner, Surjopriya, says represents the ‘modern Bengali mindset’. A menu put together by the very talented Chef Joy of Bohemian in Kolkata.
No, our dinner didn’t have a multi coursed shukto, daal, bhaaja, alu posto, chochchori, machher jhol, bhat, luchi, kosha mangsho, mishti theme to it. The truth is that many immigrant Bengalis don’t have the time or patience to have many coursed meals on a regular basis. Plus there are multiple influences that have entered our kitchens now. A reflection of where we live, of our travels, of the people we meet, of the experiences that we have had, of who we are.
So instead of alu posto, at Bong Bong we hade their chilli & 5 spice potato which we just love and which beautifully brings alive the simplicity of Bengali cooking. Instead of regular macched jhol or fish curry we had a prawn in coconut cream (cauliflowers for vegetarians). The famous Malai curry where ‘Malai’ comes not from cream but from Malay after the Bengali workers in Malaysia who had got back this recipe. The Bong Bong touch lies in the fact they keep the prawns juicy here unlike other Bengali and Indian restaurants here which overcook the prawns. That’s old school. Today you ‘respect’ the produce and Bong Bong does that. We didn’t have kosha manghso. Instead we played tribute to the Anglo Indian community of Kolkata with their unique peppery vindaloo…this was served in pork and mutton options while there was vegetables in tomato and mustard for the vegetarians. For desserts there was mango pudding and not sondesh.
All dishes using ingredients and influences that define Kolkata and yet are evolving.
This time’s goody bag had Mukhorochok dalmut and jhalmuri packs which they retail at Sweet Bengal.
Here’s what some of those who came to the walk had to say:
Hangla's, Sweet Bengal & Bong Bong ... A Bong journey in Bandra led by the superb Kalyan Karmakar. Cannot decide whether I liked the food more or his stories...
(pic by Pooja Vir)
Vidya Murthi Lahiri: All three of us had a great time, which in itself is a big achievement, given our varying levels of exposure to bong cuisine. The highlight for me was Bong bong - like you said so rightly, it is so what 'bandra bong' should be. Also, meeting all the owners just gives such a different perspective of the food - I found that in all the three places..
Thanks once again for a super time and hope to be with you again in your future walks!
Thanks so much folks and thanks for walking with me through the heat and traffic of Bandra that evening.
Mumbai folks, hope to see you soon.