I was in Gurgaon recently for about a fortnight.
We were there as mom was hospitalised. Obviously eating out was not on our minds. I must say though that the food options at Gurgaon’s Fortis Hospital with the food court and the Mind Cafe and Costa were pretty good for attendants. The truth is sometimes you do need to break away from the stress when at a hospital and these are thoughtful features there. There was quite a bit of healthy stuff to eat and we would usually go to Mind Cafe and place called Whole Foods. The most popular counter though was Haldirams and its chhole bhatoore which were flocked by folks who probably didn’t have cholesterol, blood pressure or sugar tests and stuff in their mind. Or perhaps they did and for a bit just wanted to tell the universe to go to take a jump.
I did go out for a very nice meal at Gurgaon the day I left for home. Mom was back at my brother’s from the hospital so a weight was of our shoulders. A batch-mate from MBA days, Preeti, was in town and we hadn’t met since we had left college. Nilakshi another friend from my MBA days with whom K and I stayed at the end of the Gurgaon trip, a lovely host who made masala idlis, crepes and ajwain parathas for our breakfasts before leaving for work, told me about this. So the three of us decided to meet, together for the first time after almost a decade and a half.
Nilakshi suggested Ki Hangla (literally translated as ‘how greedy for food’), a Bengali joint at Gurgaon that I was keen to visit too. I love trying out new Bengali places. Priti, the third in our group that day, had moved to the US and was happy to try out Bengali food for the first time since she left Kolkata after our MBA course had got over.
That’s Aparajita the owner of Ki Hangla in a saree with Preeti and Nilakshi
Ki Hangla is a small Bengali chain started by a lady called Aparajita who had studied hotel management in Kolkata. She had started with takeaway joints from what I understand but she had recently opened her first sit down restaurant at Supermart 1 in Gurgaon near Galleria Market in Sushant Lok. She already had a takeaway counter there.
The restaurant, though small, has a cheerful feel to it and was well lit during the day and hence the nice iPhone pics. The usual Calcutta motifs were there in a collage on the wall. Aparajita was at the counter herself bringing in the personal touch so important for restaurants to survive and flourish. Running a restaurant is not an easy business and delegation just doesn’t work in this field. It needs the proverbial blood, sweat and tears and a welcoming smile and Aparajita looks fully into it and this showed in the lovely time we had at Ki Hangla. Aparajita knew Nilakshi pretty well and made us all feel at home. I almost felt as if I was in back home in Bandra.
Incidentally Ki Hangla has nothing to do with the Mumbai based Bengali takeaway chain, Hangla.
We started with fish fries/ cutlets which honestly I wasn’t too excited with here. My ‘problem’ with the cutlet was a bit funny. To me a Bengali fish fry or cutlet is as much about the spice as it is about the fish. It’s a street food dish which in Kolkata barely has any fish in it and it is the breadcrumb coating and the spices which enthral one. It lost a bit of the street food essence in Ki Hangla and the cutlets had ‘too’ much of fish in it and the taste was a bit overwhelmingly fishy which is not what a Kolkata fish cutlet is about. I know that having a problem with someone who didn’t skimp on the fish is funny but that’s how it was for me.
While the street food dish didn’t give complete pleasure the ghorer khabar or dishes had at home gave loads of joy and happiness at Ki Hangla.
We started with my favourite combo of luchi chholar daal. The first dishes that I had as a spoilt bilet ferot (visiting expat) three year old when my Didu would make them for me in Delhi. The chholar daal at Ki Hangla had a lovely ghee soaked touch to it, though it was a tad salty. Aparajita did check with us a couple of times on the salt in the food so perhaps they are trying to get it right. The saltiness apart the daal was pretty good and even Priti’s adorable little daughter Niki, liked it.
There was an extremely flavour packed moong daal and juicy begun bhaja (egg plant fry) to go with it and the steamed rice. Comfort food for any Bengali and the combination at Ki Hangla seemed to wash away the weariness of the last few days for me. If a dish could be compared to a mother’s love then this would be it.
We also tried a shukto which was a bit more watery compared to what I am used to in other restaurants such as Bhojohori Manna and Bijoli Grill in Mumbai. I’ve never eaten shukto as a kid when it was made at home so can’t talk from experience on the ‘perfect’ shukto if such a thing exists. The shukto at Ki Hangla tasted fairly good though and the touch of bitter did act as an appetiser.
Then came two dishes which were so good that I ordered fresh portions of them to pack for folks.
First was the betki in mustard sauce which was delightfully well balanced in its flavours. Mustard curries can get too pungent and needs really hard core Bengali eaters to stomach them. For those who are not into mustard on a regular basis, specially non-Bengalis, these mustard curries can be very intimidating. The folks at Ki Hangla had got it just right where the curry was very tasty and not overpowering at all and the sweet taste of the betki came to fore. I was so happy with it that I packed a portion to take back for my brother and sis in law’s dinner. They later texted me saying the loved it.
The other landmark dish here was a much hyped and justifiably so prawn dish called Mohun Bagan chingri. The name a reference to how the price of prawns go up when the Ghotis (from the Indian side of Bengal) go berserk when their football team defeats East Bengal in the Kolkata derby. This dish at Ki Hangla had some beautifully juicy small prawns, cooked just right (I hate over cooked prawns) in a mix of poppy seeds (posto), grated coconut mustard oil and finely chopped kochu (taro) leaves. The spice base reminded me of the Bangladeshi dishes that I have eaten in Kolkata’s Kasturi and Brick Lane’s Amar Gaon. I suggested to Aparajita that she should call this East Bengal chingri instead of Mohun Bagan chingri since it had a distinctly Bangladeshi feel to it. My suggestion was met with the same regard by Aparajita that creative folks in advertising have for suggestions by clients on creatives. My brother had earlier praised the Mohun Bagan chingri to me and it was indeed as stellar as he made it out to be. Juicy prawns in a palate tickling intricate spice base made this dish truly special. I packed a portion to take for K in Mumbai. It was worth it as she just loved it and I must admit that I quite enjoyed having a second round of the dish. This for someone who hates repeating dishes in the same day.
I know that I don’t eat Bengali food everyday. I’d get bored out of my skull if I had to. I love variety on my plate after all. That’s how I was a kid. That’s what i have grown up into. Yet, few things in the world of food give me as much pleasure as coming across a well run Bengali restaurant and Aparajita and her team has done a pretty good job with Ki Hangla. It’s definitely a place I would love to return to. A place I felt at home in. Maybe it was the food. Or the sense of connecting with one’s roots. Or the joy of meeting up with old friends. Or knowing that mom was back home. It was good to smile again.
PS. A few days after this my father in law had a fall and got hospitalised. Now waiting for him to get back home. Sucks to see a parent suffering so here’s wishing all the best to those whose parents are going through a bout of bad health now including some very close friends of mine. Hang in there guys