Getting back into the ring thanks to Oh Calcutta! at Khar. Bengali food in Mumbai


Great company and good biryani.
The formula for a wonderful meal
Down and out

I was down with a bad stomach yesterday. There are couple of restaurant dishes that I suspect but its hard to close in on these mysteries.

Anyway, this meant pohe made in olive oil from Yoga House for breakfast yesterday, and then some curd rice I made for myself in the afternoon, before I finally gave in and took meds.

Banu came to work in the evening and I requested her to make some fresh hot alu paratha last evening, bina mirchi. Those felt really good. My doctor, who is also a family friend, told me that she has had those alu parathas in the past at our place and thought that I had made a good choice by asking for them.

Chicken stew for the soul

For dinner I got Banu to cook the Bengali mother's answer to all ills. At least mine's. 

Chicken stew and toast. 

It's simple to cook. Add chicken, peeled potatoes, veggies, finely chopped ginger and garlic, salt and crushed black pepper, and water in a pressure pan. Cook it till you hear three whistles and then reduce the gas and let is simmer for ten minutes and you are done. 

This time, while visiting me, mom said that if adding lime juice to a dish, one should do so at the end. We did so with the stew last night and it really livened up the dish. As did my secret touch, mom would not approve of it, a knob of butter.

I am told that you get this stew at the football ground canteens in Kolkata and at the street food lane at Dacre's. When we were in college, there was a counter beside the College Square swimming grounds where you could get this. We used to call it the YMCA canteen. The vegetable stew was cheap and a hunger buster at less than 3 Rs (three!) with a thick slab of bread. I am talking of 1994 - 95.

Catching up with Maunika Gowardhan...an old food blogger friend

The problem with the upset tummy was that I was supposed to meet my friend, Maunika Gowardhan, at a seafood joint in Mahim. Maunika is one of the earliest overseas food blogger friends that I had made. She has grown a lot since then in the world of food. She has written a book (Indian Kitchen) and runs a very successful site, associates with Jamie Oliver and does high end private catering events among other things. Like many of my food blogging friends from back then, she doesn't blog much now though. 

We have remained friends over the years. She was one of the first people to goad me to write a book and it was apt that we met just as the book is about to release.

I didn't feel up to going a seafood joint because of my tummy and Maunika kindly agreed to come with me to Oh Calcutta! at nearby Khar instead. My rationale for going to Oh Cacutta! was that I could eat moong dal and rice, which are good for the tummy, and Maunika likes Bengali food in any case.

We made a quick stop at Poonam and Sangeeta's for Maunika to see the market where I get my fish from.

With the girls at the Khar Station fish market
Some good old Oh Calcutta! Loving

When we reached Oh Calcutta for lunch, we saw that it was not completely empty and that there was a pleasant buzz around. I was welcomed warmly by the staff warmly despite my last having come here a while back.

I tried to sell the idea of a full vegetarian meal to Maunika - 'try out celebratory vegetarian Bengali dishes' - but she didn't bite.

"How can I have vegetarian food with you?" she exclaimed while they brought the starters, including the kabuli channa chaat that my late father in law used to love when we used to go to the Tardeo outlet.

This alu kabli is for daddy

So here's what I ordered at Oh Calcutta! Khar

We started with my childhood favourite of luchi and chholar dal, a combination my grandmother had introduced me to in order to make me try Bengali food when I was a fussy kid.

Tip: Luchi combines well with chholar dal as well as alur dom and kosha mangsho too

The luchi at Oh Calcutta was served hot and crispy. The skin (made with maida) was satin-like and not thick at all. Fulko (fluffy) as we call it. The dal was flavoursome and ever bite spoke of the ghee that had been lovingly added to it. It was mildly sweet as the food of the Ghotis from West Bengal are. As against that of Bangals from east Bengal or present day Bangladesh who prefer spicy or jhaal food.

Fish and rice followed.

Dab chingri in the coconut
And that's the bhaap shorshe in yellow

There was the daab chingri that Maunika wanted. Prawn cooked in tender coconut, and served in it too. The curry was very subtly flavoured. Looked white and bland but had a persistent kick of chillies in it and was seasoned quite well. I didn't find the coconut flavour too strong. There was soft slices of coconut in it which were truly 'tender' and not chewy. The prawns were big. Fairly juicy, not over-cooked. Could have been cooked a wee bit less if you ask me but still a good dish overall.

Tip: If not used to having hilsa, spend the extra money and go for a boneless one. It's a better investment than a Ulip

We also had the boneless bhaapa ilish. The hilsa was deboned and steamed in a chilli, mustard and turmeric sauce. 'Boneless'  makes it more expensive but I don't have the patience to debone hilsa and neither would most non-Bengalis be able to do it. The bhaapa ilish at Oh Calcutta! today was a work of art. The flavour of the ilish was bold and prominent and spoke of the good quality of the fish. It was in perfect harmony with the mustard sauce. Ilish or hilsa is a very prized fish for us Bengalis, so the great quality of the fish this made the experience special. In fact I had a bit of ilish at the end of the meal to hold on to the taste and advised Maunika to do so too. Had I not been recovering from an antsy tummy, I would have finished it. 

They gave some mustard curry on the side which we both avoided. You need a strong constitution for it.

Mutton biryani, we got them to remove a bit of the rice
So that you could see the meat, eggs and potato

The last course was the Kolkata mutton biryani. It had been ages since I'd had the mutton biryani at Oh Calcutta! I had ordered it a couple of times at the Tardeo outlet back in the day and then stopped cheaper Calcutta biryani places sprung up in Mumbai which worked for me.

Tip: If there are two of you at a meal, ask for an extra alu in the biryani even if you have to pay for it

Well the biryani at Oh Calcutta today was really good. The rice well flavoured and not overtly spicy or oily. The mutton delectably tender. Most importantly the potatoes, and I asked for an extra alu as there were two of us, were so soft and huggable.

I was so so happy with my meal. I forgot the weariness of the last couple of days and felt fresh and rejuvenated and very happy too.

Good food helped. And such lovely company of course.

Our friendly maitre d was pretty trigger happy
Kainaz response to this picture:
Are you certain it had nothing to do with how pretty Maunika is?

Oh Calcutta! is not a cheap place no doubt but I am happy to see that they have improved the quality of the food at the Khar outlet compared to when they had launched. We had seen a promise of this when we had dropped in there on the Bengali new year and the food that the day was nice too. 

The service is warm, seating comfortable, clean loos downstairs... if it fits your budget, then a its happy place indeed.

For me at least.

During the meal Maunika asked me, "what do you see yourself doing five year later?""

I didn't have think much and replied, "I would be happy to tell stories of food which help people from different communities connect. Stores of peace and hope. Can't predict the medium as that's a function of the environment. And hopefully earn a living out of that. Amen""

Well, I didn't actually say 'amen'!

PS: If my mother is reading, my tummy is better and I will carefully now!




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