Mumbai's Bengali Buffet.... Food and Nightlife Magazine

Finally it once again came to Mama to spot a copy of the Food and Nightlife Magazine at Andheri Station. This sixty plus year teetotaller, vegetarian, bachelor must be building quite a reputation after picking up these magazines with scantily clad women on their covers. But his motive was simply an avuncular answering of the nephew in law's call for help.

Kainaz was reading the article when Banu saw it. The following transpired in Hindi. Forgive the gender bending and liberty with grammar. I am Bengali.

Banu: Yeh toh saab ka photo hain (This is the boss's pic!!!)

K: Haan (yes)

Banu (intrigued): Unka photo paper main kyon hain? (why is his photo in the papers)

Kainaz: Kyonki woh likhta hain (Because he writes)

Banu: Khaane pe? (On food?)

Banu (big eyed): Unko sab kuchh aata hain (He knows everything)

Kainaz: Tumhare baare main bhi likha hain (He's written about you too)

Banu: Dhat (You are kidding me)

Banu: Building main doosra madam paper diyi thi aur boli Saab ka naam aur number aaya hain. Main usko rakha hain. Usko dekh ke saab ko number lagata hoon (A lady in the building said that the Boss's name came in the papers along with his number. I have kept that carefully and call him at that number everyday)

She promptly rummaged from a pile of her things in the kitchen and took out a ten month old cell phone bill. Well it did have my name and number on it.

Was super excited to see the my second article in The Food And Nightlife magazine. This time it was about my favourite Bengali Eating options in Mumbai.

Then I saw a letter to the editor which featured feedback about my first article, Mumbai Marinated,  for Food and Nightlife:

And then I saw the list of guest columnists. For rows above me was a man I truly admire. Anjan Chatterjee. A rock star in my world. Two of whose ventures, Oh Calcutta and Sweet Bengal, featured in my article.

Can't blame me for missing my afternoon siesta out of excitement.

Here's the full article if you are interested:

Mumbai’s Bengali Buffet
Think ‘Mumbai’ and the first thing which probably comes to your mind is ‘Hindi films’. Or, to use the politically incorrect term, Bollywood.
The world of Hindi films has been livened up by people all over. Prominent amongst them are the Bengalis. From Ashok, Anup and Kishore Kumar.Bimal Ray to Basu Chatterjee. S D and R D Burman.  Mithun Chakraborty, known as ‘Prabhuji’ amongst the brotherhood. The Bengali belles Jaya Bhaduri, Rakhi, Moushumi, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee. The tribe of Bengali speakers from the East of India has left its stamp on the film industry based in the West of India. An industry centred around a North Indian language.
Another place where you are likely to hear a lot of Bengali in Mumbai is in its restaurants.
“Ei ta ki biriyani na jhol bhaat?” (Is this biriyani or curry rice?)
“Tangra’r choumeiner moto chowmein hoi na” (The noodles cooked in Calcutta’s China Town are unmatched)
“Aaajke bajare daroon eelish eshechhe” (There was a good catch of Hilsa in the markets today)
“Shottor takar mutton roll? Kolkatai kuri taaka” (Rs 70 for a mutton roll which costs Rs 20 in Calcutta?!)
Yes, we love to eat. We love to talk about food. Discuss it. Debate it. Appreciate it. Treasure it.
So what do you do if you are in Mumbai and want to find out what our food obsessed community loves to eat? If you want to discover Bengali food? Or, worse still, are a home sick Bengali?
Don’t worry. Mumbai offers a limited, but good variety of Bengali food. Enough to give you a sampler of a great cooking tradition. Whet your appetites. Make you look up recipes. Or head to the East to discover more. Till then let me take you a through a tour of my favourite Bengali food joints in Mumbai.
Oh Calcutta would definitely be the flagship Bengali restaurant here. And all you guys in Delhi, Pune, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, remember the original Oh Calcutta was born here. There are two Oh Calcuttas in Mumbai. The one at Tardeo, in Central Mumbai, is my favourite haunt. It offers you a classy experience of Bengali food as well as that of the other cuisines of Calcutta such as the Nawabi Muslim cuisine and the Club food of the British era.
The staff here is fairly friendly and can guide you through the menu. The ambience pays an artistic tribute to Bengal. Pictures of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen at work, sketches from Calcutta on the wall, a small corner with Bengali books, gramophones and porcelain figurines from the house of Zamindars, melodious Rabindra Sangeet in the background and a hand pulled rickshaw outside the restaurant create an oasis of Bengal in one of the core Maharashtrian sections of Mumbai.
Here are some of my ‘must haves’ at Oh Calcutta. Betki fish fry (crisp batter-coated juicy bites of joy), kosha mangsho (slow-cooked tender mutton in a dry masala paste) and prawn malai curry (prawns in a sleepy coconut milk gravy). You could try the quintessential fish in mustard curry or bhaapa maach (fish steamed in mustard paste). Experience proves that the non Bengali soul often cannot stomach this. So beware. And don’t drink a carbonated drink after a mustard curry. It would burn your tongue.

You could try the biriyani and rezala (meat in a curd based sauce) to get a flavour of the Awadhi cooking cuisine which was nurtured in Calcutta after the Brits knocked out the Nawabs from Oudh.
Now that you are at a Bengali restaurant, what should you order if you are vegetarian? Don’t worry. Beyond our passion for fish, and love for meat, lies a much evolved tradition of vegetarian cooking. What I would recommend at Oh Calcutta are the luchis (Bengali Puris), alur dom and chholar daal. These are traditionally snack foods or feature in wedding feasts. They would make a hearty meal too. The truth is that some of the famous Bengali vegetarian dishes – shukto, mochar ghonta, daaler ombol, chorchori – are very delicate dishes. They are prepared at home for day to day meals. Often over looked during celebratory feasts.

The food at Oh Calcutta is rich, heavy and closer to ‘Biye Bararir Khabar’ (wedding feasts) in my opinion. The ambience is plush and aristocratic, the prices steep and the experience is not an everyday one.
Calcutta Club, near Oshiwara Police station in the Western suburbs, is a good bet for ‘barir khabar’ or home cooked food. They serve the sort of food which even my grand mom would approve of. With the sort of prices which are less likely to stun her.
It’s a clean and simple place with bright coloured furniture. Customary pictures of Bengali films stars and football matches adorn its walls. It has a small functional loo. A piece of information which won’t seem so out of place when you reach this cute little restaurant, run by a middle-aged couple, after a long journey.
So what can you order here? Well the luchi, kosha mangsho, chholar daal, bhaapa maachh, biriyani are pretty good here too. Lot cheaper than Oh Calcutta for those on a budget. This is where you could try ethereal vegetarian delights straight from the Bengali kitchen. Shukto (a bitter-sweet appetiser), mochar ghonto (sautéed banana flowers), dhokar daalna (pulse cakes in a curry), begun bhaaja (light fried brinjals), alu posto (potatoes cooked in poppy seeds) and alu bhaaja (very thin sliced potato fries) are the dishes I have tasted here and loved. They have a dessert section. Close your eyes and order the ‘patishaptar payesh’ (Bengali crepes, stuffed with desiccated coconut, soaked in rabdi). You are welcome.

Well that’s a flavour of what we feast on when we eat at home. But what about the street food of Calcutta which every Bengali swears by? There are no phuchka (not paani puris, not gol gappa) joints in Mumbai. But Hangla, literally translated as ‘greedy’, is a great place to have Bengali Kaathi Rolls. They have four or five outlets in Mumbai. I frequent the one at Linking Road, Bandra. While Hangla has egg and chicken rolls, their stand out dish by miles are the mutton rolls. Ask them to add chopped green chilles and fried, not raw, sliced onions. And for God’s sake don’t add any sauces. The mutton roll at Hangla is a proud inheritor of the best traditions of Nizam, Shiraz, Karko, Badshah, Hot Kaati Rolls and Zeeshan of Calcutta. Both their mutton and chicken biriyanis are really good. Enough to make a Bengali cry ‘Durga mai kee joy’ in nostalgic pleasure.

Don’t want to go out to eat? Well there are a few Bengali ‘dabba’ services too. This is Mumbai after all. The city of Dabba Wallahs.  Pratap Caterers from Santa Cruz (W) is a place I have often called from. They deliver between Bandra to Vile Parle even if you order on the same day. A typical dabba consists of daal, rice, roti, a Bengali vegetarian dish and a non vegetarian dish (fish, chicken, egg, even prawns as I recently heard). They have a good variety in their dabbas. The food is of the type cooked in Bengali homes. The taste is fairly authentic. The food can often contain more oil than the average Saudi oil field. Yes, not too far from home cooked food.
Their phone number is 26007882. They cater in weddings. That’s where I first came across them. I have occasionally ordered for parties from Pratap’s.
All the places that I spoke about have good Bengali food but give a Mumbai-like importance to customer service. Which, let me assure, is much better than in Calcutta.  A city where shopkeepers are known to lose their cool if you disturb them by trying to buy something.
No round up of restaurants of this race with a big sweet tooth would be incomplete without talking about ‘mishtir dokans’ or sweet shops. You would find a spate of ‘mithai’ (Hindi for sweet) shops in Mumbai announcing ‘Bengali Sweets’. Avoid these like the plague. ‘Malai chumchum’ is not a Bengali mishti! Nor are any of the other tough, chewy, rubbery stuff on sale here.

The only good Bengali sweet shop in Mumbai is Sweet Bengal owned by the same guys who run Oh Calcutta. Yes, yes, I know that the sweets here cost twice those in Calcutta. Nor do they match the legendary Bheem Nag, Banchharam and Ganguram of Calcutta. But, unless you can fly down to Calcutta for mishti whenever you want, you would find the fare at Sweet Bengal are fairly authentic and reasonably priced too. Try the kheer kodomb, dorbesh, ice cream shondesh, roshogollar payesh, notun gurer shondesh and chhanar goja here. You will be left with a peaceful, easy feeling.

So there you have. A flavour of what makes the gastronomic race of Bengalis leap up in joy and ecstasy in Mumbai.. A journey of nostalgia and pride for me. Of discoveries for you. Food from the Eastern corner of the country. Relished in the Western coast of India. But then that’s Mumbai.

Note: I wrote this before Hangla introduced phuchkas recently  

Pratap caterer owes it's entry to my friend Soumik who reminded my thrice to include it. A bachelo,r and then a 'forced' bachelor,  who will soon have his wife at home now

This is the link to the e magazine This one's on page 29


Happy Fork said…
Excellent Kalyan.....a very enjoyable read!
I'm sure Banu will start behaving herself now that she realises that she works for a celebrity
Scarlett said…
Your article makes me want to rush to a Bong restaurant for lunch & devour luchis, cholar dal, alur dom & kosha mangsho. And chomp on Bong sweets though I'm not a big fan of them! I guess a visit to Oh Cal is on the cards...

BTW, Serendipity liked pomfret in shorsher jhol. It was really pungent & I couldn't have much of it.
Pinku said…
congrats Knife :)

lovely to see you in print too....

hey is this magazine only Bombay based?? or is it possible to get a copy here in Delhi?

read the article on your blog...but holding a printed version is something else isn't it.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Happy Fork, thanks :) Right now she's having a tough time remembering how to make the doi posto eelish marinade which she has made thrice before

@Scarlett: have you seen Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne? if they'd clap their hands then pots of mishti, mangsho and pulao would rain from the sky

A number of non Bongs, including K can't handle mustar. I make a watered down version for her

@Pinku: true, its a different feeling :) It's a Delhi based mag. They launched Mumbai last month
Scarlett said…
Plans for Friday lunch at 6, Ballygunge Place have been made already :)
Purba said…
Way to go Kalyan...That patishaptaa pic had me literally salivating..

Your article and the pics, drool worthy..
Rhea said…
You rock! Awesomeness, this. :-)
Unknown said…
Banu is quite a character! LOL. I cracked up at *the cell phone bill*!

Mumbai’s Bengali Buffet is a YO! read. Shottor taka'r roll...yes...choto baela 50 bucks Frnakie khe Bombay te, I thought it was the most expensive street food I had ever eaten!
Sharmila said…
Still not giving autographs? :p
You should have a warning sign before every post ... "Visiting this space on an empty stomach may push you to hallucinate." :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Scarlett: any chance of them flying me over to do a comparative analysis...then we can go to Flurys

@Purba...thanks, the subject was such

@Rhea: Awww :)

@Pree: thanks, 70 bucks in not much more than good value

@Sharmila: thanks, that's a good idea :)
Kirti said…
Congratulations, once again, for making it to the literati echelons.

I love the easy style of your writing and the amount of information you provide.

I suggest that the next article should be finding the best Bong sweets in Mumbai. Maybe we ought to do a trip to Navi Mumbai where there are tons of Bongs.

I hate Sweet Bengal - the Mishti Doi and The Mango Rossogollas that I had would have shamed even a poorly qualified vien with questionable morals in Kolkata.

Keep writing and rocking!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Kirti, thanks a ton. Specially coming from a man who doesn't take kindly to people who don't treat food with the respect it should.

If you noticed, I didn't mention mishti doi or mango roshogolla.

Though my mom in law just sent me a SMS after reading this. "WHERE IS MISHTI DOI'

Thanks for the thumbs up :)
Miri said…
Congratulations!!!!! Great going K!! :)

In my latest post,taking inspiration from your trips to Oh Calcutta, I have also recommended visits to speciality restaurants on festive occasions as a way to ensure regional/local cuisine lives on!
Anonymous said…
LOL.....thi post made me hungry... :) This is all awesomenes...but I just wanted the same for Bangalore.. :D ..I was there for 6days and almost died..if it wasn't for KFC... :( ..and now I will be going there for studies.. I should have learned cooking......maaaaa....shekhaao! :<
Bambi said…
Thanks Kalyan for the article. I had been looking for a place that serves bengali food since quite some time and now i know where to go and eat what.