It’s not often these days that I come back and blog immediately about an experience but then it’s not every day that one eats the humble pie so happily…
“Woh Anil Kapoor hain” (That’s Anil Kapoor)
“Nahin…koi Bengali actor” (No some Bengali actor)
It was a theatre in suburban Mumbai and we were watching Dibakar Banerjee’s incredibly taut film, Shanghai.
Prasenjit, the Bengali matinee idol of my school days, had just come on to the screen in the movie. A cameo which was far more impactful than his earlier misguided foray into Hindi films as a hero.
What a gritty film Shanghai is! Hardly a slack moment which is so rare for commercial Hindi films…the best of which tend to meander a bit.
I found it ironical, that for all the fun people make of the accents of Bengalis when they speak Hindi and our inability to make sense of the weird gender syntax of the Hindi language, it took a Bengali film director to show that Hindi films can grip you from start to finish without a single flaccid moment.
It seemed just right to follow up the film with a Bengali dinner and I decided to head for Bhojohori Manna in Mumbai’s Oshiwara.
This was a place that had sorely disappointed me when it had opened. Nothing pains me more than a Bengali restaurant gone wrong and I had angrily Finely Chopped Bhojohori Manna then and had never gone back.
Some folks had recently told me that Bhojohori Manna had improved and that their vegetarian or niramish fare apparently was particularly good for a restaurant. Hearing that I had planned to check out Bhojohori Manna. No one would be happier than me if they had indeed improved. After all the city needs more good Bengali restaurants.
So following up Shanghai with Bhojohori Manna seemed like a plan.
We were amongst the last to step in the restaurant as it was past 11 pm. But this is Mumbai and fellow Presidencian Pritish Nandy’s 1984ish vision of Mumbai in The Times of India blogs is still not entirely complete.
The first thing that struck me as different from the last time is that the service is a lot more calm, collected, confident and competent now at Bhojohori Manna.
I flipped through the menu and saw that they had vegetarian set meals options too along with which you could order non vegetarian dishes from the a la carte menu.
This made so much sense. I have for long clamoured for ‘thaalis’ in Bengali restaurants. For that’s how Bengalis eat, Many small portions at a go. Difficult to follow if you are alone and are confronted with a list of a la carte items in a Bengali menu. You can humanly have only one or two dishes. Something that can only be labelled as oposhonskriti or barbarian …though I must confess that that’s how we eat at home at Mumbai.
We ordered liberally this evening at Bhojohori Manna. Started with a luchi alur dom combo suggested by the waiter after we debated on what to have with the luchis.
Four fluffy cheerful luchis with two baby potatoes (slightly disproportionate to the luchis) in a very elegant curry. Our dinner was off to a glorious Saurav Ganguly of old, off drive for four, sort of start.
Then came our ‘Maxi’ thali, named curiously after the shapeless nightgowns that were the favoured couture of the paara’r boudis. The thaali was enough for two we were told. You could choose a vegetarian dish from the menu and a fry. We went for the paanch meshali (sautéed mix of five vegetables) and a begun or aubergine fry.
The thing about Bengali vegetarian dishes as a friend of mine said is that you can taste the individual vegetables in a dish.
There is a method to which vegetables are cut and this could differ according to the final dish. Bengali vegetarian preparations are light and not smothered in cream or tomato puree. For a fish and flesh loving race we are not embarrassed by our vegetables and don’t try to hide them in comparison to many vegetarian sects in India.
A perfect example of this vegetarian etherealness is the shukto at Bhojohori Manna. A traditional appetiser which has bitter gourd as its base. I wouldn’t touch shukto as a kid and now try to order it whenever I can.
To elevate the artistry of the dishes in the thaali was some ghee in a bowl which you are supposed to add to the rice.
The thaali also came with plain rice and a light daal. Yellow as daals are in Bengal. This one was with a mix of maasor and moong. Flavourful and combined well with the rice and paanch meshali.
I also ordered a postor bora on the side which a lot of my Ghoti friends talk of. Fried poppy or crushed posto dumplings deep fried in oil. I have never had this before and the version at Bhojohori didn’t really excite me. Fairly tasteless and inert in texture.
We also ordered a shorshe chingri to go with the rice. The prawns a tad smelly and over cooked. Made me glad that I didn’t order other fish dishes such as the paabda, koi, or paarshe…not that I am fond of small fish. They obviously are struggling with their fish at Bhojohori. The mustard curry was quite well nuanced though and tasty without being too pungent. Pity the prawns got in the way.
The iffy quality of the prawns was more than made up by the kosha mangsho which we ordered on the side too.
The mutton wasn’t particularly tender. While not tough the meat was definitely not ‘fall of the bone’ variety.
Yet it combined beautifully with the aristocratic mishti polau which came with the thaali.
The polau was truly good and would have done many a mother in law proud in the recent Jamai Shoshthi (son in law’s day) celebrations. The Bengali favoured rice of Gobindobhog along with dry fruits and raisins gave the polao that special occasion feeling.
What I liked about the kosha mangsho at Bhojohori was that its meatiness had spread evenly through the curry making it really robust and rich and unapologetically indulgent the way meat should be.
Unfortunately there were no alus or potatoes in the kosha mangsho.
Rounding off the thali was a lovely khejurer chaatney, lightly chilled, with papod on the side. I just love this chaatni and can have bowlfuls of it. There was a tiny shondesh to bring in a happy ending.
Just a paan was missing.
Couple of blips apart Bhojohori Manna had redeemed itself. This was finger licking stuff indeed.
And I am truly happy to put that on record.
Well we went back to Bhojohori Manna and the Maxi Thali was still as good. This time we asked for full rice as we wanted to have fish and skipped the pulao. The very young Kailash ably managed our table.
This time we chose a mochar (banana blossom)ghonto for the vegetable dish which was really nice and close to Didu (my granny...only grannies make mocha) level. Beautifully textured, a tad sweet thanks to the Ghoti touch of restaurants.
For fish we took a Betki patoori which was slightly stiff and probably cooked a while back. I think Calcutta Club down the road makes a juicier betki patoori.
The Borishaaler shorshe ilish was beautifully balanced with the mustard sauce well flavoured and yet not too pungent...the fish fairly fresh...did justice to Borishal...my dad's birth place at Bangladesh.
|Borihaaler shorshe ilish|
We chose the aamer tok instead of tomato chutney. Beautifully made bringing back waves of nostalgia for me through a dish which I probably haven't had in this century and once so loved.
Bhojohori Manna is a habit that's growing on me.