‘Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence' … Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children & Joseph Anton
I am reading Rushdie’s thankfully fast paced, very well written, at times whiney, petulant and passive aggressive yet thought provoking memoirs, Joseph Anton. All five kilos of them in hard cover and no, I don’t read e books.
One of the things that Rushdie writes about is the life and perspective of an immigrant. Something Amitav Ghosh dwelt upon in the Shadow Lines too.
Well earlier this evening there was a bit of an immigrant story on in our kitchen too.
It was that rare wonderful moment in an urban immigrant's life when one opens the boxes of food ordered in and the kitchen is shrouded with heady aromas that take one straight to home.
Let me take you back a bit for this story to make sense.
Banu was a bit under the weather so while she came to work today, she said she’d just clean up and wanted to skip cooking. I thought I would order a dabba from Pratap Caterers. Except I fell asleep and missed their 5.30 pm dinner order deadline and by 6.30 when I called their orders were booked. As I headed to the physio I wondered where to order from when I suddenly remembered this place Sassy Fork, who normally beats google with her food searches, told me about, and Aroon had facebooked me about.
A place that apparently serves home cooked Indian food, including Bengali, within Bandra to Vile Parle in Mumbai.
I looked up the site and dialled them and a gentleman picked up.
It was Tanmay.
Samaas is the dream of him and his wife Tintoo, food lovers who apparently wanted to do something around Indian regional food but for a while were wondering what to do. Then they stumbled upon the idea of collaborating with regional home cooks in Mumbai and to manage the business part of it and start a food delivery network.
They have started small with local Malvani and the toughest of pitches given the pedantic audience, Bengali. Puneri Brahmin is next. Their strategy of starting small makes sense to me as many of the legends in the food world are one dish places.
This evening, plan Tanmay & Tintoo had made in my absence, took care of my dinner as the quote said it would.
OK, that’s a bit of a stretch.
Tanmay told me on the phone that they have a thali with a veg dish, starter, omelette curry, daal, rice and ilish jhol (with 3 pieces) in a la carte.
I immediately peppered him what the sort of questions that any Bengali customer would ask…. But which vegetable starter? Which daal? What was the size of the ilish Gaada pieces or peti? What jhol preparation…mustard or kalo jeere?
It’s a lot easier if one has to sell chicken curry to someone from Malvan…not so many questions for sure.
As we spoke, it turned out that Tanmay read the blog or the blog facebook page which helped me to get him substitute the omelette curry, a dish my mom used to make, with the grander kosha mangsho that Tanmay said they had.
Tanmay checked and said that they could also offer a chingri malai curry. “Ours is different from Oh Calcutta and has mustard in it too. You will like it.”
I said I will order a thala with kosha mangsho and an ilish on the side and couldn’t manage the prawns as it would be too much. Tanmay insisted that I try it and offered to send me a tasting portion…the advantages of being a blogger :D
The way they operation works is that there are home cooks attached to Samas, Ms Bagchi in the case of Bengali. The home cooks cook while Samas gets the orders and arranges deliveries. You get a 10 per cent discount if you order the day before. They need a delivery time of at least 120 minutes which gives their home cooks time to get the order right and fresh. I could vouch for that.
As Tanmay says (we exchanged many texts this evening) “I am a big foodie and I know these home cooks are brilliant because we have worked closely with them to get this ready. Our biggest challenge is balancing the home cooked concept with people’s expectations of quick food. Second is consistency. I am confident that we can get many superb regional cuisines out and people will appreciate that there’s more to ‘Indian cuisine.”
I placed the order finally at about 8.15 pm and it was delivered to our place at Bandra before 9.30 or so…neatly packed in plastic containers in a pizza box-like box.
I impatiently opened the containers once the delivery guy left and as I said earlier, the aromas and flavours of the food surrounded me.
It all smelt so Bengali. So like my mother’s kitchen. Familiarity, nostalgia, touch of comfort, a wallop of happiness and a big smile that beamed across my face came with the food.
So how was the food?
Well Ms Bagchi seems to be Bangal, which is what I am too. East Bengal, or modern Bangladesh, stock…implying food which is hot and not sweet.
Recently one has seen a lot of European chefs on TV talk about ‘respecting the produce’. The Bangal school of cooking seems to be all about the sharpness and delicacy of condiments and spices aimed at creating harmony with the produce. More about elevating food rather than leaving it au natural and yet not out-shouting it.
The quantity of the thaali just right for one person and together the food was enough for both of us.
Apart from rice in vegetarian there was a very nice beetroot and potato based veg chop straight from the roll shops of suburban Calcutta, an under-seasoned (doesn’t get more domesticated than this) light, typically runny daal and very hot and edgy alur dom with fried whole cumin seeds which with luchis would have been an Uttam Suchitra classic. Would an alur dom pair with daal and rice the way a dry sabzi or a bhaaja would? In you mom’s kitchen you don’t ask questions. You keep quiet and eat
The ilish jhol or light sauce tempered around roasted chillies and Nigella seeds with slices of fried brinjal tasted exactly like the jhol which my mother makes. A Bengali favourite. This was a very authentic rendition of that. I like my fish curries to be from the slightly more ornate though & the ilish (3) pieces were rather small & bony from a 1 kilo fish. Chances are that true blue fish loving Bengalis would like it. I was fine with it but don’t go by my word on this one.
The malai curry, which I advised Tanmay to call shorshe narkol chingri instead, was ethereal but not a malai curry.
The curry, made with coconut and crushed black mustard, again something home cooks like my mom would do versus yellow de-skinned mustard of restaurants. The mustard packed a punch and yet the sauce had the creamy undertones of a malai curry.
A beautiful synthesis of two very contrasting ingredients.
The prawns were cooked hard and long in typical pan-Indian home-cooked style but retained quite a bit of their flavours. Ms Bagchi had left the head attached and as Bengali will tell you, sucking on and chewing the head of a tiger prawn is one of the most sublime pleasures known to mankind.
Vegetables and pulses done, fish done, prawn done, in true Bengali course by course style it was time to attack the mangsho or mutton.
Like a proper home cooked mutton the mangsho, more a jhol than kosha, the mangsho had a lovely potato in it and a mete (liver) too. The mutton extremely tender…cooked with loads of love. An overpowering fragrance of fresh ginger and garlic enveloped the dish which reminded me of my granny’s kitchen and the raw pure intense flavours in Didu’s cooking.
All in all this was meal which left us very satisfied in the end. The sort of food which is accompanied by pin-drop silence as one savours the food and focuses all attention on it.
Hot, flavourful, basking in the warmth of the kitchen.
Is this the best Bengali food I have ever had?
Well the mutton and chingri curry had their high points and the chop was pretty good too
Did the food have hues of home in it?
Yes, this is the food I grew up on and found extremely boring to eat till I became an immigrant.
Welcome to the hood Samas.
Their phone no is 09819315829