Please scroll to the second half of the post for walk details
I never thought that I would miss Bengali food when I left Kolkata a decade and a half back…but I did.
Options were limited for Bengali food in the late 90s in Mumbai but we have come a long way since then.
There was the terrace mess in the budget Hotel New Bengal near CST. There you could have a 70 Rs thala, which included a tiny piece of rui. You would sit surrounded by boudis in nighties & dadas in singlets & white parallel pyjamas which would reach only up to their ankles. The hotel guests. Meal over, you washed your hands at the basin with a much used cake of Lifebuoy soap. A very humble thala (meal) which helped one connect with home for folks who just had moved out to start a new life. The mess, alas no longer exists, and has been replaced by a wannabe posh restaurant called Howrah which hasn’t really set the city on fire.
There was Only Fish too then which became Oh Calcutta. It was, and remains, the place for a regal Bengali raj baari (royal) experience in Mumbai…a bit of a budget buster. A taste of the good life. Not the sort of food you would eat at home everyday.
The other option was waiting for Durga Pujo and then going to the pandals at Bandra, Shivaji Park etc to pay one’s respects to the goddess, or, for those whose religion is food, to sample over priced Kolkata street food of dodgy festive quality.
A few years into Mumbai I got my own kitchen at home and began to cook …rui kaalia, kosha mangsho, alu posto, macched mudo diye daal. I finally felt at home in Mumbai.
What I still did miss was the street food of Calcutta.…the phuchkas and biryanis and mutton rolls of Kolkata remained a distant dream in Mumbai. As were the sweets.
Very few Bengalis make sweets at home given the abundance of cheap sweet shops that dot the lanes of Kolkata. Thankfully Sweet Bengal in Mumbai plugged that need. Some find it expensive but last time I checked, the flight to Kolkata was more expensive than the cost of kheer kodoms in Sweet Bengal.
Things began to change in the mid 2000s in Mumbai. Two of our friends got married and through that happy occasion one discovered Pratap Caterers. Pratap delivers Bengali dabbas within Bandra. Suddenly I could get Bengali home food delivered at the dial of a number.
Then Calcutta Club opened in Oshiwara in Andheri and finally there was a restaurant where one could find mid-priced Bengali food in comparison to the finer prices of Oh Calcutta and a food experience that was more ‘homely’, the favoured term for women in Bengali matrimonial ads. This was followed by Bijoli Grill in Powai after a couple of years.
Then came Bhojohori Manna at Oshiwara which after a rocky start did a magnificent turnaround and is now my favoured choice for traditional & deglammed Bengali fare. The happy faces of people eating there and the high decibel levels tell you that this is where Bengalis in Mumbai feel at home.
Suddenly it was all happening for Bengalis in the relatively distant suburbs of Mumbai, a reflection of a city whose centre of gravity was moving Northwards too. These new places were located a tad far from Bandra though.
In Bandra we once had Chowringhee Square, a roll shop set up at Pali Naka before I moved in there in the early 2000s. They even added a Sweet Bengal counter. The folks behind Chowringhee Square, more food lovers than business folks, couldn’t keep up their efforts. Chowringhee Square shut down and was replaced by the very Punjabi Papa Poncho. Sweet Bengal came up in a different location in Bandra but for a while that and Pratap was all we had. Even Munna’s fish shop at Pali Market shut down and one had to head to Khar for fresh water ‘Bangali macchhi’.
Then one day I spotted, a stall coming up opposite Amarson’s on Bandra’s Linking Road. Calcutta Rolls. Finally the rolls one grew up on were there next door. Calcutta Rolls didn’t last and was replaced by Hangla’s, a street food cart set up in Lokhandwala by a former Bengali journalist, and they have been going strong since then.
Then came Arsalan at Khar’s S V Road, the new age Mughlai place from Kolkata. ‘New age’ defined as from after I left Kolkata. Not a favourite of mine in Kolkata but the one at Khar has hit the spot. Their Calcutta biryani, mutton rezala and chicken chaaps becoming my regular orders in Mumbai. They have opened in Oshiwara now.
And then Bong Bong happened. A modern Bengali cafe. If Bandra was to finally get a Bengali restaurant then it had to be something like Bong Bong. A casual, young at heart place, with the sort of food you would be served in the house of many a Bengali in Mumbai. Plated one dish meals and not the multi-coursed meals of traditional Bengali households… the latter often unreal to expect in today’s day and age. The food at Bong Bong reflects the multiple influences that have gone into the making of Calcutta…British, Malay, Anglo, Muslim…and is clearly influenced by the exposure of its chef and its owner to the world around them.
When they they sprinkled paach phoron or Bengali 5 Spices in Bong Bong and added in a touch of crushed chilli to baby potatoes and then sauted these in hung curd, then they came up with a dish which ascribes to every tenet of the modern global culinary idiom…’respect the produce’, ‘eat with your every sense’, ‘respect your traditions’, ‘open up to the world’…a simple dish which is so Bengali in its delicate suave balance of flavours, tastes and textures. The antithesis of the frog in the well cries to not play around with the cliches that define Bengali food. The food at Bong Bong is indeed forward thinking.
Now one waits eagerly for the next chapter in Bandra’s Bengali food history to be written
The Bengal n Bandra Finely Chopped Walk
15th April is the Bengali new year and I thought that it would be a great to do a Bengali walk a couple of days before so here’s the plan.
What to expect:
We start off the evening with some Kolkata street food fare. Rolls, chops…just as you would in a balmy evening in Kolkata. In the best traditions of Kolkata we will have an adda (chat) and talk about the origins of the rolls and biryanis of Kolkata. We will muse over the different strains of rolls in Kolkata from the saucy fat paratha’d ones of the suburbs of Kolkata to the original kebab rolls of Central Kolkata. Share tips on what roll to order when, how to order and when should you ask for ketchup and when not. The customisation one can try in the more customer friendly shops of Mumbai. In Kolkata these rules might not work. Also get to know how rolls are different from Frankies and why we find rolls to be way better! While at the roll shop we could also try out some Kolkata biryani and see how the biryani of Kolkata is unique and get a lesson in history too.
We then walk down for about 15 minutes to our next stop. On the way you could do a quick grocery stop to buy some paanch phoron or Bengali 5 spice & posto (poppy seeds). In a Guajarati shop! If you plan to cook at home that is. Or we could walk straight on in search of more food.
After rolls, chop and biryani we will go to a mishtir dokan for sweets.
Traditionally sweets are had as desserts after meals , right? Well not in Calcutta!
You could pop into a sweet shop at any point of the day in Kolkata…breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, pre-dinner, post dinner…when it comes to sweets Bengalis don’t live by the clock.
If you thought that Bengali sweet shops are all about mishti doi and roshogollo then try out the various other sweet marvels and then the kachouris whose origins lie in Rajasthan and brought to Calcutta by legendary folks such Ganguram and Bachharam and then the British croquette inspired ‘bhej chop's’ and then the very unique shingaras distant cousins of the samosa…a visit to a mishtir dokan is not just about sweets after all.
Our last stop is at a modern Bengali cafe where we try out dishes which show the way one can extend Bengali cuisine to a more global format by using tradition as a base. We will also try out a couple of dishes which show the influences of non Bengali communities on the food of Kolkata. In starring roles would be red meat, prawns, the favourite vegetable of Bengalis…alu or potatoes and some zany creations for any vegetarians who might walk with us.
They say that meals are best accompanied by stories and each course here will be sandwiched between more and more food adda.
The walk will be peppered with chats on Bengali food, tips on what to order in a Bengali restaurant, a bird’s eye view of what to expect in Kolkata, what to hope to get in Mumbai when it comes to Bengali food.
What not to expect:
Alu posto, kosha mangsho, shukto, bhaapa maachh, luchi or very traditional Bengali fare. For this you should head to Oshiwara and Bhojohori Manna. No Arsalan either as this is a ‘walk’ and one had to look at the best route. Arsalan would be a stretch.
No phuchkas. You can’t get them even for a king’s ransom in Mumbai.
There won’t be a lot of rest or bishram. Only our last stop will be a sit down place and we would need to walk at least 20 minutes between each food stop. The walking makes the food rest easy on the conscience though.
It will not at Encyclopaedia of Bengali food sort of walk….it will be a perspective of Bengali food through the eyes of someone who loves Bengali food, is proud of it and yet has a palate which is influenced by many cultures.
This is not the walk of a puritan. Or a purist.
It’s the walk of a Bengali in Bombay (Mumbai).
Date: 13th April 2013, Saturday. A couple of days day before the Bengali New Year or Poila Boishakh
Time: 6.30 pm to 9.30 pm
Start Point: The little park opposite Amarsons at Linking Road, Bandra. Beside Hangla, This park closes by 7 pm so be there by 6.30 pm
Things to get: Camera, hand sanitizer, handkerchief or tissues AND comfortable walking shoes.
Planned food stops: Around 3
Inclusions: Tasting of Calcutta’s street food and some of its Lucknow originated Mughlai Food. Tasting of Calcutta’s sweets and snacks. The famous jol khabar. Tasting of multi cultural mains at a modern Bengali cafe. Places I go to when I crave Bengali food and when the kitchen at home falls short. We will space out the food to make sure that you don’t miss out on any dish with some brisk walking to help digestion. Bottled water included. Not soft drinks. Eating will be at the participant’s risk. No responsibilities on the food. The ‘walk’ will cover the lanes around Bandra’s Linking & Waterfield Roads.
Cost: Rs 2,000 per head (inclusive of food tastings).
Catch you at the adda.
Links to posts on earlier Finely Chopped Walks: