If a walk was ever set up for failure it was the Finely Chopped Oshiwara Bengali Brunch Walk.
Just three days to plan and announce. A fairly far off part of the city. Inclement weather with heavy rains hitting us just as the walk was about to start. Food poisoning after a dinner the previous night at a restaurant we eat at often meant I was cramping as I drove down to Oshiwara for the walk, occasionally stopping to answer texts from folks who were texting that they were caught up in the traffic. The traffic was at its Elm Street worst.
Yet, at the end, as they say, shukto cures all and we spent a happy somnambulant four hours eating with a great bunch of people, hosted by some lovely folks with a three minute walk through a slushy, garbage filled, grimy, stinky lane fitted in.
This is our story.
Jolkhabar at Calcutta Club
Tapan Babu, like all Bengalis, is passionate about Bengali food and believes it’s the best in the world.
Unlike most Bengalis he did something about this. He opened a restaurant called Calcutta Club. The Oshiwara branch of this 6 year old restaurant was our first stop on the brunch. It’s on Oshiwara Link Road, near the Police Station, and beside Woodside inn.
It was raining outside and folks for the walk were staggering in and shaking off the rain as they entered. Welcoming them were telebhajas (fries) which go perfectly with the rains in Bengal and with the summer and winter too. We started off with fish fry and veg chops. Street food items in Kolkata which proudly trace their origins to the British cutlets and croquettes but have a fiery, spicy heart. The fish fish fry, of course has to be with betki in Calcutta and so it is at the Calcutta Club. It is served with the customary Kasundi or Bengali styled piquant mustard sauce.
The croquette like veg chop is a happy melange of mashed potatoes, beet, carrots, peanuts, fried together under a breadcrumb casing. These dishes in Kolkata would be had straight off a street cart and having them in a restaurant would be as strange as Mumbai’s street star, the vada pao, in a restaurant. Then again this is Mumbai and not Kolkata and the cutlets and fish fries of Calcutta Club were the perfect fuel to start the the adda (chat) that afternoon amongst lawyers, doctors, market researchers, copy writers, marketers from across communities that morning. The staff at Calcutta Club kindly cordoning off a section for us and were ever alert to our requests.
Next on was luchi and chholar daal and stories of how as a spoilt chubby bileti baby (kid living abroad) I refused to eat Indian food when I came to India…luchi and chholar daal made by my Didu (maternal grand mom) being the only exceptions. More than three decades later she still stirs herself up and forgets her aches and pains to make luchis for her eldest grandson when I visit her. When I am in Mumbai calling her up and listening to the force and vitality in her voice fills one with such energy.
Luchi and chholar daal is of course a very indulgent Bengali breakfast combination. Who says that you can’t have a brunch without eggs Benedicts or wheatgrass shots?
Then a slight deviation from jolkhabar, or snacks in Bengali, to more serious stuff. The Arsalan at Oshiwara has shut down from what they told me at the shop but I wanted folks to taste the biryani of Kolkata. They make a very good one at Calcutta Club and we ordered some. The rice, which is the soul of the biryani of Kolkata turned out to be incredibly flavour packed in Calcutta Club and the biryani seemed much lighter than that of Arsalan. Tapan Babu takes a lot of pride in the biryani he serves and I could see why. As Chinmai, pointed out, the surprise element and the high point is the potato in it.
Earlier in the morning I was thrilled to see my article on the biryanis that I have across India printed in the The Time’s of India’s Crest edition. Folks at the walk got to listen a live audio version of it but for those who couldn’t, here’s the link to the article.
It wasn’t on my initial plan but once Shubhranshu reminded me of it, I couldn’t leave Calcutta Club without ordering the kheerer pattishapta. This is a classic here which we have enjoyed right from the beginning. Pattishapta or Bengali ground coconut filled crepe is a dish which only grand moms make. Here at Calcutta club they serve it in a thickened milk kheer which is heavenly.
Yes, we were ready to walk after this. All three minutes that it took us to reach Bhojohori Manna. But then again it was a Bengali Walk.
The Bhojohori Manna 11 Bhet (treat)
Welcoming us at Bhojohori Manna was Sidhhartha Bose, one of the five founders of the chain, and one of the two active members.
I met Siddharthada a couple of nights back at Bhojo. The reason for having the walk in such a hurry was that he was in town and I wanted folks to meet him. Supporting him was Suresh Babu, his deputy for years, and the entire team at Bhojohori. Siddharthada had a surprise for us. He had got along Priyanka, who is the daughter of Rajeev Neogi, the other active founding member of Bhojohori. Priyanka hosted our group while Siddharthada went into the kitchen to ensure that we were fed well and boy were we!
Priyanka told the story of how Bhojohori Manna was born one evening when five middle aged Bengali friends, including her dad, met over drinks and instead of drunk tweeting, as is the fashion these days, decided to open up a tiny Bengali restaurant. A restaurant which since has spread across cities turning the hairs of folks-like Siddharthada grey. Once again, as in Calcutta Club, no prior F&B experience but the heart and soul shows in the honesty of the food.
Priyanka explained that a Bengali meal is had course by course and that we don’t put everything together on the plate at one go. We can get pretty Italian or Chinese in that aspect and here’s what followed.
Welcome drink…aampora shorbot or the Bengali smoked unripe mango with cumin drink. I normally go for a Pepsi before a Bong meal. This time I tried the aampora. Liked it so much, went for seconds
Jhorna ghee, kacha lonka (green chillies) & the prized kafir lime-like Gondhoraj lebu, flown in from Kolkata, condiments served with rice. No pickle and onions of Punjabi dhaabas here.
Course 1. Shukto…a bitter gourd based palate cleanser cum appetiser with a spice called radhuni at its heart cooked in a creamy milk base. Tastes very different from the watery shuktos made in our house which I would not touch while growing up, The creamy texture and presence of drumsticks in the shukto made Priyanka compare it with the coconut milk based avial of Kerala.
Courses 2, 3 & 4…Bhaaja and daal. Begun bhaaja or slices of fried poppy seed enrobed brinjal and jhuri bhaaja (fried thinly sliced potatoes) served with daal. As I explained, we never have just daal and rice. It is always with an accompaniment. Ideally a dry one like the fries or bhaajas.
Course 5 …betki patoori. Fish steamed in banana leaves exist all over the world. In Brazil I believe, then in the thick red paste in Malaysia. Closer home in Mumbai the Parsis have patrani machhi or pomfret steamed in a green coconut, coriander & chilli based chutney. Betki and ilish are the fish of choice for the Bengali patoori. Instead of a green chutney, here it is steamed in a sharp and pungent mustard and green chilli paste, the zing of which is cut by simple plain rice or shaada bhaat.
Course 6 …change of plates and Basonti, saffron but actually turmeric hued, Bengali mishti or sweet pulao. The stuff, in pre-liberalisation years, of very special days such as one’s birthday, Noboborsho or the Bengali New year or Borodin or the English New Year.
Course 7: Something which flummoxed me, a cauliflower curry.
Earlier in the afternoon I told Siddharthada that one of the pre-conceived notions which some folks in the walk had about Bengali food was that it was ‘all fried and had loads of fish’.
I could see that Siddharthada was trying to break that. He stepped out from the kitchen for a while and I liked his disarming honesty as he spoke to folks and said how Bhojohori, according to him, is not a restaurant in the truest sense. That a lot of his stuff is cooked in the central kitchen, got the restaurant, heated and served when orders are placed. Which, incidentally, happens in lot of restaurants from what I understand. That’s why Siddharthada says, he sends takeaways lukewarm, as he is wary about a triple heating of the food which happens otherwise. He seemed quite anxious about the quality of the food at Bhojohori even though I kept telling him that the food we have had over many visits here has been consistent and heart warming. We normally go for the maxi veg thala and order a ilish or mutton side dish. The ilish too is flown in from Kolkata and Siddharthada tells me they have a big frost free cold storage facility for the fish there.
He also said that we was emulating the ‘pice hotel’ concept of Bengal where dishes are cooked in limited quantities and might not last till the end of the day even when on the menu.
For the eggetarian in the group there was alu posto and deemer dalna.
Course 8…a favourite of mine here. Daak baangla mutton named after the inns where people used to stay while travelling across Indian in the past. This mutton is spicier than kosha mangsho and comes with a much sought after boiled egg in it.
Course 9…plate cleanser after the meal and before the dessert. Tomato and khejurer (date) chutney, a favourite of mine, to be scooped up with fried papad on the side. As Priyanka explained, the Bengali chutneys are not savoury unlike in other parts of India but are a mixture of sweet and tart here.
Course 10…this was the nolen gurer ice cream which are the cupcakes, macarons and chouxs rolled in to one of Kolkata and is quite the rage there. The folks at Bhojohori make their own ice cream and fly it in thrice a week. I was surprised to see even K like it as she is not too fond of Indian flavours in desserts. It was a big hit at the table.
Siddharthada said that he has a supplier in Kolkata who stocks 6 tonnes (!) of notun gur, a winter speciality, through the year which keeps the supplies going for them through the year.
I am not too fond of gur or jaggery and chose a mishti doi which they source from Sweet Bengal in Mumbai here.
Course 11… of course a mishti paan to help digest it all.
Seems a lot? Well as Anchal told K at the end, “perhaps we need to get back to the walk format a bit more”.
Did I say that the walk was ‘set up for failure’ at the beginning of this post?
Well not when one has the support of such a wonderful group of people joining us, and often coming back, for the walks and hosts such as the lovely folks at Bhojohori Manna and Calcutta Club hosting us.
So here’s to the next Finely Chopped Walk.
For those curious, the goody bags had paanch phoron which I had picked from Vijay stores in Pali Naka and a mix of Mukhorochoak chyanachur, nikmi and moshla muri which I picked from Sweet Bengal Bandra
Sassy Fork very kindly wrote a blog post about it and here’s the link
Here are some tweets post the walk
And this is Shubhranshu Das on facebook: Just finished the Finely Chopped bengali food walk ...if there is state of being more than tript it is this, this is it