A song of curry and rice. Sunday special mangshor jhol or Bengali mutton curry recipe and memories.

Mangshor jhol. Bhaat makes this picture complete. Want me to translate? Well, read on then. 

The heading of this post is inspired by George R.R. Martin's series of books, A Song of Fire and Ice, on which the Game of Thrones HBO series is based.

I am not sure about where and when I had first heard of 'kosha mangsho,' arguably the most famous Bengali mutton dish today

Was this when it was served with pulao at our Presidency College socials by Promod Da in the mid 1990s, I wonder. Or did I first see it on the menus of Calcutta's Moghlai restaurants; or its cabin restaurants when I was in college? Or did I first come across it at wedding feasts even earlier? Or in the Bengali recipe websites emanating from the US which I would refer to, in an age before there were blogs, when I first entered our kitchen in the early 2000s? Or did I first see it on the menus of the Bengali restaurants that I would go to when I moved to Mumbai from Kolkata. Restaurants where I would go to and pay (!) to eat Bengali food, a cuisine that I had once considered rather mundane when I lived in Kolkata.

Unlike the kosha mangsho however, which came into my life a bit later,  mangshor jhol bhaat (mutton curry and rice), has been a part of my life ever since my parents and I moved into Kolkata in the early 80s when I was still a kid.

Mutton was considered to be expensive and usually a Sunday lunch special in most middle class Bengali households back then. Things are rather different in the post liberalisation India now, where meat is consumed more frequently, with affordability being less of an issue. Though with the broiler revolution, chicken has entered our homes too and is a lot cheaper than mutton and is consumed more frequently. In the process, making our diets less balanced than what they were at the risk of sounding like celebrity dietician and 'back to grandma's kitchen advocate," Rujuta Diwekar.  She never speaks of non-veg though does she?

A mutton shop near Central Kolkata's Sabir Hotel. 2018.
The Muslim run shops were shut on Fridays, while the Hindu run  
mutton shops  (which were prevalent in the part of  south Calcutta 
where I grew up) were shut on Thursdays.  Wonder if that has changed.

Come Sunday in the 80s and the man of the house would step out of the house and queue up outside the local meat shop. Waiting patiently to be served, newspaper in hand, chatting with his fellow bespectacled kakus and jethus (Bengali for uncle) about the latest East Bengal Mohun Bagan Derby or about how Castro was our only hope. When his (Kaku, not Fidel's) turn came, the meat would be cut from the goat hanging at the shop according to the specifications given, and then packed in either dried shaal paata leaves or newspaper to be taken home. There was obviously no need for a plastic ban back then.

You would know that the clock had struck twelve a bit later when pressure cookers from kitchens across the paara (locality) would whistle gaily in unison. When it came to a choice between celebrating the 'joys of slow cooking' versus spending a bit less time in the kitchen and using a bit less gas too (getting LPG cylinders were way tougher than achieving moksha after all), the women of the 80s seemed to have made their stand clear.

There is no one standard recipe for the mangshor jhol to be honest. Every kitchen has its own recipe. The colour of the curry could vary from a calm brown to a fiery red to even a chirpy yellow, depending on what your tolerance levels for chillies are.

With the oil adulteration mishap that took many unfortunate lives in Behala in Kolkata in the early 80s, and the concerted effort of refined oil hawking corporates that followed, the loyalty to mustard oil became a tad shaky in some houses like ours. The thought of Bengal ever abandoning mustard oil would seem as inconceivable then though as that of the Left Front government being voted out. "Why even bother with exit polls here," as Dr Prannoy Roy had once said with his characteristic wry smile during a post election analysis when I was in high school.

The Communists of Bengal are but a memory now according the latest parliamentary polls. Refined oil is used quite a bit in Bengal today. and mustard oil is not as ubiquitous as it was. Apasanskriti as many would have said in the 80s. It is against our culture. As was consuming chicken. 

Interestingly, we had moved to chicken in our house by the late 80s as my mother believed that it was better for the heart than mutton. I have doctor friends today who can the argue the opposite with her today but then which Bengali son would ever argue with his mother?

My mother, a working mother who raised us as a single parent after my father passed on, swore by the pressure cooker too. As does her mother, my didu. As I often say, the question of 'authenticity' of Indian recipes often boil down to a case of 'my grandma is the best.'

I know that as a food writer and a Bengali too, saying that one had grown up on murgir jhol and not mangshor jhol (chicken and not mutton curry), that too made in a pressure cooker AND with sunflower oil, would set me up for derision on Twitter. Just as saying that I enjoy alu parathas with ketchup did after my previous post, but do be kind guys. I did not run our kitchen then!

Homework time

Here's my recipe for the mangshor jhol that we made the other day at home in Mumbai where I live now. 

Is it the most 'authentic' recipe? I do not know.  It tasted pretty good to us and that is all that matters at the end doesn't it?

My Mangshor jhol recipe


500 g mutton on the bone (shoulder piece is the best says the missus), 1 dry red chilli, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 a teaspoon of whole cumin, a piece each of cardamom, clove & cinnamon to the oil, 2 tablespoons of mustard oil (or vegetable oil), 1 tablespoon of ginger paste and 1/2 of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons dahi (curd), 250 ml water, spices (1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and turmeric powder, 1/2 teaspoon of red chilli & garam masala powder: depends on personal tastes), 2 potatoes (peeled and halved)

Cooking method:

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of mustard oil
  2. Add a dry red chilli, a bay leaf, 1/2 a teaspoon of whole cumin, a piece of cardamom, clove & cinnamon to the oil.
  3. Once they splutter, add 1 sliced/ finely chopped red onion
  4. Once the onion is translucent (in kosha mangsho you add a lot more onion and let it cook more too) add 1 tablespoon of ginger paste and 1/2 of garlic
  5. Then goes in the meat which has been marinated with two teaspoons of dahi and spices, and halved potatoes. Add salt. You could add tomatoes before this stage for some added tartness. Many Bengalis though would find this to be as heretical as saying you did not believe in the Little Red Book but hey, it is not the 80s anymore!
  6. Add water. 250 ml for half a kilo of meat and then let it cook for about 8 to 10 whistles in the pressure cooker and another 30 minutes after that at least on a low flame in a closed cooker. Or, if not using a pressure cooker, for 1.30 hrs. If you are afraid of the potatoes getting overcooked, take them out before adding the water and then add them at then end and let them cook together for 2,3 whistles in the pressure cooker or for the last 20 minutes if cooking outside a cooker
  7. When done, add some roasted garam masala at the end
  8. Have it with hot rice and follow it with a bhaat ghoom (afternoon siesta)
While we do love our jukti tokko goppo (the name of  the legedary film maker Ritwik Ghosal's last film), what requires no debate among Bengalis is the fact that alu (potato) is a must in mangshor jhol and that bhaat (plain boiled rice) goes best with mangshor jhol (unlike paratha, luchi or pulao with kosha mangsho). 

And that in mangshor jhol, it is the noli (marrow) piece that is most coveted. 
Sucking it is what makes this Bengali Game of Bones complete!

We had made the mutton curry that you saw in the header picture on Thursday and not Sunday. Used pieces of mutton that we did not finish in the curry for our lunch of Parsi masoor ma gos today (Sunday). With pav since my mother in law said that pav is a must with masoor. Food pairings are sacred after all!


Note: In India, we mean goat meat when we say 'mutton'

Posts which could be of interest.

1. My kosha mangsho  recipe 
2. My niramish (sans onion & garlic) mangshor jhol recipe
3. My murgir jhol (chicken curry) recipe
4. My article in NDTV Food about the cabin restaurants of Kolkata
5. My post on the significance of Kolkata's biryani dishing Moghlai restaurants
6. My post where I spoke of my love for ketchup with parathas