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Divine cuisine

Dhiman Chattopadhyay     October 2, 2008

Bengali delicacies
Bengali delicacies
It’s the season for festivals in India and few match the Durga Puja for splendour, lavish pandals, surging crowds and, of course, mouthwatering food. What’s it about Bengali food that drives everyone from Kolkata to Kansas and Dhaka to Dunbar crazy? Celebration and food go hand in hand with the quintessential Bengali.

And nothing excites them more than Durga Puja when a Bengali family spends equally on Ilish, Chingri and Pierre Cardin. Durga Puja is more than just a religious festival. It’s a celebration of life. It brings people together from all across the globe.

What’s Bengali food all about

Chingri Macher Malaikari
Chingri Macher Malaikari
The breeze in the historic maritime gateway carries the aromas from the most exciting kitchens of the world. History laid a generous foundation for its culinary diversity. Today, decades after the firinghees— Portuguese, Chinese, British, Dutch, French, Armenians, to name a few—left or mingled into the local culture, their culinary legacies still waft in the winds. Kolkata’s cuisine acquired a robust dimension with Mughlai cuisine entering the land.

Kasha Mangsho:
Kasha Mangsho:
Today, there is no other cuisine where you can enjoy such great diversity in one meal as Bengali food. Join us as we prepare to gorge on some amazing Kasha Mangsho, Daab Chingri, Hilsa Paturi, Mochhar Ghanto, Dhokar Dalna and much more. Sadly, then and now, Bengali cooking is mostly confined to the home. Dishes are carefully prepared according to recipes handed down through generations. It’s only in recent years that some restaurateurs have come up with Bengali fine dining restaurants in Kolkata and indeed across India, where you can sample the final outcomes of some closely guarded recipes. And there’s none in this list of entrepreneurs who have done more for Bengali cuisine than Anjan Chatterjee, the man who owns the Oh! Calcutta chain of fine dining restaurants (he also owns Mainland China and a few other brands like Machaan).

What's special

Says Chatterjee: “The specialty of Bengali food lies in the perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavours. For Bengalis, food is one of the most essential aspects of their dayto-day lives. Mention Bengali food to anyone in India, and the first image it evokes is that of fish and rice. Geography is responsible for the traditions. The presence of the rivers and the lakes and the rich coastal waters, bordered by the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans, have automatically made freshwater fish a major part of the Bengali diet. Moreover, fish here, is not merely food. As a symbol of prosperity and fertility, it touches many aspects of ceremonial and ritual life.” And who can forget the sweets? Traditional Bengali food always ends up with mishti and sweet curd. Bengali food is famous for its sweets. The origin of typical Bengali sweets can be traced back in the traditional household kitchens.

Chatterjee’s favourites:

“Rasun Bhapa Maach, Daab Chingri, Kasha Mangsho, Bhapa Whole Bhetki and Potoler Dolma—to go with rice and, of course, to be rounded off with rosogollas. While most of the other items trace their roots to modern-day Bangladesh, Kasha Mangsho is more of a West Bengal dish and Potol Dolma has Portuguese influence,” he says.

Master of the game:

At Oh! Calcutta, Chatterjee has mastered the art of making the food appealing to diners across the world. How has he done it? “The challenge is to recreate dishes from the old recipes selected through painstaking research. The chefs come from the heart of this culture, which helps them to recreate the legendary dishes,” he says.

Fish or vegetables steamed with oil and spices. A classic steaming technique is to wrap the fish in banana leaf to give it a faint musky, smoky scent

A vegetable dish with one or more varieties of vegetables cut into strips, with the stalks of leafy greens seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds.

A combination dish made with different vegetables, portions of fish head and fish oil.

Mixed vegetables or eggs, cooked in a medium thick gravy seasoned with ground spices, especially garam masala and a touch of ghee.

Different complementary vegetables chopped or finely grated and cooked with ground spices. Non-vegetarian ghantos are made with fish.

A general term often used in Bengal the way ‘curry’ is used in English. It basically means cooked vegetables.

A very rich preparation of fish, meat or vegetables using a lot of oil and ghee with a sauce based on ground ginger and onion paste.

Shorshe Ilish
Shorshe Ilish
Chingri Macher Malaikari


Prawns: 1lb
Onion: 1 paste
Garlic : 1 clove
Ginger : 1 tsp
Green Chillies: 6
Coconut Milk: 1 can
Bay Leaves: 4
Cardamom : 4
Cloves 6
Cinnamon 2
Red Chilli Powder 1 tsp
Turmeric Powder 1 tsp

Directions: Clean the prawns and mix it with turmeric and salt and keep aside for about ½ hour. Grind onion to a paste. Heat oil, lightly fry the prawns so they turn golden in colour, take them out, put them on a paper towel. In the same oil, add chopped garlic. Add bay leaves, coarsely pound garam masala and the onion paste.

Continue frying with ½ tsp sugar till it turns brown. Add the ginger and cook. Stir and add the can of coconut milk. Add a little water (about 1/3 of the can). Add red chilli powder, turmeric and salt. Add the green chillies. Mix well and cook on low for 15 minutes till the gravy thickens.

Bhapa Bhetki
Bhapa Bhetki
Shorshe Ilish
A classic Bengali dish which has seduced generations of Bengalis and people the world over. One to try at home.

Ilish (Hilsha) Fish: 1
Ground Mustard Paste: 3 tbsp
Green Chilli: 6
Red Chilli Powder : 1 tsp
Turmeric Powder: 1 tsp
Onion (chopped): 4
Salt: As needed
Cooking Oil: 1/4 cup

Directions: Make a fine paste of ground mustard and green chillies. Heat oil in a frying pan and add onions. Sauté until onions get brown colour. Add all the masala and the mustard paste. Stir fry for some minutes, add 1/3 cup of warm water (or more) and then add fish pieces. Mix thoroughly and cook in low heat until fish is tender, extra water is vaporised, and the oil gets separated.

Kasha Mangsho: This spicy, sauteed mutton dish is from North Kolkata. Best had with Luchi or steamed rice.

Bhapa Bhetki:
Once again a steamed fish, a whole bhetki in this case, with liberal doses of mustard on top. Had best with steamed rice.

Dab Chingri: A signature dish from Oh! Calcutta. This mouthwatering item is prawns roasted inside a tender coconut and slow cooked on a traditional oven.

Rasun Bhapa Mach: Fish steamed in traditional Bengali style with chopped garlic. A tangy and spicy fish recipe that hails from Bangaldesh

Potoler Dolma: The Portuguese influence in Bengali cuisine. The inside of the vegetable is cleaned and then stuffed with either prawns or any choice of vegetables and then slow cooked on an oven.

Rosogolla: The quintessential Bengali sweet. Made of milk, juicy to the core and rather filling.

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