Bengali Food holds a special place in my heart. From standing in line at the Ulsoor Bengali Association as a nine year old waiting for Bhog to be served, or having the canteen attendant set aside extra rosagullas for me as a student in IIM Calcutta or finally being surrounded by so many Bengali’s at work that Muri Ghonto was as familiar as sambar. I am irresistibly drawn to this wondrous cuisine that has great reverence for its ingredients, method of cooking and perfectly balanced flavours. Like a moth to a flame, I land up at the Cubbon Pavilion for a festival that celebrates the land inspired by poetry – “Amar Sonar Bangla”.
Chef Bhagmita Jena hails from Dhiga, a small town at the border of Bengal and revels in the opportunity to showcase a cuisine she adores, to the rest of the world. Years spent in the kitchen watching her mom churn out exquisite Bengali recipes cemented her love for cooking. The diminutive Bhagmita’s passion for her art is clearly visible in the spread she laid out for us. She focuses on home style cooking and is keen that dishes remain as authentic as possible, even if that means sourcing her ingredients from the point of origin. Her excitement is palpable when she urges me to try her favorite dish – Doi Mach. She watches in anticipation as I take a bite and breaks out into a huge smile when she sees the look of pure bliss on my face. It’s clear THAT’s the only encouragement she needs to keep the magic alive!
The Bengali Food Festival at the ITC Cubbon Pavilion is on from the 19th to the 28th of June and features a different menu every day. It’s a great way to savor everything from Calcutta Street Food like Chaat and Kathi Rolls to the more homely delights like Begun Bhaja or Bekti Bhaja. Deep fried anything is synonymous with comfort food and with the rains on the horizon, these appetizers come out tops. A special mention to the Dhai Bhalla – the yoghurt in which the balla was steeped was all kinds of perfect with the texture of pouring cream and just the right amount of sweetness.
Apart from Street food expect your palate to be treated to the more refined dishes like Daab Chingri (King Prawns with tender coconut and coconut milk) and the special occasion dishes like the Muri Ghonto (fish pulao cooked with the head of a fish – typically Rohu). Considering this is Ilish (a river fish with white meat and numerous bones adored by the Bengalis) season, you will definitely see an Ilish dish on the menu every day. We were lucky to have the chef’s favorite dish – Doi Mach and relished the fresh fish steeped in velvety mustard and yoghurt gravy.
The Kosha Mangsho made an appearance the day I dined there as well and I can vouch that marinating the meat for 24 hours definitely made the final dish sublime. Try the Mangsho with a hot Lucchi or pile it over some fragrant Ghobindobhog rice – either way you are guaranteed nirvana.
The Aloor Dum does the same job for the vegetarians, which is no easy task for a vegetable! Vegetarians will also be treated to Malai stuffed Parval, Pepe Dal (papaya dal), Poshto Paneer and in my opinion the highly underrated but exquisite Shukto. A mish mash of seemingly innocuous root vegetables given the biting edge with some bitter gourd! Now I know the Bitter Gourd is probably not on anyone’s love list except the Bengali, BUT if you ate Shukto – you will understand why.
Another must try is the famous Calcutta Style Mutton Biryani. A mild, aromatic version of the Mughlai Biryani dotted with golden potatoes that have absorbed the fat and cooking juices. I have seen people fight over who gets the potato, so don’t discount the humble spud here.
With Bengali Food you always save space for dessert. If that means eating one less luchhi, so be it. The Rosagulla is the all time favourite and Chef Bhagmita makes a wonderfully fluffy and spongy version but her piece de la resistance is the Misti Doi. The sweetened and fermented milk preparation is by far the best I have tasted in Bangalore. I only wish it was Nolen Gur season so that she could have added some of that while churning this pot of caramel coloured goodness.
The Festival is your best chance to experience a variety of homely Bengali dishes made by a very talented chef. The fact that the dinner buffet saw a steady stream of Bengalis pouring in, should attest to the fact. Subho Bhojan.
1, Residency Road, Ashok Nagar, Bangalore – 560025.
Ph: +91 80 2211 9898 || Parking: Valet available
Cost: Rs.1750/-++ for the dinner buffet. The Festival is on till the 28th of June 2015.