Festive spread

October 24, 2010

I am not surprised that i could hardly eat out this Pujas.

Blame it on that inevitable gap between resolution and execution every time my plans get haywire in the pleasurable chaos that’s festive Calcutta.

Though my last post had dropped names, left right and centre, of eateries in Calcutta i would like to sample, at the end of the four-day jamboree, i barely managed a lunch gone wrong at Tung Fong, an astronomically expensive drink at a floating bar on the Hooghly and an ultra-late lunch at Bar B Que where the waiters pushed us to a shady part where the Chinese menu showed nearly everything that they could not serve.

And to top it all, a weird dinner at an upscale Thai restaurant at the South City Mall where we were forced to eat noodles and fried rice as appetisers, and once sanity prevailed, Thai curries and rice as main course.

So what kept the glutton in me last the festival?

Good old, yes that’s right, ghar ka khana.

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Bhaat, kochur loti and Bombil (Pic: Judhajit Dutta)

One resolution i could keep was to wear the cook’s hat this time. The kitchen was unfamiliar; ironically, it’s in our flat in Calcutta, but then i had spend just a couple of months in it before settling in Delhi years ago.

So, i took it easy, whiling a day flitting in and out of the kitchen — adjusting to the monstrously high burner (i keep telling ma that’s it’s not for nothing that’s she’s got tennis elbow), the wind flow pattern (there’s no chimney, hence windows have to be kept open and you suddenly find you’ve been cooking on no flame for 10 minutes!), the nooks and corners (it’s infuriating not being able to locate, say, the bottle of cumin seeds with the oil merrily burning away).

In short, i took a full day prudently doing what you do when you land in Leh: acclimatise.

The perks of my labour, though, were lucrative. A piece of fried hilsa landed on my plate; so did a pomfret. And, ma gave me the tasks of polishing off a bowl of chhola diye kochur shak (a colocasia dish, a Bangladeshi delicacy) and tasting a ladle of jolpai-er (olive) chutney.

Backbreaking work, but every aspiring chef needs to go through the grind!

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Prawn malai curry (Pic: Judhajit Dutta)

Oshtomi is a vegetarian affair in many Bengali families. But not so in our house. So out came the prawns from the freezer and kohur loti (colocasia stem) from the bazaar.

Ma willingly donned the mantle of a sous chef — chopping the vegetables, gathering the ingredients, marinating the prawns and neatly arranging all i would need around the oven. This, say my detractors, is to ensure that i can manage to serve lunch in the afternoon and not at night!

At 1.30pm, the executive chef arranged the spread: steaming rice, daal, fried bombil (Bombay duck) — okay, okay, he had nearly screwed it up, the fish breaking into bits before the sous chef took over and did some damage control — the kochur loti, a mean prawn malai curry (the last two dishes required no interference from the sous chef) and what else, the olive chutney.

At night, i stayed back in Bowbazar at a friend’s mess, a 100-year-old building — one of those which still entrap romance and wonder inside their bowels. Listening to the gurgle of thousands of revellers thronging College Street right below and down by four pegs of whisky, we polished off at least eight luchis (maida puris) each with chholar daal, begun bhaja (fried brinjals), fulkopir tarkari (cauliflower curry) and mishti.

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Fried rice, chicken Manchurian and mushroom prawn (Pic: Judhajit Dutta)

Nabami was all about making mistakes and being compensated at the end. With a high-flying photographer cousin in tow, i saw a couple of iconic north Calcutta Pujas and then, hungry and parched, hit Floatel, a steamer-turned-hotel anchored in the Hooghly. It was my idea and it bombed spectacularly. The buffet was sold out and we retreated to a bar by the waters, where they serve nothing else but third-grade chips with booze the price of which will shame ITC or Taj. I felt cheated and took a cab to the time-tested Park Street.

Another misadventure followed. Bar B Que ran out of Chinese dishes after we had chicken lollipop and prawns. Defeated and a trifle drunk — the bills read Jack Daniels and Tom Collins and Johnnie Walker and Plunter’s Punch — we slunk to Salt Lake, the cousin’s abode.

Dinner more than made up for the gastronomic disasters. Mashi’s a fantastic cook, and it was no surprise that fried rice and chicken Manchurian were scrumptious. Where she excelled even by her standard was the prawn mushroom — a subtle blend of Indian masalas and Chinese sauces.

To be continued

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6 Responses to “Festive spread”

  1. Sharmi said

    Next time I surely want to taste that MAchurian dish, as I am the fan of Chinese food, and you are not. But I too had an awesome Ashtami lunch and dinner at my mom’s: all vegetarian but awesome nonetheless 🙂

  2. netdhaba said

    Hmm. This was one Chinese spread that pleased me to no end. And Oshtomir vegetarian spread is always fantastic, though the luchis i had were cold as refrigerated cucumbers 🙂

  3. Slightly disappointed your write up before your trip to Calcutta had a lot of promise what with all that talk of prawn cutlets pabdarjhol, kosha mangsho and so on; anyway I am keeping my fingers crossed for the next part and hoping for some sweet talk— what I mean is Bangali Mishti.

    • netdhaba said

      @Shilpi Bose: Hmm… that’s life, i guess. It just doesn’t live it up to the promise. And, i also hope the next part will have sweet talks 🙂
      Thanks for your comment and please read on

  4. Sumit said

    Kochu ke je colocasia bole jene mugdho holam!! The ‘Latte’ Colocasia must’ve been delicia!! Sobkichutei prochur nombor dilam…r khub khidey pelo….sudhu mishti diye luchi r flaotel e boshe mod…ekhane nombor ektu komtir dike. Sesher ta to ‘Oly’-goli tei jomto bhalo!!! Ki dadubhai?

    • netdhaba said

      @Sumit: Amio jantum na! Aar ektu khide chepe rakho, February is almost here 🙂 Floatel is a mistake and mishti came after the luchis were polished off. Hmm… Oly te we could’ve gone, but sheta tor sathe next time-er jonyo-i tola thak

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