Sunday, November 22, 2009

The perfect Calcutta meal?

Nondon Bagchi comes up with what he feels is the quintessential Bengali meal. Sample this article from The Telegraph -

"Apologies are a good way to begin just about anything. Having been asked to choose my favourite nine items from Calcutta’s food menu, I am sure there will be acts of commission and omission that will ruffle the feathers of many. There is every chance, given the amazing canvas of culinary bliss we enjoy without realising it, that this would happen even if I had to choose 99.

Before I begin, a few riders that have governed and limited the freedom of choice.

One. Even if I have enjoyed, for example, the most delicious Pan They Khowsuey, a Burmese-style gravy made of pork and with garnishings including shrimp powder, I have had it in someone’s home, so it can’t be on today’s hit parade. Just like so many other temptations not available at city outlets or even through caterers, and even if available, certainly not the best I’ve had.

Two. Despite having indulged in gluttony for decades, there are still delights I have not had the good fortune to have tried; there are some which I do not even know about, especially more recent add-ons to the city’s culinary scene. In a nutshell, today’s hit parade will have items that have been chosen from an extremely personal viewpoint, and they are also ones that have been around for decades. I am starting with starters and snacks, and, like a good Bengali, graduating from vegetarian dishes to non-veg ones and ending with desserts. With due respect for those who might grumble...

1. Phuchka

A symbol of Calcutta’s pride. Of course we think it is better than paani puri (Mumbai) or golgappa (Delhi) but so do many non-Calcuttans. My favourite vendor is Ramesh Pandit near Lake Kali Bari. Sublime is an understatement. Used to eat 33 of them for a rupee, and would even ask for one paise change. Some vendors sell humongous sized ones nowadays, but even the sacred phuchka has changed with the clientele. You can even find them on menus nowadays...

2. Prawn Cocktail

With the exit of Sky Room, the city also lost, arguably, the best prawn cocktail in the world. At least, as good as the best. Good enough to be flown to Delhi almost every week for Mrs Indira Gandhi. Sky Room’s secret must have been in the mayonnaise-based sauce. But One Step Up! on Park Street does a good job, and this piece of Calcutta nostalgia can still be a hit parade.

3. Paper Dosa

Named thus because the dosa is wafer thin and crisp, this is a humdinger with good sambhar and coconut chutney. Personally, I am easy whether there is a potato vegetable stuffing or not. Sadly, sambhar in Calcutta somehow just loses out to sambhar in Chennai, even though the cooks, ingredients and knowhow are from there. Must be the air and/or water. But Prema Vilas, Calcutta’s oldest south Indian place in Lake Market is my place for Paper Dosa.

4. Chop Cutlet platter

Not singling out one item here, because whether it is the mochar chop, deemer devil, fish roll, kabiraji cutlet or the moghlai paratha or any other item from this school of thought and taste, they all are winners. Created and invented by this city in a wave of inspiration, the egg-and-crumbed (or flour-batter-and-crumbed) thrillers can put you into orbit, especially with a good zingy mustard, courtesy Bubai Caterers of north Calcutta.

5. Chimney Soup

Takes me back to 1975 to Eau Chew Restaurant on Ganesh Chandra Avenue. Coal-fired chimney in the middle of a great trough filled with chicken stock, meat and fish balls, gizzard, kidney and other meat and other such goodies cooking in the bubbling stock. Break eggs and poach them in the stock, cook your noodles and greens in the stock, make your meal-in-a-dish and discover what life is all about. Eau Chew is still there, and so is their Hot Pot. Better to phone in and place an order.

6. Chitol Maachher Jhol

How come a Bengali has only one fish dish in the pop charts? Because we usually eat fish away from home with a bit of disdain. But this item, where chitol (featherback fish) is cut right across the mid-riff in one-inch thick steaks, rib-cage bones (almost as thick as chicken bones) and all, and cooked in a serious, thick, garlic-onion-ginger paste and tomato gravy, is almost never done in homes, and my first encounter was in a “pice hotel”. Today, you get a good version at Kewpie’s.

7. Kosha Mangsho

One can write an ode to this dish. My best is still from Shyambazar’s Golbari, which has had closures and reopenings, but is up and running right now and that should herald a winter of content. With their secret-formula chapattis which look as if they have only just been rolled out but not cooked, and yet are gossamer soft and done to perfection, Kosha Mangsho might even land you in a divorce case…

8. Gelato

With the advent of Mama Mia! and Italian-style ice creams (the real McCoy), there has been no looking back for ice cream lovers, even though the city has had a good track record with these, with some really good offerings. My top flavour is Forest Berries, with the gelato laced with a syrup containing mulberry, blackberry, raspberry and other potent fruits.

9. Mishti Doi

By Jadab Das. As I said, I am being personal. Mishti doi, available in thousands of outlets, has given rise to much debate, but Jadab Das near Triangular Park is my choice. Pure cows’ milk only, almost pure white in colour, a slight tang and so light and tasteful at the same time that I can put away 700g without batting an eyelid. Its non-rich texture also invites add-ons like warm gulab jamun.

A final note: Many, many dishes not included, including beef steak. Sad, because we have world-class beef in Calcutta shops. Maybe the steak I do myself?"




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max said...

Pucka as jamie would sa