New year is being celebrated around the country. The Indian (or Hindu calendar) ones. Ugadi (Telugu New Year), Gudi Padwa (Maharashtrian) comes first and is followed by Vishu (Kerala), Baisakhi (Punjab), Poila Baisakh (Bengal), Rongali Bihu (Assam) to name just a few. The country is diverse and so are its people, yet it is comforting to know that the seasons bind us together. Typically the new year is celebrated at the onset of spring and the festive food around this time is also reflective of the produce available.
Barsho Baran is a uniquely Bengali food festival that will be on at Aish, The Park only for three days the actual weekend of Poila Baisakh. Curated by one of the most gracious ladies I’ve met, the soft spoken talented home cook Ms. Swarnali and her sister Ms. Sarbani.
Chef Mandaar who has a knack of tying an ingredient and experience with a story, has managed to find this gem of a soft spoke lady (they live in the same building society). His wife Meenakshi often found herself at the receiving end of this fantastic cooking skill and made the connect and we are the ones to reap the benefit of it.
At the preview last weekend, we were treated to some of the most superb East Bengali food. I am not an expert on food of this region, even developing a healthy wariness for the hype that surround some of their dishes. Even I had my taste buds tingled and was wooed by the well balanced food that I am told will remind a good bengali of his/her grand mom’s cooking. To me that is the highest praise one can bestow. To be able to translate a home style recipe where the quantities of ingredients are not daunting into a commercial kitchen where the scale suddenly multiplies exponentially is not easy. And yet only almost halfway into the meal, during a chat with Swarnali I discovered this was the first time she ventured into something like this. I could have never guessed.
We started with aam panna which I loved, so quenching in this blessed Hyderabad heat.
For the appetisers, we were served Dimer devil, a boiled egg, the yolk scooped out and mixed with keema and spices and filled back into the white, covered with a mash of potato and breaded and fried. The egg was silky smooth with just the right break in texture from the filling. This was a winner. We were also served some fried fish, pretty simple and standard for a Bengali meal, the freshness of the fish was delightful.
Vegetarian appetizers were the flavourful Echorer chop (jackfruit fritters, which will have even hardcore meat eaters reaching for seconds) and my absolute favourite Singhada which is bengali samosa and that description does it a disservice as it packs a punch with the flavour of the potato filling. These starters were served with some very flavourful chutneys – Aam chutney, papaya chutney and tamater chutney (my pick).
The festival offers the meal for lunch and dinner and is served thali style. The dishes will change to showcase different ones on all three days. For the maincourse we had an array of well known dishes. The difference being these were perhaps the best renditions I’ve tasted.
Posto bora, this was posto made with potol or pointed gourd. The posto is a thick semi dry gravy of poppy seeds as the main ingredient. Poppy seeds are popularly used in many dishes in Telugu cuisine, I am familiar with its use and enjoy the texture of it. This preparation was mild and brought out the delicate flavour of the gourd. Shukto is an assortment of vegetables, cooked very simply in the most simplest of preparations, it is quintessential home cooking. The vegetable is made with a tempering of panch phoron (Bengali five spice) and radhuni which is an essential component, is described as wild celery. Swarnali described it as a version of ajwain, with more delicate flavours. For the love of mustard, do not miss the Chennar Tarkari made with the punch of kasundi. There was the famous Alur dom (potatoes cooked in a spiced gravy) and a slightly sweet moong dal.
A bhaja, in bengali food means to fry, so typically the dish would be dry and we had a variety of this technique used with different ingredients. Begun Bhaja, that steak of large brinjal, coated with spices and fried, so loved by the Bengalis that it has legend status in their meals. Usually because the large brinjal variety is so soft and spongy, it soaks up a lot of oil and the bhaja ends up like an oil slick on your plate. Not this one, the steaks were marinated with dry masalas and pan fried to render them gently crisp on the edges and soft in the middle. I loved this version. Karela bhaja, was wafer thin bitter gourd, deep fried to a crisp. I am a big fan of bitter gourd (I know!) and I enjoyed this fuss free preparation. Aloo jhuri bhaja, finely shredded potato, deep fried and mildly spiced.
There can be no Bengali meal without its meat. Here too we were served some extraordinarily tasty Kosha Mangsho which I licked till the bowl needed no cleaning. There was also an outstanding Doi Maach which is such a refreshing change from the tamarind heavy fish curries we make in our homes. I am allergic to prawns so I did not taste the Prawn Malai Curry which my fellow diners raved about and it deserved every praise by the looks of it.
All of this was served with the fragrant Gobindo bhog rice and lucchi. I think the rice is going down as one of my most favourites. The aroma is so good that it induces you to eat much more than you should actually be eating! I am going to hunt some and get a pack to experiment in my kitchen
We ended the meal on a sweet note, it is no surprise that Bengalis love their sweets. I absoutely devoured the Patishapta, a thin crepe filled with a caramelised on a low flame coconut and jaggery. The earthy flavour of the jaggery and coconut balanced well with the light crepe. We also had Malai rosogolla which I loved, because it was not cloyingly sweet and some of the best Sandesh I have had.
The festival will also showcase Bengali style biryani during its course and is a must if you love Bengali food.
The food served was outstanding, I think I loved it even more because it was made under the strict supervision of a home cook, we all know how particular they are about the ingredients they use to feed their families. Swarnali told us how she insisted on a certain type and quality of ingredients and Chef Mandaar ensured she got the best. It was also interesting to understand the nuances and differences in the preparations from west and east Bengal.
The promotional is on only from the 14-16th April, 2017. Do not miss this!
Barsho Baran, The Flavours of East Bengal by Sarbani and Swarnali
Venue: Aish, The Park, Hyderabad
Price per person: Rs. 1199/- available both for lunch and dinner