Taste with a twist this Puja
From bhoger khichuri, which is impossible to replicate at any other time, to chaats and ghoti gorom, from roadside phuchkas to long restaurant queues, it’s all happening again with impeccable enthusiasm coupled with dollops of nostalgia, writes Pradip Chatterjee.
A true-blue Bengali knows his food and also his Durga Puja. It's the most charismatic time of the year when the whole world seemingly celebrates with you and it is the sheer magnitude of the festival that gives it a diverse and dynamic twist. And the food! It's the time to splurge, pamper and overindulge.
From puchkas to biryani, from chaats to sweets, from the bhog to Chinese delicacies — it's all there.
During the Durga Puja, various restaurants come up with special menu to attract crowd. And arguably so, everyone is quite keen to venture out with friends and family to enjoy the food.
The custom of local clubs organising Pujas or community Pujas is comparatively new. Earlier, in the pre-Independence era, Durga Pujas used to be organised by the zamindars of the then East Bengal, now Bangladesh, whereas in Kolkata, it was performed mainly by affluent traders and zamindars. People used to assemble at the puja pandals and have traditional dishes like rice, shukto, curry, dal, local sweets which used to be served on banana leaves.
Gradually, food habits, especially during the Pujas, underwent changes. From traditional items, the list changed. Cutlets, chops, snacks, samosas were incorporated.
After Independence, the community Pujas in Bengal came into existence. During the 70s, people started their own food stalls in and around the Puja mandaps. Phuchka, bhelpuri, chaat, egg rolls, Chinese cuisine gained immense popularity.
Bagbazar Sarbojanin and Maddox Square were among the favourite destinations for the Puja-goers as huge food stalls would be put up on display in a fair situated on the ground adjacent to these two puja pandals. The two fairs still attract visitors in large numbers
During '80s Shuruchi first started serving Bengali delicacies during Pujas which became very popular. There was a trend among the locals to have traditional Bengali food from restaurants. Special fish items like parshe, pabda, chingri, Ilish had always been the chartbusters.
Bhojohari Manna serves up typical Bengali dishes like shukto, bhaja moong dal, curries, rui kalia, jumbo Ilish besides lip-smacking desserts during the festival.
Mishra's, another restaurant chain, will also have special menu during the four days of the puja. "We have been offering special menu during the Puja days for the past 18 years. We also try to present food in various attractive packages," an official of Mishra's said.
Amber promises special Mughlai specialisations like mutton kalia, mutton reshmi kebab, chicken boti kebab, chicken cheese kabab, fish malai kababs. It also offers continental dishes like chicken princess, chicken steak.
Peter Cat and Mocambo on Park Street will continue to offer their special dishes during those four days. People in large numbers throng these restaurants.
There will also be chingri bhapa, betki macher borishali paturi, moong puli and much more. Bhetki platters, hilsa in mustard sauce and prawns in all types of gravies, shukto, kabiraji and sweet dishes would be on the menu too. Various five star hotels in the city are preparing their items for the visitors from abroad who come to witness the state's biggest festival.
Aminia, or the biryani connoisseur, as it is known to have popularised the dish during the '70s and later by Shiraz in '80s while Arsalan joined the club during the '90s.
People in large numbers visit these restaurants to have their favourite dishes during Pujas. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah first introduced Biryani in Kolkata in 1855 but it then remained restricted to Muslims only for a very long time. Slowly, it gained popularity. And nowadays, Bongs just drool over biryani.
From barowari to bonedi Pujas, it's all about fun, frolic and food. These four days are testimony to an aesthetic upheaval, immersed in stunning grandeur and glory, leaving behind a divine aftertaste.