If any food resonates the same level of passion and love as Punjabi food, it’s the Begali food! Hence my fascination for Bengali food has always been there. From their fried thins to the parothas to the roll and the jhols, it’s always been a good experience. So when Café Cilantro invited me over for the launch of their Bengali food festival, Bong Appetite, I knew it would be good.
One thing I have struggled with is the knowledge of Bengali food. But this time I was in some good company of 2 Big Bong Bloggers (BBB) – Sabyasachi Dada (Foodoholix) and Pallab De (Hydfoodguy). So right from what goes well with what, how was it all made and even what order should it be served was explained in detail. Food goes to another level when you have people around to share stories and experiences related to that food.
Chef Chandra Shekhar Pandey has been trying something new almost every month at his 3 month young Café Cilantro. His own experience with Bengali food, coupled with his Chef having worked at Hotel Hindustan in Kolkatta, meant that this was going to be an authentic ensemble.
So along with the Bengali food, there was a lot of other stuff that is not Bengali per se, but you can relate it to Bengali food.
Mrs Chang’s prawn dumpling soup provided a slow and homely start. Chinese food is as relevant to Kolkatta as the rolls. The prawn was nice and soft, mixing well with the base. Dak Bangla Tomato Soup was a part of the British Raj days, when the officers would be served innovative Indian dishes. The usual tomato soup pepped up with some Bong touch and voila a Dak Bangla rendition.
In Bengali food appetizers are equally important as the jhols. They don’t care about the amount of oil and are big on frying everything.
Everything that can be chopped, can be made into a chop by frying it. So there was a vegetable chop, full pink on the inside with beetroot. I was told that the presence of the color is very important for it to qualify as a vegetable chop. Then came the chicken and prawn chops. Both fried but not losing the meat flavours one bit. Even for something like prawn which cooks really fast, the distinct taste was intact.
The Mughlai paratha is something I love in Bengali food, specially in the streets. But it was a little off on the stuffing front. I like it with big chunks of meat and a thick layer of egg inside.
All done with the starters it was time to dig into the main course. That is when Dada promptly cautioned them about following the order that he tells. Also since everything would go well with rice, the rice had to come first.
So Bengali food is like a journey, where everything has to come in an order. Starting from the bitter-ish stuff, they move towards the sweet end of the meal. So first up was Shukto, which leaves a really bitter after taste. It’s like a mixture of all vegetables, and Karela is the star. It is meant to be a dish that mothers would prepare to make sure everyone ate Karela. And the combination of Karela and Milk in this one is not for the faint hearted.
Beguni was served next and I took a bite, only to have an oil explosion in my mouth. The perfect combo for it is with the rice and Masoor Dal. Once mixed together, the Beguni just becomes one with the rice and dal. I could have had it all night long and not be full. All Begunis were fried at a Live counter and came to the table piping hot.
Vegetable Chorchori is another effort from the mothers to include veggies in the Bengali food. The main bit being the addition of a quintessential Bengali food masala – Panch Poran, which consists of equal parts of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and onion seeds.
I have a love hate relationship with the jhols. I love the jhols, but then hate the fact that I cannot remove all the fish kaanta. And this is a hurdle in me enjoying the meal. Rui Macher Jhal and Macher Kalia would both need my full attention while eating. Both the curries were amazing with one being thick and the other more watery.
I have always had to fight by Bengali friends that their biryani is not as good as the one in Hyderabad. But here the biryani was from the Eastern region, Mirpur Mutton Biryani. This was a lot spicier than the usual bong biryani. Also not as dry, but the aaloo was there and it was as flavourful as always. The mutton is what stood out in the Biryani, cooked to be melting.
A Bengali food fest is incomplete without some hard hitting sweets. The Mishti Doi pot was calling out to me ever since I sat down for the meal. And it was worth the wait. The Kalajamun is like an extra fried version of Gulab Jamun, so a little harder but amazing nonetheless. Other sweets on offer were Rasmalai, Sandesh,
Going by the verdict on the table, it is as authentic as Bengali Food can get in a restaurant.
Where – Cafe Cilantro, Deccan Serai
When – Till 30th November
How much – 449 ++