The Bengali food fest, at The Dream Hotel, promises to be a culinary discovery

Say ‘authentic' cuisine, from whichever part of the planet or the universe for that matter, this ‘one' gets goosebumps. All those hybrid and unidentifiable ‘dishes' assault the senses and therefore it is with trepidation that one approaches an ‘authentic' food festival.

At the Dream Hotel we were in for a surprise, thankfully of the pleasant kind too. Keshia is playing host to the food fete, ‘Bengali Thali'. We were introduced to the nuances of Bangla cusine by Kevin Wilkins, the F&B manager, the best person for the job. Why? Because he belongs to Kolkata, simple! There is a technique, a protocol to approaching food. After all we are talking about food of the connoisseurs.

The thalis arrived. I for one was expecting a steel thali and the proverbial half-a-dozen katoris. This was a day of surprises. The meal was a thali meal but it was not. Our food arrived in white porcelain plate and white porcelain bowls. Our plate was full, literally.

Sitting pretty on the plate were rice, luchis, chops, pappad, some greens predominated by a very green chilli which are common for the vegetarians and the ‘nons'. The chops are different, there was mangsher chop (crumb fried spiced lamb) and vegetable chop (ditto as before only vegetarian). The ‘chops' are plumper, denser cutlets and filling as they are. We are told that the typical way of starting the proceedings is first eating the papad by dipping it in a combination of mango and dates which tastes sweeter than the date pickle we get with biriyani.

The next ‘course' was Begun Bhaja (pan-fried aubergine marinated in spices) something like our ‘mezhukkupuratti' before the era of ‘masalas' (courtesy ‘margin free' and super markets). The vegetarian thali (Rs. 550) came with the subtle paneer malai curry (cottage cheese cooked with coconut milk), masoor dal, a mixed vegetable curry and an aromatic dish made of raw banana (‘raw banana' dum, aloo dum's cousin?). The non-vegetarian thali (Rs.650) is a veritable feast for the meat lover. There was ‘Macher Paturi' (fish marinated in mustard, turmeric, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed) which is something like our ‘Meen Pollichathu', ‘Bati Jhingri' (prawn cooked in onion gravy), a chicken curry and ‘Kosha Mangsho' (lamb cooked in spices). The ‘Macher paturi' was the winner, hands down. No fishy taste or smell and the mustard infused marinade just enhanced the flavours.

It was one culinary experience. The food was the culinary equivalent of ‘breath of fresh air'. Spices there were, but never spicy or oily for that matter. One could taste the subtle flavours of the spices – clove, cardamom, bay leaf etc and taste the food. The food was nuanced almost delicate, the aroma of the food was satiating. Even the chops, laced as they were with the heavy spices and therefore the flavours, it was not jarring. Probably this what they mean when they talk about flavours tangoing!

To round off the meal there is ‘payesh', yes, our ‘paalpayasam'. Actually like ours only that the rice is not cooked to the consistency it is in our version, it is a treat nevertheless.

It was as if someone had wished us (and meant) ‘bon appétit'. The food fest concludes on July 14.

Keywords: Bengali food

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