The Bengali food festival at The Grand has all the essentials of Bengali cuisine

The auspicious Pôhela Boishakh, marking the first day of the Bengali calendar, brings with itself new beginnings, festivity and delight. And what better way to start a new year than some savoury Bengali fare complete with Rabindra Sangeet playing in the background?

The Grand Hotel, Vasant Kunj is hosting a Bengali food festival at its Indian restaurant Caraway, in association with the Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal, till April 21. Perfectly justifying its name, the restaurant is Indian in its soul. A beautiful spherical setting looked upon by a dome shaped roof, completes the ambience. Prominent use of teak wood accentuated with black marble gives this place an understated contemporary feel.

You will know the theme is Bengali as you enter the restaurant, where you are greeted by traditional kurta-clad attendants, terracotta decoratives and Rabindra Sangeet. We chose to sit on the elevated level of the floor where we were offered a choice for our welcome drink – the ghol or the aam pora sharbat. A clear choice it was, the ghol is undoubtedly the best form of buttermilk I have ever had.

Proceeding with our starters, the posta bora (crispy fried poppy seed cake with kasundi) emerged as the winner from among others like the begun bhaja and mochar chop. For non-vegetarians, the rui macher patisapta made with rohu fish is a great start to a wholesome Bengali meal. Dominated by fish, rice and the ubiquitous, tantalising aroma of mustard, Bengali cuisine surprisingly derives influences from diverse cultures such as the Mughal and the British, while the Jewish contribution (in the bakeries) is undeniably prominent. Bengali chef Paresh Datta explained how each ingredient is important to the making of a delicate yet flavourful Bengali cuisine and suggested we try bite-sized portions of everything on the main course list.

Upon being served, I liked the fact that the attendants ensured a fair length of break between the two courses of meals. For the main course we were served traditional Bengali thalis, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. A delightfully colourful platter full with all the unusual vegetables made for a perfect “shubho noboborsho”. Paired with a freshly made radha ballabi, dishes like shukto, enchorer dalna and koduli puspo ghonto grew dear to my heart (or should I stay stomach!)

The non-vegetarian thali boasted some best-in-class bhapa ilish — a dish where the hilsa fish is fried in yoghurt mustard sauce, the bhekti paturi — steamed bhetki fish wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked with coconut and mustard and chingri malai curry and posto murgi, accompanied by kaju kishmish pulao. Trying not to be biased for the hilsa, but the bhapa ilish deserves to be celebrated.

Like all endings, ours was also a happy, sweet note – with sandesh and chana payesh!

Thalis cost Rs. 1795 and 1995 (excluding taxes), for vegetarian and non-vegetarian, respectively.

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