Pulao, fish, vegetables and an array of milk-based sweets, the Bengali food festival is a cornucopia of must-haves

Think mustard oil, think Bengali food. Next, take in the sharp aroma that rises from tempering the five seasonings—mustard, cumin, fennel, bay leaf and dried red chillies—in smoking, hot mustard oil. The magic of Bengali food lies in there, says Chef Mrityunjoy Mukherjee, who is bringing to the city a Bengali food fest at Hotel Casino. It is a first for the hotel and the chef declares excitedly, tumi kemon accho Kochi, (How are you Kochi?). It is also the name of the festival.

Common factors

He is excited at the prospect of serving diners with food from a state which shares many common things with Kerala. Ideology apart, he says it is fish and rice that is common to both. An almost emotional bonding! But then there are many differences too, he adds. He is set to present fish in a totally different avatar to guests and he is enjoying every bit of the challenge.

Bengalis almost always deep fry the fish before using it in a curry. They generally do not skin the fish and savour the hide, it’s river or sweet or brackish water fish that they enjoy and the basic marinade used is turmeric and salt. Fish is a religion for Bengalis; it is considered auspicious and is offered and served as ‘prasad’ during Puja. It is had at all meals, everyday, on special occasions and that buying fish is a ritual for a Bengali, informs the chef.

Varieties of fish

Rohu, hilsa, bekti, rawas, jhinga are some of the varieties that are mainly used in cooking. Some of the absolute musts, the specialities, at the fest are the dohi mach—fish cooked in curd, dab chingri—prawns baked in tender coconut.

But then it is not all fish.

Mutton too is cooked with as much passion. The chef says that the liver pulao is a speciality. Another little nugget of information the chef imparts is that there is no biriyani in Bengali cuisine, but rice is cooked as pulao, meaning without dum.

Vegetarian specials

The vegetarian platter too is special and big. One of the famous Bengali vegetarian dishes is the aloo-posto or potatoes with poppy seeds. Poppy seeds must always be ground with a little ginger and green chillies to remove the bitterness, says the chef, sharing a tip. Jackfruit is another common love and its curry version is on the menu. We do use coconut, says the chef, but sparingly. For the Bengalis the garam masala is a spice roasted and ground mix of just three spices—cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.

Bengali cuisine is all about fish and sweets is the general notion. “Yes, mithai is a weakness for Bengalis, says the chef, who, by now has warmed up and is all smiles, after taking one through the elaborate menu he has planned with love and care. He is almost showing off the goodness of a menu that he feels so far has not got its due, worldwide.

“Yes, yes there are fresh rosogullas,” he says, but this time the chef has innovated. There is masala rosogulla. I have dunked rosogulla in beaten, spiced curd; he says nodding at the disbelief on my face. It is a must try, a must try.

And the sweets

Bengali sweets are milk based so there are the regular sandesh, kalakand and lenghcha, the long black gulab jamuns. There is jalebi and malpua, the two hot favourites. But it is the misthi dohi, the sweetened curd that is the chef’s recommendation. It is a speciality and a Bengali signature dish.

The festival is on till October 28, at Tharavadu, Hotel Casino, for dinner.