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True taste of Bengal

The eatery showcases the best of time-tested cuisine.

IF you're longing for a traditional Bengali meal, you could find it at an unusual location. At the bustling Shantinagar Nanjappa Circle end of Langford Road. That's where 36 Chowringhee Lane has existed for the past 11-odd months.

The brainchild of Subhrajyoti Dasgupta and his wife Dipanwita, it caters to all those who relish Bengali home cooking. As Rabindra Sangeet plays softly in the background and a pile of Desh and Sananda magazines rest on a side table, this unassuming eatery reveals its true flavours.

With freshwater fish flown in from Kolkata daily, the Bengali kitchen comes into its own. With an expert chef at the helm, each dish tastes as if Thakurma, with a bunch of keys over her shoulder, has personally cooked it.

Unusual option

Apart from a la carte choices, the Dasguptas have adapted traditional dishes to south India — by offering an unusual meal option. Such as rice, the dal of the day (moong, masoor or channa), vegetables (raw banana koftas/ banana flower curry/ spicy raw jackfruit, and so on), fried straw potatoes, and mango/ tomato chutney. The overall price depends on whether you opt to keep the meal vegetarian, or team it with rohu fish curry (Rs. 65/ meal), steamed hilsa (Bhapa Elish, Rs. 105) or even chicken kansha (Rs. 85).

If this glass-topped table and cane chair restaurant lacks ambience, it compensates with time-tested cuisine. Our sampler meal proved this, bite by irresistible bite. We chose plain rice and ghee rice (with cashewnuts and raisins) to enhance the traditional food.

The dishes exude authenticity. The bhekti gry packs aromatic fish fillets, rich with a ginger-onion marinade, within a crunchy, crumbed casing. Teamed with kasundi, the famed Bengali mustard sauce made ritually in season, the dish is unforgettable. So is the melting kanch kalar kofta, the spiced raw banana floating in a gravy rich with coriander and garam masala. And the begun shorshe, brinjal done to an exquisite tenderness in mustard paste. But fresh fish must be given pride of place, as any Bengali knows. The bhapa elish is superb, it's seasonal hilsa steamed to perfection, minimally spiced to release its very essence (an acquired taste, most admit). The delicate coconut gravy of the chingri malaikari offers plump morsels of prawn in the shell, with a subtle bouquet of mace. But what about the famed paturi, or fish steamed in banana leaf? We savour a bhekti variant, its spices mellow against the flaky fish. Definitely a dish to re-order many times over.

Does alternate non-veg dinner fare measure up? Beyond doubt, going by the murghier kansha, its chunky chicken coated with divine onion-rich gravy, with a hint of sweetness. Finally, we gave ourselves a digestive break with tangy, sweet-sour mango chutney, floating in pale syrup amidst plump raisins.

Cosmopolitan clientele

"In this cosmopolitan city, I'd like to have customers who aren't just Bengalis. After all, Bangaloreans order dosas one day, chow mein another, and so on," says Dasgupta. "I have local office-goers coming in to lunch on alu dum and radhaballabi (dal-stuffed puris). Some even insist on three servings of the pabda maach because it has but a single bone. Or the spicy aar jhaal (among fish delicacies)."

He's confident that 36 Chowringhee Lane is here to stay. Much like the movie by the same name. After all, didn't Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad and his wife walk in one evening, asking for authentic murighonto (fish head cooked with fragrant gobindobhog rice)? That's a memory Dasgupta still treasures.

36 Chowringhee Lane is at No. 1, Milkman Street, Langford Road, Shantinagar Nanjappa Circle, Near Hockey Stadium, Richmond Town, Bangalore 560 025. Phone: 51240979/ 98863-02578. Lunch: 11a.m. to 3p.m., Dinner: 7 to 10.30 p.m.

* * *

Ambience: Homely, unfussy

Service: A trifle slow

Wallet factor: Eminently affordable

Specials: Genuine Bengali fare, including mocha chingri, aarmach jhal, rui kalia, alu jhinge posto, echor dalna


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