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Teto to mishti. Wah!

Yes, we ate vegetarian at the Bengali food festival and yes, we had an absolutely smashing time

FOOD AND MUSIC: You're serenaded by a band even as you feast on the spread Photo: K. Gopinathan

The uninformed will refuse to believe that you can a) be Bengali and still be vegetarian and b) enjoy a perfectly delicious, satisfying and filling Bengali meal without non-vegetarian elements such as bhekti (fish).

But for hundreds of years, Bengali widows, reduced to the fringes of society and strict dietary regimen, had to make do with scraps from the kitchen. They were forced to improvise and substitute to create their meals, and what they finally came up with has contributed immensely to Bengali vegetarian fare.

Don't take just my word for it, here's IIT Delhi Professor Rukmini Bhaya Nair in a recent article in the journal Seminar: "...despite — or because of — the severe food restrictions placed on them, it may be that the widows of Bengal contributed in a subterranean but spectacular fashion to a certain distinctive congeries of delectable niramish or vegetarian cooking in Bengal."

So when we, staunch vegetarians, set off for the annual Bengali food festival at the Chancery which prides itself on its maach (fish), we had our heads held high. Every year, the Chancery draws out the probashi (foreign) Bangla community in Bangalore from its nooks and corners before it withdraws again only to resurface again at pujo time.

Predictably, the first day of the festival saw a completely full restaurant, not just to linger by the ample buffet spread but also to savour the tunes of the band Trinoyoni who will play requests too (so don't, please don't, ask for Kishore Kumar when you can have East Bengali folk songs).

Supriya's cookbook

The theme of this year's festival is a cookery book brought out by Anand Bazaar Patrika (ABP), called Benu di'r Ranna-Banna. It's a compilation of recipes devised by Benu di aka actor Supriya Choudhury with dishes named after those who savoured her cooking, most notably Uttam Kumar of course (hence Uttamer Priyo — Bhekti kantar chorchori) but also Kishore Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Begin the meal with some rasta fare: phuchkas or papdi chaat and the poda aamer sorbot which acts efficiently as an appetiser and then be off on a gastronomical journey through the many courses of authentic Bangla ranna (cooking), thanks to the two Bengali cooks flown down especially for the occasion.

The meal includes an equal number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Starters are chops and cutlets and then in true West Bengali style you can meander through the elaborate stages of the meal beginning with the teto (bitter flavour) and ending with the mishti (sweet flavour). There are classic items on the menu, such as chollar dal (narikal diye), panch mishaler ghonto and potoler dolma and which meal would be complete without the sweet chutneys (sorry, chaatnis); this one has aamer chutney and an especially tasty tomato khejurer chutney (tomato-carrot).

Accompanied by steaming luchis and cauliflower pulao, the meal begs for a break in between, to allow you a deep breath before you embark on the dishes comprising the grand finale — the mishti. Rounding off the sweet flavours of the meal are rice payash, malpua, rosogolla, ananda bhog and jelabi and these are surprisingly not as sweet as you would expect, making them a happy way to end what will have been a very indulgent meal.

The buffet is dinner only on weekdays and lunch and dinner over the weekends. On till April 24, call 22276767 for details.


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