St. Mark's Hotel has turned out a fine food fest at its Indian Pavilion restaurant to capture the spirit of the season
The Dasara celebrations continue at the St. Mark's Hotel with the Bengali Food Festival. The fest, on till October 15, offers authentic Bengali cuisine at its Indian Pavilion restaurant. The buffet transports diners to the land of maachh, bhaat, rasogolla and sondesh and efforts have been put in to provide the ambience by imaginative use of Bengal cotton saris and silks along with handmade bags as wall decorations. The buffet is placed in the centre of the dining area and offers the quintessential Bengali food - fish, rice, dhal and plenty of sweets. There is also chicken, crabs and meat sharing space with Bengali fare. After the welcome drink it was time to get down to the food. Except for the tangy jhal mudi (like bhel puri - but the one served at the hotel had the regular kadlepuri and not the Bengali brown puffed rice - everything else had a sweetish tinge."That's because sugar is added to every dish, said Prashanth Das, Captain for the evening.The specialty of Bengali cooking is the use of mustard oil along with panch phoron (the five basic spices of jeera, kalaunji, saunf, fenugreek and mustard seeds), which are all ground into a paste on the stone so as to coax out the authentic flavour. "Even the onions and tomatoes are ground into a paste. Nothing is used in the cut or diced format for the gravy," added Das.It's believed to be auspicious to start a meal with shukto, a mixed vegetable dish that includes bitter gourd, all diced and cooked in mustard and panch phoron. "A Bengali meal begins with bitter vegetables, followed by dal accompanied by fritters of fish and vegetables. Then comes the vegetable curry followed by fish jhol (a thin stew). After this one the meal progresses to fish and meat," informed Das. And so began the journey of discovering the spices with the eastern flavour and it was a revelation to note how subtle the sweet was and how overbearing the mustard flavour was in some of the dishes. Pity we missed the shukto but everything else was eaten as per the Bengali tradition. Must say the meat cooked with the five spices and a dash of sugar was simply a scrumptious. For the vegetarian there is the aloo posto, aloor dom and chhanaar dalna (thick chunks of paneer cooked in a gravy) to name a few.But to eat the bhappa ilish (hilsa fish, loaded with tiny bones) steamed with oil and spices in mustard sauce and oil was the breaking point in the meal.That was when one was forced to abandon the elegant cutlery and eat like a true Indian with one's hands. Dessert, for which we had hardly reserved any place, was really sinful to indulge in. There were so many sweets artistically arranged, but we had eyes only for the mishti dohi, the ubiquitous rasogolla and kheer, which magically went down our gullet! Knowing the Bengali love for paan, one was disappointed the hotel, which took has diligently presented Bengali cuisine, should leave out this finishing touch. The buffet is on from 7.30 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. till October 15. On Sunday it is open for lunch also.St. Mark's can be contacted on 22279090.SHILPA SEBASTIAN R.