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At Kolkata's Kopai, get a taste of Tagore's family recipes

The Bengali factor: A look into the interiors of Kopai

The Bengali factor: A look into the interiors of Kopai  

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Get nostalgic at Kolkata’s Kopai, an eatery which serves dishes from Rabindranath Tagore’s family recipes

I haven’t holidayed in Santiniketan, though the university town has often figured on our list of must-visit year-end getaways. But I came pretty close to it during an extended food fiesta in Kolkata some days ago. I went to a restaurant called Kopai, which is the name of a river that flows past Tagore’s idyllic town. And I had quite a memorable meal there.

For folks who visit Kolkata, I write about occasional restaurants in the eastern megapolis. I love Kolkata for very many reasons, chief among which (apart from the fact that some of my dear friends live there), is its food. Kolkata is not squeamish about food. You get everything there: from pork and beef, to lamb and fish, to say nothing of greens and sweets. So, while in the city, I thought I would try out a restaurant that I had been reading about. I landed up there one fine afternoon, with friends and family.

Kopai is off Sarat Bose Road, near the locality’s post-office. It is a small place, with a basic but pleasing décor. The food is touted as Thakurbari’r ranna, essentially dishes that the Tagore family was known for. I could tell they had a mild ‘West Bengal’ touch. Food in Bengal is either ‘East Bengali’ or ‘West Bengali’, depending on who’s cooking it. The former is — largely — spicier; the latter has a bit of sugar in its gravies.

Dhokar dalna

Dhokar dalna  

We asked for a plate of begun bhaja (fried brinjal: ₹50), badaam jhurjhuri aloo bhaja (crispy fried potato with peanuts: ₹50), luchi (maida puris (₹80 for four), light masoor dal (₹70), chholar dal (channa dal: ₹90), shukto (a light vegetable mix: ₹90), dhokar dalna (steamed lentil cakes: ₹140), mutton curry (₹ 300), chingri malai curry (prawns in coconut milk: ₹250), rice and kacha aam (green mango) chutney (₹90). For desserts, we had mishti doi (₹50) and chhana bhollobhi (₹80).

I really enjoyed the food. The chholar dal was a bit sweet, but I don’t mind that any more. I enjoyed the masoor dal more, which was light and fragrant. We had the luchi with the fried brinjal, and the rice with the delicious wispy and crispy potato fritters. The shukto — a mélange of vegetables in a light, mildly bitter sauce — was rather nice and I loved the dhokar dalna, steamed lentil cakes in curry. I didn’t have the prawn, which I was told had been cooked just right, with coconut milk thickening the gravy. The mutton curry — the way it’s cooked at Bengali homes — was delicious. I was left licking my fingers.

The desserts were out of this world, too. I think the sweets of Kolkata are special because of the quality of the milk there. Most halwais use cow’s milk, and that, to my mind, makes all the difference to a sweet. The mishti doi wasn’t red, but white and creamy. The chana ballavi was a soft square of chhaina that had been fried brown and dipped in sugar syrup. And the mango chutney was a delectable mix of sweet and tart tastes.

There was a time when you couldn’t get Bengali food in Kolkata. Then, a women’s cooperative called Suruchi opened up, Peerless got known for its Bengali restaurant, and a well-known resident and feted cook opened a small eatery in her house. Now there are scores of Bengali restaurants in the city. I must go and visit some of the small dhabas that I have heard so much about. In these eateries — called Pice hotels — you get authentic, home-cooked Bengali food. It’s no coincidence that the word for food in Bengali is similar to that for news. The first is khabaar, the second is khobor. Ki khobor translates into ‘What news?’ and Ki khabaar, into ‘What food!’

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 2:10:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/back-to-bengal/article26744281.ece

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