When paturi gets a makeover

At Puducherry’s Coromandel Café, Chef Jay Adams uses local produce to create languorous Bengal-inspired meals with her signature hot pink streak

In the French quarter of Puducherry, a British chef is using local produce to create Bengal-inspired food.

“I wouldn’t call it Bengali,” says Chef Jay Adams, with a nervous laugh. “I would get into trouble... But it is an exciting project, using those flavours with locally grown ingredients. It is something different for Pondy, and is drawing a fresh audience to the café.”

It all began when home cook and food consultant, Kolkata-based Iti Misra, collaborated with the team to create a menu for Durga Puja, in early October.

At Coromandel Cafe, amidst the cheery buzz, weekend-trippers in shorts and suntans are scarfing down Iti’s spicy fish rolls dipped in kasundi, along with Jay’s signature pink tagliatelle.

When paturi gets a makeover

Iti, who has a graceful energy that fits in comfortably with the restaurant’s elegant setting, discusses the challenges of creating a Bengali pop-up in a European café ambience, over large butterflied prawn fritters served with a tangy pomelo and cucumber salad. Instead of an elaborate course-by-course menu, Iti says they decided to create a short, versatile set of dishes that work for lunch, dinner and cocktail evenings.

The result: reinterpretations of languorous Bengali meals, each thoughtfully curated, often with modern tweaks. “I picked dishes that were typically Bengali, but also could be interpreted for this more Westernised space,” says Iti. So she avoided fish with bones and highly spiced curries, for example, focussing instead on highlighting the intricacies of traditional flavours and juxtaposing them with local produce, to create a modern menu with an authentic Bengali heart.

When paturi gets a makeover

The spinach luchis, for example, came with a rich cholar dal, spicy baby potatoes, fried eggplant and a tamarind glaze. More traditional dishes included a prawn malai curry served with saffron pulao. And kosha mangsho with flaky parathas.

Of course, there was Kolkata’s favourite fish paturi, wrapped in a banana leaf, and served with crisp okra. And to snack on, banana flower rissoles with a powerfully fragrant smoked eggplant purée infused with mustard oil.

Now that the pop-up is over, Jay and her team are reworking some of these dishes to fit them into the regular menu. It helps that Jay is a fan of the cuisine. “I worked with Bengali chefs in the Andamans and immediately loved their food. Even something as simple as aubergines in mustard oil... I had never seen mustard oil before. It is such a unique flavour,” she says, adding that kasundi is another favourite.

Homage to pink

Iti’s kosha mangsho stays on the menu, unaltered. The okra is now a “Japanese-style crispy fried bhindi with beet pickled onions”. There is a light cornflour batter to emphasise crispness, and a cheeky thread of pink running through the menu.

The colour, a homage to the pink bungalow that Coromandel Cafe is housed in, is Jay’s signature and it resurfaces in the hot pink puris, bright with beetroot and served with spiced cauliflower. Iti’s sweet lime salad is now plated up like a garden, with green papaya, goat cheese and a hibiscus-lavender dressing topped with spicy lotus seeds.

There are fish rolls filled with creamy, lemony mousse. And poppy seed aloo chops with sweet-and-sour beet purée, tinted with red wine.

When paturi gets a makeover

In the kitchen, the restaurant’s Bengali cooks were both delighted and surprised to see dishes from home being celebrated in their Pondy-style café, known more for its banana French toast, steaks and fettuccine. “They were really happy and proud, and I loved seeing that,” says Jay. “They definitely took charge with this menu, and I got to take a slight back seat, which was nice. While continental food is a bit alien, this is from their roots.”

Though the Bengali chefs did cook intuitively, because they knew just how these dishes should taste, Iti says that they still required coaching. “Remember, these are the dishes that their mothers and aunts cook,” she says, adding, “Though they work in professional kitchens, they do not spend a lot of time in their own kitchens at home.”

Perhaps that will change. The enthusiastic response underlines the fact that Indian diners have a powerful, visceral response to food that is familiar, no matter which State it comes from. Good news for India’s many colourful, inventive micro cuisines.

Coromandel Cafe is at La Maison Rose, 8 Romain Rolland Street, White Town, Puducherry. Items from the new menu start rolling out from this weekend. Call 0413 2221100 for details.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 4:30:09 AM |

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