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Now, a festival celebrating food on the Goalondo Steamer

Chicken Pora

Chicken Pora   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The steamer connected parts of what was then undivided Bengal to Goalondo, where the Padma meets the Brahmaputra

Once in a while, I go all philosophical. Food, I tell myself (during these brief moments), is not just about eating; it’s also about delving deep into history. There are some people who do the digging for us — and I am always thankful to them for all that they bring to the table: not just food, but the stories behind it.

One tireless researcher is my friend Pritha Sen. When I first met her, many moons ago, I had heard that she was a good cook. But in the last many years, she has been going into the roots of food. One of her passions is the food served in the Goalondo Steamer.

The steamer connected parts of what was then undivided Bengal to Goalondo, where the Padma meets the Brahmaputra. Legend has it that the food on the steamer was superb. I remember my mother, who was from Faridpur in what is now Bangladesh, talking about the delicious curries that she had while travelling on the steamer. She may have been referring to the Goalondo fowl curry.

This curry — along with a host of other mouth-watering dishes — figures on Pritha’s menu that she has curated for a special festival at threesixyone°, at The Oberoi, Gurugram (on till October 20; about ₹3,000 per person). She oversees the cooking with the help of the Kolkata-based chef, Surojit Raut, and chef Manish of the hotel. And the menu includes some long-lost dishes or ingredients.

Fowl Curry

Fowl Curry   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Take the starters. We had something called Batabi Lebu Makha — pomelo salad, with the fruit tossed in mustard oil, rock salt and green chillies. Then we had a small portion of black rice and bamboo rice, mixed with hung curd and kasundi, a wonderfully heady mustard sauce. I loved the crunchiness of the rice, and the mildly tart taste. The bamboo plant flowered once in 12 years, and the villagers preserved the seeds for their nutritional value and had them during times of shortages.

Pan-fried Stuffed Teasel Gourd (kakrul in Bengali) followed, and then a small chop of black sesame seeds and steamed and spiced spinach puree on a coin-sized paratha. I was more interested in the non-vegetarian fare, and loved the Chonga Kebab, minced meat cooked in a hollowed bamboo section, a method that is followed in many parts of the northeast but has mostly disappeared from Bengal. There was Murgi Pora, a spiced piece of chicken wrapped and cooked in banana leaf. Pritha points out that the original recipe used goat meat. Even the Goalando fowl curry, now cooked with chicken, would have been prepared with something like duck or perhaps game birds once.

Aam Adaa Gondhoraj Sharbat

Aam Adaa Gondhoraj Sharbat   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The curry, by the way, was delicious — light, yet well-spiced, with an appetising red gravy. I enjoyed the lightly cooked Hussaini Kalia, too. This was lamb cooked on bamboo skewers with pearl onions and ginger, and dated back to the Hussain Shah Dynasty of the 15th and 16th century.

There was much more — sweet and sour baby brinjal, tawa roasted cabbage with mustard paste and coconut, a wonderfully light and tasty dish called Moricher Jhol (gourd stalks in a mildly tempered curry), pointed gourd cooked with a spice called radhuni, duck cooked with bamboo shoot and prawns in a gravy flavoured with coconut, cumin, pippali (a kind of pepper), mustard paste and tamarind. The bhetki flavored with fenugreek, coriander and garlic was outstanding — the curry was mild, and fish had soaked in the flavours of the gravy.

As always, Pritha’s food was more than just a meal: The table came laden with flavours and legends.

The writer is a seasoned food critic

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 11:00:59 AM |

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