Being a hardcore Bengali who grew up eating all the simple and complex Bengali flavours, an invite for food tasting at the Bong Connection Food Festival at Maya, Trident BKC, was really something that added an extra gleam to my eyes! And when I was informed that the person who is curating the festival is not only a Bengali but one of the most competent chefs in Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, I was curious to find out culinary secrets in the way Chef Gaurav Sircar rustles up Bengali delicacies. Honestly, I don’t prefer eating Bengali food outside. Only on occasions like Durga puja or Poila Boishakh (Bengali New Year), we eat out a Bengali meal. But the other day, AN and I tried out the Bengali fare at Bong Connection, Maya, for a change. I must say, this was one of the best Bengali meals that we have eaten in a Mumbai-based restaurant!
The décor was minimalistic and sophisticated. We loved the Bengali-style jute table mats, as well as the Terracota glasses and bowls. It surely gives you a feel of Kolkata. On each table, a beautiful mini dhunuchi is kept, which is decorated with minimalistic alpana (wet Rangoli used in Bengal) and filled with fragrant Rajanigandha flowers. These small, yet prominent elements connect with the theme and the mood perfectly. I would have loved the ambience even more, if I could hear Rabindra sangeet in the backdrop.
Three big traditional Mangalghats at the entrance of Maya: earthen pots with alpana decoration, topped with a daab (tender coconut) and resting on a kola pata (mango leaves) make the whole experience more festive with a touch of Bengali culture and festivities. I must mention here that the serving staff looked dapper with traditional Dhuti-panjabi and Laal-pede sari!
As I said, Bengali cuisine has simple and complex flavours. It is not easy to master a Bengali dish. It takes years of experience and attention to detail to understand the nuances in Bengali cooking. Even a simple Bengali stir-fry (Chocchori) has a dozen of factors that need to be learnt and practiced to make the dish perfect. The way Chef Gaurav has put together the Bengali dishes in the Bong Connection, really shows how passionate and proficient he is. Every dish that we ate there, had the perfect equilibrium of sweet, sour and spicy notes, apart from the fact that each dish was presented in an authentic Bengali way.
While we waited for the food, we could not resist the temptation of the Bengali chutneys lying on the table. Although, chutneys are always eaten at the end of a Bengali meal (and before the mishti or dessert course), probably this is the first time in our “grown-up” life that we slurped off the chutneys before the meal! There were the mustard-based kasundi, pineapple and raisin chutney, sweet and spicy tomato chutney and a green mango chutney that was just out of the world!
The first dish that came to the table was the British-influenced dish called Kobiraji. During the British rule, there were Bengali radhunis and khansamas (cooks) who made food for British officials. Obviously, these cooks did not know English at that time, so when the British ordered a “coverage” (a dish wrapped in an egg-based covering), the cooks mispronounced it as a “Kobiraji”, and eventually, Kobiraji became an immensely popular party dish. We loved the Chingri Macher Kobiraji. It was a delicious and plump stuffing of shrimps cooked to perfection. The coverage of eggs was just so delicious! The only issue that we disliked was that the Kobiraji was very oily. We are sure the chef will work on that!
In the appetizers, next up was the Hasher Dimer Devil, made with duck eggs. During the British rule, the Britishers taught Bengali cooks to make egg-based dishes like Scotch eggs and Devilled eggs. The Bengali cooks probably confused the names later, and there you are: Scotch eggs with a devilish name! The Hasher Dimer Devil was made with duck eggs, and I noticed that the outer covering was uniformly thick without any cracks. The minced chicken meat covering was tasty but little on the drier side. Overall, the devil was a good dish. We loved it with the kasundi condiment.
The Mangshor Chop was outstanding. It was a great blend of spices, well-balanced in the mutton-mince balls. The Mangshor Chop was crisp from outside and moist from inside. We enjoyed it with their kasundi and raw mango chutney.
Vegetarians, do try their Mochar Chop too. It is a vegetarian snack made with banana flower blossoms, cooked in a special way. Making Mochar Chop is a tedious process, but at the end, what you get is pure divine! They also have Beguni (crisp aubergine fritters), Posto bora (pan-fried poppy seeds and onion galettes) and Bengali fish fry (fried Bhetki with ginger and spice) in their appetizer menu.
In the main course, among others, there were Shorshe Ilish, Daab Chingri, Bhetki Macher Paturi, Kosha Mangsho and Kosha Alur Dom. We were offered Kosha Mangsho (lamb braised with red onions and aromatic spices) with Luchi (puffed Indian bread) first. The Kosha Mangsho was unbelievable. It was one of the best Kosha Mangsho dishes I have eaten in my life! The wonderful brown colour of melt-in-the-mouth mutton, slowly simmered in aromatic spices and tomatoes, speaks tons about the chef’s expertise. What we loved the most in this dish, was the slight sweetness that came out so well with the spicy mutton. The mutton pieces were perfectly butchered, with the bones hollow on both sides (the way the mutton is chopped for a meat-based dish is important, as this also has an impact on the flavour and look of the dish). Foodies, this is one dish that you must try for sure in the Bong Connection menu.
There were other interesting and popular main course entries. Bengalis love eating fish, so it is not surprising to see a variety of fish-based dishes in the menu. In the Bong Connection menu at Maya, Trident BKC, the Bhapa bagda, Kakrar jhal, Begun bodi diye pabda jhol and the Macher jhol are all revered Bengali dishes that are made with fish. Having said that, you must also try excellent vegetarian masterpieces from Bengal: Dhokar dalna, Jhinge bori posto, Shukto, Alu Phulkopir Dalna, Pur bhora Doi potol, Cholar dal narkel diye, Bhaja Muger dal and the Bengali bhaja platter.
Among the rice dishes, we chose the Kolkata Biryani. This biryani is unique because it has big chunks of potatoes, along with the mutton. Kolkata biryani has a light colour and aroma and if not cooked properly, it can taste bland. But here, Chef Gaurav will ensure that you get that perfect Kolkata biryani (with that indispensable piece of potato) which is just so delicious! I always love this biryani as it is not overboard with spices and hence, light and flavourful. Not a biryani-lover? Go for their aromatic, short-grained Gobindobhog rice or saffron-flavoured Basanti pulao. They do have Hinger kochuri and Parota too!
The Daab chingri was delicate and flavourful, with the soft coconut flesh married to the shrimp-based mustard gravy. It is best enjoyed with Gobindobhog rice.
We also tried the spicy Bhetki macher paturi: soft and deboned Bhetki fillets smeared with coconut and mustard pastes and wrapped in banana leaves before steaming. It was a good dish, too.
Bengalis love their mishti. They don’t mind eating their dessert in the breakfast, in between the meals, with the evening tea and of course, after their meals. At the Bong Connection, get to eat the foodgasmic Nolen gur shondesh ice cream that is so creamy and flavourful! This ice cream was made by smashing chenna-based Bong sweets called Shondesh: and the shondesh that are used for this ice cream are made with Nolen gur as a sweetener. Believe me, after eating a big portion of this dessert with extra serving of the prized liquid jaggery (Nolen gur), I felt like eating just this for the next few days. It was that good!
Although there were other desserts, such as Mishti Doi, Chenna platter and Payesh, we were happy Bengalis who just had their fill of the best things on Earth, and that included that Nolen gur shondesh ice cream and Kosha Mangsho for sure.
The Bong Connection Food Festival is on at Maya, Trident BKC till the 27th of November, 2015.
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