For gastronomes who love Bengali food, the iconic Aaheli in Kolkata is a familiar name for sure. Aaheli is a popular restaurant in Kolkata for authentic Bengali fare. Aaheli is one of the first Bengali cultured restaurants in India by The Peerless Inn, Kolkata. Tasting Aaheli’s dishes right here in Mumbai has been made possible by Jamavar, The Leela Mumbai, where the Aaheli popup has begun from 28th January. The festival is on till 10th February for dinner only.
At Aaheli’s third popup in Mumbai, each Bengali dish is served with love and authenticity: thanks to the use of fresh ingredients and freshly ground spices, which intensify a dish both in flavour and aroma. The flavours of Bengal come alive in each dish, made under the careful supervision of Chef Hafiz.
As we settle down with some light Adda (chitchat), which soon intensifies into whether the Phuchka in Bengal is a better version of the Mumbai’s Pani Puri or not, we pamper our ears with melodious and nostalgic Bengali music playing in the background. As we watch the graceful Bengali red-n-white-sari-clad staff lighting the Prodeep (lamp) and arranging flowers all around it, we try the Aam Pora Shorbot, which has a light, smokey flavour and is perfectly sweet and sour. The roasted cumin powder in it just adds magic. Other drinks include Sugandhi Lebur Shorbot (lemonade made with Gondhoraaj lemons), Dugdho Manthon (a light yogurt-water drink which is also called Ghol) and Kochi Daab er Jall (tender coconut water).
Contrary to what people think, Bengali cuisine has a vast array of vegetarian dishes, cooked in either homemade ghee or mustard oil. These are called Niramish Khabaar (vegetarian dishes) and are generally eaten before the non-vegetarian dishes. So if you are a vegetarian foodie and want to try out good Bengali food in Mumbai, head to Jamavar in The Leela, where they have sumptuous vegetarian Bengali appetizers like Mochar Chop, Piyaz Postor Bora and Chanar Patisapta. While the Mochar Chop is made with banana blossoms and deep-fried, the Piyaz Postor Bora is made with poppy seeds and onions.
We liked the appetizers, but noticed that two dishes could have been better. The Mochar Chop needed more Mocha or banana blossoms in it and the Piyaz Postor Bora didn’t taste much of Posto or poppy seeds and also lacked the texture of coarsely ground poppy seeds. Apart from these two dishes in the entire spread, each dish is excellent in its own right. For instance, the Chanar Patisapta is a well-made savoury version of the traditional sweet Patisapta or Bengali dessert crepes. The savoury Patisapta with a lightly spiced, soft paneer filling is very flavourful indeed! For the fish-lovers out there, they have Rui Macher Patishapta too, made with a filling of Rohu or Rui, a sweet-water fish.
Isn’t the appetizer plate (shown above) really tempting? The Tawa Pomfret is truly a very delicately flavoured dish. Although not an actual Bengali dish, but it has overall Bengali flavours owing to the use of Bengali spices. That’s why we love it. And if you are a fan of the commonly eaten Bengali fish like Rohu, Katla or Bhetki, then do try the Pur Bhota Bhetki instead, which is made with Bhetki fish, stuffed and deep-fried. The Much Muchie Murgi is a very interesting appetizer: made with chicken supreme marinated with a killer combination of Kasundi and green chilles. The chicken is then crisp-fried to perfection. Our favourite among the non-vegetarian or Amish appetizers is the Chatakdari Jalpori, made with subtly spiced and deep-fried, succulent jumbo prawns.
The giant Bengali thali in the main course is a delight! Each dish is made with care and perfected with expert hands. The balance of spices in each dish translates into pure melody to the tastebuds. Whether it is the Kalyani Begun (a vegetarian delicacy of baby brinjals stuffed with Bengali spices and cooked in a mustard gravy) or the brilliant dish called Bhapa Chanar Utsab (homemade cottage cheese dumplings cooked in a yellow saffron-based gravy), it leaves me spellbound to see such interesting innovation with Bengali vegetarian-food preparations. However, I am not too happy with the Dhokar Dalna: I guess the chef needs to revisit on the ratio and the kinds of the lentils used to make this vegetarian dish. I prefer the widely used 1:1 ratio of Matar Dal and Cholar Dal.
The most amazing dish in the entire spread is the mesmerizing dish called Bati Chingri. Big-sized prawns cooked in a flavourful combination of onion, chillies and mustard, taste outstanding in this dish! The Bati Chingri at the Aaheli popup is a must-try. And if you are a fan of the popular Bengali prawn preparation called Chingri Malai Curry, the humble Macher Jhol or a good Daab Chingri, then they have those too!
Being an Ilish-lover, I would have loved to try their Dumrogandhi Ilish, which is boneless Hilsa or Ilish cooked in pungent mustard oil. Or, the healthy Ilish Bhapa for that matter. But hey, the evergreen and much-celebrated Chirantani Chitol Muithha is there in the menu, too, and I would love to visit Jamavar again only to try these three wonders from Bengal.
The whole main course Bengali Thali or Thala at Jamavar’s Aaheli popup looks like a meal befitting a king! The Suravi Polao in the centre is slightly sweet and dotted with dry fruits, raisins, peas and cauliflower. It goes well with all the dishes in the menu.
Clockwise from left: Dhokaar Dalna, Kalyani Begun, Bhapa Chanar Utsab, Peyaj Aaloo Posto, Shona Moong Daal, Peyaj Aaloo Posto again, Kosha Mangsho, Swadey Khasha Murgi and Bati Chingri. In the centre: Suravi Polao.
The Swadey Khasha Murgi is the chef’s grandmother’s chicken recipe, where succulent chicken pieces are cooked in a medium-spicy gravy. The Kosha Mangsho, on the other hand, is a brownish mutton curry that is a mind-blowing experience when had with Luchi or Polau.
No Bengali meal is ever complete without scrumptious Bengali sweets. And if it happens to be winter season, you definitely expect sweets made with Nolen Gur or the aromatic date-palm jaggery. The above Bengali dessert platter is such a comforting end to this fabulous Bengali meal! Whether it is the Monoloba Malpoaa (top), Sandesh (centre) or the Gur er Rajbhog (right): each tastes out of the world.
Our favourite has to be this Gur er Rajbhog, which is one of the best mishti here! Made with Nolen Gur, it is irresistible. There are Mishti Doi and Paramanno or Paayesh, in case you are still hungry for more!
The Aaheli Bengali popup at The Leela Mumbai is a wonderful attempt to celebrate Bengali cuisine with the Mumbaikars. With only a few choices of good Bengali food in Mumbai, the Aaheli popup is definitely a welcome change for all Bengali food connoisseurs. The food is of the highest quality. The waft of Bengali spices combined with the Bengali ambience created with melodious Bengali songs and flowers all around will collectively leave you feeling like a Bengali Zamindaar being pampered with a hearty Bengali king-sized meal. The Aaheli popup at The Leela Mumbai is truly a culinary tribute to the fine art of Bengali cuisine.
The festival is on from 29th January to 10th February, 2019, only for dinner.
For reservations: 022-6691-1350/51
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