Although luxury restaurants in Kolkata take traditional Bengali food very seriously, upscale restaurants in Kolkata are now digging more into rustic Bengali recipes and are giving them their own spin. The dine-out restaurants in Kolkata are now getting creative, innovating with evergreen Bong delicacies, like Topa Kuler Achaar, Chingri Macher Chatni, etc.
When I visit my homeland, I love to dine like Royalty at luxury restaurants in Kolkata. At the same time, I don’t leave Kolkata without tasting certain dishes made by my loved relatives. Among those dishes, my Dida’s (maternal grandmother’s) pickles are just mind-blowing! I remember the joy of eating her homemade sweet-n-sour Bengali pickle, called Topa Kuler Achaar, on summer afternoons, sitting on a guava tree branch, along with my cousins. As kids, we used to spend the entire summer vacation in my grandparents’ house, enjoying the fresh produce every day, hand-picked from their huge kitchen garden, fishing in the ponds inside the garden and sometimes, learning to climb trees and throwing the seeds of the topa kul berry pickle into the pond in order to create ripples!
Topa kul is a special kind of Indian ber, round in shape and tart in flavour. My grandparents still have a few Topa Kul shrubs in the garden and every year, these berries are sun-dried under the expert supervision of my grandmother herself. These sour berries are eaten as a sweet chutney or made into sweet-n-sour pickle, using jaggery as a base. At my grandparents’ house, it is eaten with doodh-bhaat (milk-rice) or the traditional fermented panta bhaat.
Topa Kuler Achaar
[The Bengali kul is called ber in Hindi. Sun-drying a bit before using them for pickling increases the shelf life of the pickle.]
Sun-dried ripe Topa Kul (sour ber): around 1.5 kg
Palm jaggery: 1 kg
Panch phoron (dry-roasted and coarsely ground): around 90 g
Dry red chillies (dry-roasted and coarsely ground): 8
Water: around 2 litres
Salt: 3 tsp
Soak the berries in water for 15 min to get rid of the dust in the skin. Remove the berries from water and keep aside.
In a kadhai, add the jaggery and water and let the mixture come to a rolling boil. Stir continuously and cook for 15 min. Strain this mixture through a fine cloth, so that all the impurities in the jaggery are removed. Transfer the filtered syrup back into the washed kadhai. Now add the berries, along with the salt, and keep cooking for atleast 20 min, or until the jaggery syrup thickens a bit. The pickle should not be dry.
At the end, switch off the gas and let this cool a bit. Add the coarsely ground panch phoron and dry red chillies. Stir well. Bottle the mixture when cool. Use within a month.