Memoirs of Bengali food | Kolkata (West Bengal)

Paturi Bhetki, Ilish maach and Rice on a Banana Leaf
Paturi Bhetki, Ilish maach and Rice on a Banana Leaf, Bengali Food

Cleaning up is like treasure hunt. Every time I clean my cupboard I find a missing piece of clothing or when I change my bed covers I find a cushion cover that I thought I’d lost.

So this time, while I was organizing files in my laptop I found some old photos from my time in Kolkata as a student. These long lost photos brought back to life, so many memories from ‘the city of joy’.

Kolkata, as I fondly remember is a land where people travel to their workplace in slowtram, where having a chai (tea) is a leisurely activity and where people befriend each other at a fish market.

Few years back when I shifted to Kolkata, I barely knew anything about Bengalis except that they love to sing, write and eat. In my first journey to Kolkata in Rajdhani Express, I was served a Fish Chop in dinner. And thus began my affair with Bengali Maach.

As a North-Indian, people would assume that I wouldn’t think beyond Chicken or Mutton. However, I couldn’t wait to have fish in Bengal.

Initially I was having trouble in eating the food served in my Institute’s mess. I started feeling that I didn’t have the palate for fish. Though I was very happy eating Ghugni with Luchi, Pyaj Koli and Baigan Bhaja. But after two months, I got fed up of eating the same food everyday.

One day I was watching Television with a senior, a cricket crazy Bengali (Huge fan of Sourav Ganguly aka Dada). In all the excitement he said, if India wins I would treat you. Luck favored me and India won that match.

Few days later he took me to this compact but very famous place called ‘Bhojohori Manna’. Two more friends accompanied us. One of them had shifted to Kolkata few months back, just like me. Both of us weren’t used to eating Rice or fish everyday. Besides, we had a habit of eating rice with a spoon, much to the dismay of Bengalis.

My senior took charge of ordering the food for us and within no time it arrived on our table. It was Yellow Daal, Rice, Aloo bhaja, Dhokar Dalna (Vegetarian curry made with Besan cubes) and Paturi Bhetki (steamed fish). It goes without saying that green chillies, salt and a piece of lemon were also served along with it.

Daal, Aloo Bhaja, Dhokar Dalna, Paturi Bhetki and Rice @Bhojohori Manna
Daal, Aloo Bhaja, Dhokar Dalna, Paturi Bhetki and Rice @Bhojohori Manna

I started eating Daal and Rice with the Aloo bhaja and it was so much better than anything I’ve had so far. I was very excited to have Paturi Bhetki because it looked divine. The fragrance of fish coated with mustard and wrapped in banana leaves, was very inviting. I followed my senior and had it just the way he was eating it. Only difference was that I was using a spoon.

Paturi Bhetki@ Bhojohori Manna
Paturi Bhetki@ Bhojohori Manna

Then arrived the queen of all fish, ‘Ilish’. Now I didn’t know anything about it but it looked very tempting. I was about to poke it with my fork, when my senior politely asked me to use my hands. He warned me about the bones and told me that it would be one of my longest meals ever.

Although, my North-Indian friend and me, struggled with the bones and eating with our hands, nevertheless, we loved the taste and were mesmerized with the fish.We finished the food much after my Bengali Senior (every Bengali is a master with the bones).

Ilish Maach @Tero Parbon
Ilish Maach @Tero Parbon

The good thing about fish is that you don’t feel as stuffed after eating it, as you would feel after having chicken or mutton. Finally, we finished off the meal with Khajoor and Mango chutney, which was a great mix of sweet and sour. And trust me there is no better way to end a Bengali meal, but to eat that chutney.

After this meal, for the first time, I felt great love for Bengali food. And of course, I made some wonderful friends.

Thereon, I would regularly indulge in Khichuri with Maach Bhaja (rice cooked with spices and lentils with fish fry), Dum Aloo & Luchi, Rui Maach and Chicken curry with aloo (Potato) with much ease and great love.

Even though I don’t fancy sweets much, I would eat Bengali Sweets like Cham Cham (a sweet made out of cottage cheese), Payash (sweetened milk and rice) and everyone’s favorite Rosogolla.

Jhal Muri (Puffed rice with spices), Chur chur, Phuchkas (GolGappe), Deem toasts (egg toasts) became my favorite evening snacks.

Now with Pujo coming up, I know Kolkata must be buzzing with energy. People must be busy with shopping and preparing spices for meals. Kids must be practicing for their performances in Pandals. The Traffic police must be having a hard time at Gariahaat. Despite all the madness, this is the best time of the year for every Bengali.

When I was there, I would miss my North-Indian food. But after all these years, I really crave for a yummy Paturi Bhetki, at times. And going to Oh Calcutta won’t do the trick.

Such is the magic of Kolkata. The city slowly grows on you and once you embrace it, it embraces you back.

NOTE: Best places to eat Bengali Food in Kolkata :