Feast and not meal, is what you will be served up at Iti Misra's Bengali pop-up by Bengaluru Oota Company. Called Bangla Bhojo, the food, served and to be savoured course by course - catch any self-respecting Bengali doing otherwise - is a blend of vegetarian dishes, meat, chicken and of course, fish. It ends with chutney and sweets.
Misra, home chef and food critic based in Kolkata. has used a mix of recipes - some well-known and some authentic heirloom recipes that aren't commonly found in restaurants - to take you on a culinary journey through Bengal.
Although Bengali cuisine is perceived all about meat and fish, maybe justifiably, their food is also richly vegetarian and that is integral to Iti Misra's Bengali Pop Up.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the shukto, with which we started our meal (after a glass of aam panna). A combination of usually five vegetables like drumstick, bitter gourd, potato, raw bananas and brinjal - this dish mixes sweet, savoury and bitter flavours - with a dash of mustard and was served with the aromatic and bursting with flavour Gobindobhog rice (much-loved in Bengal) that is drizzled with ghee. (The closest equivalent of this dish in South Indian cuisine would be avial.)
This was followed by the Lau Ghonto, bottle gourd that is cooked in milk and topped with fried bodis - the softness of the gourd and the crisp bodis provide a welcoming textural balance, with the sharp hit of red chillies. Having spent close to two decades of my life in Kolkata, I firmly believe that few things are as delicious as a comforting Bengali dal and rice combo -and this is exactly what the Torkari Dal - roasted moong dal with cauliflower and green peas - and Gobindobhog delivered. Of course, with a dash of Gondhoraj Lebu (traditional limes of Bengal). Shockingly, I had never eaten a Narkoler Boda during my Kolkata days (my South Indian roots meant I naturally gravitated to the masala vadas), but Misra's deep-fried coconut fritters more than made up for the miss.
Taking a break from the vegetarian onslaught, we were served the Maaccher jhoori bhaja. One of Misra's specialities, this dish is a mix of golden fried crumbled fish, with onions, peanuts, garlic and red chillies and is a just a feast of textures and tastes.
Two more vegetarian dishes followed - the raita-ish Doi Begun, in which pieces of fried eggplant swim in tempered yoghurt and the Dhoknar Dalna, created by the Bengali widows, who weren't allowed to eat meat, onions or garlic. This dish, like the Shukto is one of the proud pillars of Niramish (vegetarian) Bengali cooking. Lentil cakes - which require a fair bit of technique and effort to make - come in a lightly spiced gravy, their texture very much similar to meat, hence described as 'faux meat', by Misra in the menu.
I scarcely had room in my stomach for any more food, but it was now time for the stars of Bengali cuisine to make their much-awaited appearance. A hush fell around the table as aromatic pieces of fish - the Bhekti Kasundi - were served. Misra's twist, to this popular fish curry, is that she uses Bengali Kasundi, a mustard sauce with hints of raw mango, rather than regular mustard. A spoonful of kasundi, is in impact, akin to Japanese wasabi, but Misra has used it carefully, its tang in the gravy and the fish, combining wonderfully with rice. And then of course, my favourite, the Mangshor Jhol. If there was ever comfort food, this is it, falling-from-the bone meat, spicy gravy, chunks of potato and rice - we were in comfort-food heaven.
Photo: Travelling Spoon
A food-induced stupor was almost upon me, but I stayed awake long enough to try a bit of the resembling-plastic-sheets in appearance tangy green papaya chutney (appropriately called Plastic Chutney), with papad and of course the traditional Bengali dessert of Nolen Gurer Payesh. A feast for the senses and the soul.
Where and When: The Bangla Bhojon pop-up by Iti Misra will be at the Bengaluru Oota Company on Saturday, 2nd September (1 pm onwards for inch, and 8 pm onwards for dinner) and Sunday, 3rd September (1 pm onwards for lunch). It will be community-style dining and prior reservation is required.
Price: INR 1700/person (excluding taxes)
Contact: +91 9448302628 or the Bengaluru Oota Company website to book online.