Earlier this year I had transferred my blog from free platform to a paid WordPress platform with the aspirations to share my food experiences frequently. The decision was made while I was vacationing in the tranquil Majuli island in Assam and obviously, the peaceful surroundings motivated goals. Things, of course, changed when I returned and eventually got engulfed with work. Long story short, I did very little writing this year. Now that we are only a couple of days away from ending 2019, I want to at least preserve my memories of a few cherished experiences. The curated meal at Sayantani’s was one such event.
24th October 2019
3-4 days back there was a surprise message from Sayantani. “Alokeparna, I have invited Rhea to lunch. It would be lovely if you could join too!’ For me it was a double delight! I am an ardent admirer of Sayantani with whom I had interacted only on social media so far. She is a hard-working and well-known food blogger and home chef who is archiving old Bengali recipes as well as global recipes through her blog http://www.ahomemakersdiary.com. She is also actively promoting organic rice and other produce in association with ‘Amar khamar’ farmers. The opportunity to meet with her and Rhea (of Euphorea fame) and to taste Sayantani’s food was just too tempting and I said yes, of course, I would come. I must mention that I am a big fan of Rhea Mitra Dalal too, who runs a very well known Parsee food catering unit- Katy’s Kitchen, in Mumbai that she has inherited from her mother-in-law. She is also a blogger and has a strong fan following on social media. We were joined by two more surprise guests Priyadarshini Chatterjee, a well-known food writer and Soumyasree Chakraborty, a recipe archiver and one can imagine the tremendous adda we had about food over food! But for now, let’s focus on the scrumptious meal we were served.
The number of bowls around the kansha-r thala (traditional bell-metal plate) was overwhelming. Sayantani had cooked for us a variety of intricate dishes that originated from her birthplace Midnapore, a district in the state of West Bengal in India.
For the uninitiated, it’s better to explain that Bengali food from each district varies in taste and ingredients. Beyond the commercial and hyped Bengali food that is served in restaurants and star hotels, is the real and nuanced Bengali cuisine that relies heavily on the flavors of the vegetables or fish/meat rather than the spices. Midnapore has its unique food culture which people outside the region not much aware of. There are many amazing dishes and cooking styles which have evolved from this place. Some of the notable ones are “Maacher Tel Jhal” cooked in West Midnapore and “Maacher Tok”, a spicy and tangy dish prepared by using dried mangoes or raw mangoes with the fish which is cooked in the East Midnapore. Another famous and very unique dish is the “Posto Bati” or steamed posto which is quite different from the usual “Posto Bata” or posto paste (poppy seeds paste )which everyone else in Bengal knows about.
Coming back to the lunch at Sayantani’s place, we started with mulo bata (radish paste) that was a bhorta made with radish, mustard, chili, and coconut paste and additionally flavored with mustard oil and nigella seeds. On another day, I would have finished all the rice with mulo bata only! Never could imagine that radish could taste this great. By the way, rice was two kinds- red and white doodher shor and banshkathi- both were organic, unpolished rice and surely helped to elevate the tastes of the dishes that these accompanied!
With bhaja moong daal (lentils) there were 4 kinds of bhaja (fries)- Potato cubes with skins, brinjal, gohona bori (sun-dried ornamental lentil chunks) and last but not the least Pur bhora Kumro patar bawra or stuffed pumpkin leaf fritter that just won the heart. Gohona Bori or Nokshi Bori demands a bit more illustration as this rare food art is specific of only Eastern Midnapore. This local art was celebrated by luminaries like Rabindranath Tagore to Satyajit Ray and had become the pride of Bengal. Its production is still restricted to Midnapore and is available in Kolkata only through only a few cooperative organizations. Sayantani creates her own goyna boris in the winters- the only favorable weather for this fine art. Lentil paste is designed in the form of paisley or eye-catching ornamental designs like necklace, tiara, earrings or bracelets or lotus with the help of a cone. Animal motifs like elephant, butterfly, deer, peacock, fish or parrot are also not uncommon. The boris are directly formed on a bed of poppy seeds so that they don’t stick to the surfaces. You can read more on Sayantani’s blog including the recipe and techniques: http://www.ahomemakersdiary.com/2010/01/gayna-naksha-bori-sundried-lentil-paste.html
The daal was no ordinary daal either- it had shrimps and Malabar spinach with drumsticks in it and tasted wonderful. Next was ridge gourd cooked with milk and mustard aka potol jhinger doodh jhal. A bit tangy and very delightful!
There were 3 fish dishes. Chingri batichochhori ( a dry curry with prawn), rui macher tawk (fish in a tangy sauce made with mustard and aamchur/ dry mango) and shol macher mangshi ( a meat like dish made with the flesh of snakehead murrel fish). The last one I had for the first time and simply loved the taste.
We ended with fish roe chutney that was brilliant and of course such a grand meal must be wrapped up with desserts like shorbhaja, rajbhog, and mishti doi.
If someone asks me today what is good food memories, I would say this. It takes a culinary genius to take simple ingredients like mulo and jhinge and Kumro pata and so on and transform that into a memorable meal. I feel really blessed to be a part of it. Sayantani like a loving family member, served us while we ate and gently prodded to eat a bit more of this and that, making the experience all the more special. This touch of warmth is so missed in the modern day buffet style self-serving meals. Sayantani Mahapatra, take a bow! My respect for you has gone up several notches higher. I wish you more and more success because you deserve so!
Special Note: if you wish to try out the recipes, some of them are on Sayantani’s blog along with more such gorgeous recipes. http://www.ahomemakersdiary.com/
Special thanks to Rhea for letting me use some of the photos clicked by her. I was too engrossed in eating and missed clicking some of the dishes.