A profile of the delicious foods that outline the unforgettable pujo experience
Let’s forget about Covid-19 for a moment. Forget that we have to be wary of handshakes, high-fives and the kola-kuli (hugs). Forget that we won’t be heading to Maddox in pujor jama (new clothes on occasion of the puja) with our closest friends.
What says pujo for the quintessential Bangali?
Anjali and sari on Ashtami, pandal-hopping and food everyday.
The Bangali soul worships food, and more so during festivities. Durga Pujo, the greatest of all Bangali celebrations, naturally gives them the perfect excuse to binge on delectable sweets and savouries. From Arsalan er biriyani to chicken roll to kacha aamer chatni, Pujo is the season for gorging on Bengal’s best culinary offerings.
So, if you are looking to experience pujo without mingling in the quintessential pujo crowds, look into preparing or ordering in some of the following delicacies:-
What better to start the day than those crumbly, crispy, puffed circles of golden bread? If Ma or Thamma or even the rannar didi (cook) are around, they will probably pair these heavenly carbs with aloo bhaja (maybe with some cauliflower thrown in), aloo r dom, or chola r dal. If you’re feeling adventurous, and you are sure you can save space in your stomach for the yummy platefuls coming the rest of the day, finish the meal with some mishti (sweets). Try dipping your steaming luchis in rosogolla r rosh (the sugary syrup in which rosogollas float) and let yourself be transported to heaven early in the morning.
Giant prawns, coconut milk, cashews, spices and voila! You can’t do pujo without a bowl of this glimmering prawn curry with a side of steaming, jhor-jhore bhaat (fresh, fluttery rice) . The creamy, coconut-y, cardamom and cinnamon flavoured gravy tastes like nothing short of divine when it touches the tongue.
This recipe was inspired by Malaysian or “Malay” cuisine, hence the name “malaikari.” Kerala and Goan cuisine feature unique variations on the same ingredients and cooking style, but the Bengali version throws in the sizzle of freshly ground mustard oil and a generous dollop of ghee.
Bangalis don’t need an excuse for kosha mangsho-bhaat (mutton curry and rice). Sundays are incomplete without this iconic combination of bhaat and mangsho (followed by mishti, of course). But during pujo, the kosha mangsho is spicier, the aloo pieces are larger and more helpings are offered. Usually, festive kosha mangsho uses mutton, but as every Bengali child will swear, the phoron (spice mix) of our mother’s magical hands can transform even the so-called tame chicken into a feast worthy of the gods. Since pujo feasts usually consist of both fish and meat, it would be a good idea to gorge on kosha mangsho (chicken curry) right after you’ve been uplifted by the malaikari mentioned earlier.
And, of course, don’t forget to keep that Gelusil handy.
You’re done with lunch, you’ve had your bhaat-ghum (post lunch nap) and now it’s time to think of evening snacks. Ask any Bangali (even probashis i.e., those living abroad) and they will answer in unison: egg roll!
Can you blame them? This deep fried delight hits all the right taste spots. Crispy fried paratha (bread eaten with Indian meals) with a perfectly fried egg on top (two eggs, if you’re a double deem fan), slathered with sauces (or, for the minimalists, lebu-noon-lonka or lemon-salt-chilli) and rolled up with thinly sliced veggies. Wrapped expertly with a paper casing, this taste bomb is a fixture in pujo-related culinary memories. Really, what else can anyone snack on when walking between pandals?
Another genius take on the humble paratha makes for an excellent evening snack, especially since no one is counting calories during pujo. This deep-fried delight is stuffed with minced meat, slathered with a layer of egg and set to sizzling oil. Often served with a side of aloo curry, sliced onions,a couple smears of ketchup and chilli sauce. With a plateful of these flaky, crunchy bites, every pujo evening is made perfectly memorable.
This might be a little difficult to put together if you are confining yourself indoors during Pujo (as you probably should), but turns out many neighborhood pujos are planning to deliver bhog to their locality. If you’re lucky enough to be near such a pujo, don’t pass it up.
The typical bhog consists of khichuri, labda, bhaja and some mishti(sweets). However, since Maha Ashtami is one of the most important days of the festival, expect the bhog to be richer. Your plate will probably greet you with luchi, pulao, paanch bhaja (stir fry of five vegetables), aloo/paneer curry, chutney and mishti. The bhog is said to carry divine blessings as it is dedicated to the Goddess and served as a form of prasad (divine offerings).
Ashtami r bhog (lunch served on Ashtami) is a cherished memory for most Bengalis. Lining up near pandals on sunny October afternoons for a plate of bhog is a highlight of every single pujo. And thanks to the generosity of pujo organisers’ delivery plans, you won’t have to miss out on reliving a beautiful memory.
No pujo is complete without platefuls of Kolkata biryani. Bangalis do not consider biryani worthy of the name without a massive, tender aloo (potato) and a glistening boiled egg, sitting among a heap of lightly fragrant rice.
Of course, nothing beats the biryani from Arsalan (we’re talking the original outlet at Park Circus, Kolkata), but pujo crowds make it almost impossible to get a seat. Even takeout lines tend to stretch for hours. This socially distanced pujo, Arsalan will probably be overwhelmed with delivery order, so make sure you order yours as early as possible. After all, nothing beats biriyani as the perfect dinner to end the day.
Let’s be honest: in an article about Durga Pujo deliciousness, mishti hasto be the guest of honour. Bangalis and mishti make for a more enduring love story than anything Shakespeare ever came up with. We’re not just talking about Rosogolla and Sandesh (though obviously no self-respecting Bangali can live without those), but the equally delicious Kalakand, Malpua, Mishti Doi, Pantua, Amriti, Langcha, Chanar Jilipi and, well, the list doesn’t exactly have an end.
No matter the meal, finish it with a heartening helping of mishti. Like we mentioned before, pujo is not the time to count calories, so fill up on the sugary scrumptiousness from Shashti to Dashami.
If you’re celebrating Durga Pujo in Kolkata, you know that the dishes mentioned here only scratch the surface of what the city has to offer. Think of this list as the essentials, foods you cannot afford to miss out on during these auspicious days. Let yourself free, and binge to your heart’s content. But keep an eye on safety and hygiene, and don’t forget to be extra careful about sanitization practices.
With that said, start eating and give your stomach a Happy Pujo!