Durga Puja – a festival of shakti, good over evil, friends, relatives, and food. And some more food. Yes, as much as we are devoted to the Goddess offering her our prayers, and some of us even going vegetarian for those five auspicious days, but when it comes to the food, it’s almost as if we save our annual appetite for those precious few moments.
If you’re in Kolkata, you cannot miss the quintessential bhog that comprises the famous khichdi, the recipe of which can never be replicated any other time. It is usually served along with a few vegetables, a fried item (potato, brinjal, pumpkin), a mishti (sweet), and even chutneys. Back in the old days, the local boys would either come and deliver these delicious packages to your house, in a large earthen bowl, or you could walk over to your neighbourhood pandal and eat with everyone – almost like a wedding feast, only vegetarian.
So, what should you be eating, during Durga Puja? There is no definite answer, because technically we eat just about everything, but then again there are a few things that become almost imperative.
1. Kathi Rolls
Okay, so a fat greasy mutton roll (or even chicken) is a must on at least two out of the five days. Or even three. And honestly, a 100 per cent Kolkata Kathi Roll is hard to find here, no matter what anyone says. However, during the puja, pandals such as the one near Bethany School in Koramangala, or the one organised by the Bengali Association manage to source some of the best rolls that are available at these tiny kiosks.
No, there is no rule. We can eat phuchkas every day. But somehow around this time, we have a moral responsibility towards it. These delicious goodies taste better, and spicier. Don’t ask me why.
3. Kolkata Biryani
If you haven’t eaten biryani for lunch or dinner at least a couple of times, you’re really not feeling it. A good Mutton Biryani (Kolkata-style mind you) complete with a chunky potato is a must. And if you don’t eat mutton, even a Chicken Biryani is acceptable. The grains have to be long and separate, and have that yellow tinge without fail.
No, we aren’t talking about lamb or pork chops. These crumb-fried oblong cutlets are one of our favourite evening snacks. It could be made with vegetables (with beet root playing a big role), potatoes, chicken, fish, or mutton keema. Normally, a sprinkle of chaat masala over the chops is a must. And this is the time when tomato sauce and chilli sauce become very popular – as dips of course.
5. Luchi and Mangsho
Little and plump puris made with refined flour, to be eaten with Kosha Mangsho (mutton), is as important a part of the puja tradition as offering the morning prayers. To be honest, we’d eat this on any day. I’ve found most food stalls at puja pandals not being able to perfect the luchis; it cannot be large and brown. But if you try some of the Bengali restaurants such as Oh! Calcutta or Esplanade, you might get something close to what our grandmothers would make.
A Bengali festival has to begin and end with sweets. It’s the unwritten code of the brotherhood. There’s rosogolla, sandesh, mishti doi, and a dozen other kinds of sweets to choose from – and we must try them all (okay maybe not all) during the puja. No bhog is complete without one, and no evening feast is either. Fortunately, there are quite a few sweet shops in the city that sell decent Bengali sweets. Check out Banchharam and KC Das.
7. Mishti Pulao
The delicious Misthi Pulao (sweet pulao), ideally had with a fish curry of sorts, is something worth trying. Typically made with small grained fragrant rice (usually Gobindo bhog), further sweetened with sugar and raisins, and spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, javitri, saffron, etc, it is an absolute treat. You’d probably do best by ordering in from a Bengali restaurant.
There is no way to explain this. We love our Chinese, and one trip to Tangra in Kolkata is sort of must during the puja.
This is street food, made with dried yellow or white peas, and is spicy and sweet at the same time. It resembles the masala of a Masala Puri, but only thicker. A sprinkle of chaat masala on top makes it delicious. You eat it just like that, and follow it up with another bowl of it.
10. Samosa and Jalebis
It’s a combination to beat plenty of other combinations. The samosa or rather the shingara (made with potatoes and peas), and the decadently sweet jalebis are available in almost all the food stalls in the puja pandals, as well as the sweet shops in the city.