Khichuri – labra to Soyabhog : shifting contours of Bhog cultures

Bhog is the cooked food that is offered in Hindu rituals in India. Traditionally ( and even now) people queued up to receive the blessed food (prasad). With time, the prasad was made accessible to devotees through advanced online bookings across various websites.  Most of these prasad bookings are restricted to items that are hugely popular.  For instance laddus of Siddhivinayak Temple, Maharashtra can be pre-booked and devotes can get a home delivery of  Aravana Payasam  prepared from jaggery, ghee and a special variety of rice called Unakkalari(red coloured raw rice) of Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple through DTDC. The temple economy has pervaded the net through advanced bookings of such offerings and attractive deals offering combinations of various prasad is also available in some web-portals.

Like other regions bhog has been an integral component of Bengali Hindu rituals. Mandar Mukhopadhay in his article “Jogbiyoggunbhag” published in Robbar, Pratidin1  recounts several bhog which were particularly famous – bhog offered in Radhakanta temple , ras-bhog ( food offered during ras, a festival celebrated in the full moon night of kartik/ October- November, an annual festival celebrating  Lord Krishna’s desire to dance), “nanda-bhog” and “pancham doler bhog” (bhog offered during Holi-the festival of colours). Bhog, as Mandar Mukhopadhyay recounts was not only prepared in temple complexes but also prepared in households. Notions of purity and pollution and codes of preparation were rather strict. Reminiscing about bhog preparation in households, Mandar Mukhopadhyay mentions that the cooking area was splashed with cow-dung water and mopped neatly before cooking. Bell metal cookware was washed with tamarind pulp and ashes from the clay oven used to cook vegetarian food.  Women were responsible for bhog preparation. Usually senior women were in charge of bhog preparation probably to maintain notions of purity associated with food offered in Hindu rituals. In Bengal, women during their menstrual cycle were refrained from taking part in Hindu rituals, so I am assuming similar practices were followed in bhog preparation as well.

Annabhog or rice based bhog is cooked in Brahmin households.  The codes of prohibition around food prohibited a Brahmin to consume anna / rice from non Brahmin households hence there existed a practice of  preparing luchi ( round discs of fried fluffy bread from flour) in non-Brahmin households. Mahendranath Dutta in his book Kolikatar Puraton Kahini O Pratha (1929) recounts experiences from his childhood days when Brahmin households served rice-based meals because everybody could eat at Brahmin households2.  Similarly Kayastha household n Dutta’s account served Luchi- based meals.

Each household had their own speciality. For instance I loved the jora ilish and rice bhog that was offered during Lakshmi Puja in a neighbouring household.3 Similarly, I  miss the Luchi- Suji ( Semolina prepared with ghee and sugar) bhog that is offered in Janmasthami in our household . One item that is commonly associated with bhog across festivals is khichudi (one meal dish prepared from rice, pulse and vegetables eaten with fritters and chutney).

With Durga Puja around the corner, bhog is one integral component. The journey of Durga Puja from household to community-centric has re-shaped bhog preparation and distribution as well. In Kolkata, Puja organisers arrange for home delivery of bhog in neighbourhoods. Some bhog staples are khichudi, labra (a mish mash of seasonal vegetables) and chutney( a tomato based tangy preparation). Some organisers have replaced labra with alur dom (a potato based curry). Runny khichudi and labra are my favourite.

In Delhi, Mumbai, the puja organisers serve “bhog” on Saptamai, Ashtami, Navami. Special arrangements are made for senior citizens so that they don’t have to stand in the long queues. Hence it is of no wonder that the food giants are making their way to sponsor such initiatives. If you are in Kolkata and your puja committee has collaborated with Nutrela you might find Nutrela products blended in your puja bhog. This year, Nutrela has started a new initiative: Nutrela Mahapujor Mahabhog with a vision to introduce “soya bhog” in Durga Puja palate. They have selected 26 clubs across Kolkata and will award “Nutrela Mahapujor Mohabhog” title to  the Puja committee who manages to whisk up a delicious bhog using Nutrela products. This is a new dimension of corporatisation of Durga Puja and bhog-culture.

Time will tell if soya bhog can go along with labra and alur dom!

Notes

1          Mandar Mukhopadhyay (2013) “Jogbiyoggunbhog” Robbar, Pratidin, 6 October 2013. Pp 28-31.

2          Mahendranath Dutta (1929) Kolikatar Puraton Kahini O Pratha . Kolkata: The Mahendra Publishing Committee.

3      This practice was common in Bangal (East- Bengal) households. In some households, raw Hilsa was offered and later cooked and distributed. Some offered cooked hilsa as well.

©itiriti

Feasting @ Mela (Fair) grounds…

Anybody who has grown up in the city of joy and has been a regular in the mela (fair) circuit will fondly remember the line of food stalls that adorned these fairs.  Most of us who had been to book fairs in Maidan area before it shifted to Milan Mela ( opposite Science City) would remember queuing up for their favourite Benfish products at Book fair.  After I finished my quota of buying books, I hated waiting with my parents at UBI auditorium listening to panel discussions or dragging my feet along with their snail paced stroll around the little magazine stalls. My mother sensing my irritation would whisper into my ears that the Benfish stall is another 5 min walk and I would cheer up. Reminiscing about childhood and Kolkata book fair another blogger proudly announced to a T.V reporter that she came to book fair for ice-cream.

Read her post http://roadtoneverland.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/why-i-dont-love-books/ as she fondly shares her experience.

Similarly I never missed a trip to the Durga Puja at Park Circus Maidan, Kolkata for the sheer joy of attending a mela(fair).  What I love about Durga Puja in Chittaranjan Park, Delhi are the food stalls. The variety of food that one gets to gorge on is a pure delight for an epicurean.  In Delhi, Bijoli Grill had replaced my craving for Benfish products.  I made it a point to call up Bijoli Grill to figure out their stall. I wish Bijoli Grill served their ice-cream soda.

This Puja I am looking forward to an interesting stall called Bento Bong. As its facebook page claims, the idea of the stall stemmed from a lazy lunch of friends and transformed into a business venture.  Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar, who wears many a hats (linguist, photographer and a trained kitchen hand) is a one woman army.  As I jokingly remind her about the impending thesis submission she says Bento Bong will help her to put together her act. She takes out a sample of Bentobong box from her backpack and her eyes light up as she passionately weaves a tale of Bengali food that she will be cooking and serving along with two other helping hands. The meals will be served in handy boxes.

Kicking off on 9 October three Bento boxes will be available in the following combinations:-

Snack Bento – I ( Fish Fry, Veg Cutlet, French Heart Cookie, Salad, Kasundi) – Rs 120

Snack Bento –II ( Prawn Orley, Fish Fry, Veg Cutlet, French Heart Cookie, Salad, Kasundi)- Rs 180

Meal Bento ( Rice, Moong Dal, Bora, GaldaChingriMalaiCurry,DoiRui, Mishti Pan)- Rs 320

As she gives me a tour of the stall in Co-operative Ground, Chittaranjan Park explaining to me her plans, a surprise waits for me.  She asks for two chairs and we sit in the empty stall. She opens a flap and takes out a Bento Box . Anumitra says, “Try it out”.

I open the box with care and find a gift of “fish fry”- a nice generous fillet of fish coated with breadcrumbs sitting pretty in front of me. The juicy, moist pieces of fillet fill my mouth and secretly I yearn to taste the Meal Bento where my favourite GaldaChingrir Malai Curry – a prawn preparation in coconut milk will be served. I leave the Co-operative Ground with content and intention of getting back to try Bento Bong and other food stalls in the vicinity of Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi.

For more details and updates visit Bento Bong page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BB.bentobong).

©itiriti

 

Feasting during Durga Puja IV

Today is Dashami- the last day of Durga Puja. Time to say adieu to Goddess Durga. As we gear up to say adieu to Goddess Durga, it is time to exchange Bijoya Dashami greetings. This is the time when friends and relatives visit households and of course there are foods specially associated with Bijoya Dashami- particularly sweets. In this entry I will share with you the Dashami lunch my mother and I cooked before heading off to the pandal to watch sindoorkhela and one of the evening snacks associated with Bijoya Dashami.

Sindoor Khela

Sindoor is the red powder worn by married Hindu women in India, in Bengal it is red in colour. In some other parts of India they also use orange coloured powder. Usually Sindoor is applied at the parting of the hair or as a dot on the forehead. Today, the women dressed in off white sarees with red border start queuing up in pandals to apply Sindoor and feed Goddess Durga some sweets- followed by Sindoor Khela. After offering Sindoor to Goddess Durga they also exchange Sindoor among themselves and paint their faces with Sindoor.

Sindoor Khela, Kalibari , C.R. Park Delhi

 

It rained heavily in Delhi last evening but it has been a bright day with a slight chill in the air. The winter is approaching and we decided to cook ourselves a Dashami lunch spread of Shukto,  Lotus Stem Subzi and Phulkopir Dalna with Chingrir Machher Bati Chochori ( which we cooked with a slight twist of Pianjkoli for today’s lunch compared to Saptami)

Shukto

Shukto is the Bengali dish slightly bitter in taste and the appetiser of Bengali meal. Needless to say, and as you might a Bengali meal is a five to six course affair. We start off our meal with shukto ( a lightly spiced curry with a mix of vegetables and the key ingredient is karola/ bitter gourd). There are various versions of the Shukto recipe. We use bitter gourd, raw banana, drumsticks and potato. My mother deep fried the vegetables and kept them aside. She added a spoonful of oil and then added paanchphoron and dry red chilly. Once it crackles, you add the fried vegetables add salt, turmeric and a pinch of sugar and lightly fry and add water. Once you see the bubbles, finish it off with a das of the secret ingredient. The secret ingredient my mother taught me is to dry roast some paanchphoron and wholesome yellow mustard seeds and pound them.

Shukto

Lotus Stem Subzi

Lotus Stem Subzi was a recreation of a Tarla Dalal recipe. Please visit the link for further details

http://www.tarladalal.com/Kamal-Kakdi-ki-Subzi-22803r

We kicked off the Bijoya Dashami celebrations with Ghugni, and various sweets. Bijoya Dashami to all itiriti readers and followers with a plateful of Ghugni 🙂

Ghugni

©itiriti

Feasting during Durga Puja III

Today is Navami- practically the last day of the Puja. As a child I dreaded this day and to compensate for the end to the four days of fun and frolic I used to keep aside the best of the five dresses for the pandal hopping. Cut to 2012. One had heard that Chittaranjan Park (popularly known as C.R. Park) the Bengali neighbourhood puts on its festive colours during Durga Puja and I thought it would not be like Kolkata in terms of the crowd,the endless queues. Well, I was wrong.

If you are wondering that pandal hopping is an easy exercise in CR Park let me give you a word of caution. If you hate traffic, avoid travelling near 5km radius of C.R. Park. You might have to walk down. Its as simple as that. All the entry points to C.R. Park are barred and only vehicles with passes are allowed to enter and exit. Basically, you need to brave the traffic regulations around Chittaranjan Park (C.R.Park) – the Bengali neighbourhood of Delhi to see how festivities grip this otherwise quite neighbourhood in Delhi. The strings of bulbs hang from the trees welcoming the devotees and leading the way to the theme based pandal. As you enter, each of the pandals you will be led to three distinct spaces- first, designated to Goddess Durga, second to the food court and third to the cultural programmes that are held from Saptami to Navami.

The food courts of the pandals have all the known names in the business giving food stalls to make most of the business. B-Block Puja Pandal Food court had food stalls by Karims to Yo China. Beyond that the famous egg rolls, chicken rolls and Fish Fry were all there. The Puja Pandal adjacent to GK II Gurudwara also had an interesting mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian affair in their food court. Shiv Mandir Puja ground saw some interesting stalls of Phuchka, Ghugni and Biryani. The most interesting part about the food and festivities during Durga Puja is also how people occupy the streets and pavements for food stalls. For instance, the otherwise busy Kalibari Mandir Marg near Connaught Place which wears a busy traffic during weekdays has made way for a string of food stalls selling Ghugni, Jhal Muri ( infact one of the stalls claimed famous Jhal Muri from Burdwan), Mughlai Parantha, Rolls with various fillings like egg, chicken and mutton, Fried Rice and Chilli Chicken, tandoor items and of course Biryani.

The by lanes of CR Park have been taken over by people selling Ghugni, Kachori Alur Dam and even Masala Papad and various fries. The neighbourhood is buzzing with people making their way out from the pandals and the faint screeching noise of the traffic signalling how the life changes during festivities. As I struggle my way through the by lanes to reach Market No 1 to take my friends on a guided tour of the pandals I receive a call, “ We are stuck in traffic. It does not seem to move”. I wait patiently hanging around the magazine stall, flipping through all the Puja Barshiki (special editions that are published during Puja), make a wish list of all the new songs that I must try to listen to on youtube ( songs/ music albums are also released during this time) and of course collect a menu from all the food stalls. I begin my evening food trail with a plate of Phuchka popularly known as Panipuri in Delhi. In Bengal we use tamarind water flavoured with Gandhoraaj Lebu and the potato is mashed and mixed with chana, masala and tamarind pulp. The phucka prepared from Atta is peculiar to Bengal as well. As I wait for my friends to arrive I also head towards Kamala Sweets to help myself with a sweet dish- Chhanar Jilipi. Around 8pm my friends arrive and we head straight to Annapurna Hotel which has closed its air conditioned outlets (Shop no 142 and 143) and laid out chairs and tables in the open space of Market No 1. We decide to head straight for “fish” y meal thalis of Pabda, Hilsa and Rui. The Hilsa Curry was the perfect way to end a Navami Dinner- a day when we are allowed to have non vegetarian food and most households cook Panthar Jhol ( Mutton). The Hilsa Curry was spot on. As one my uncles would say, “ Maa Annapurna ( also the Goddess of Rice in other words, provider of food has blessed this place… there is magic and it is because of Annapurna’s blessing..”. I left the place and might go back again to have a Hilsa thali all for Rs 180/-

Ilish…

Time to get some rest and get ready for Bijoya Dashami…

© itiriti

Feasting during Durga Puja II

The much promised Ashtami meal could not make its way to the blog. Well Ashtami,  is the day when women dress up in white sarees with red border and men in their crisp Punjabi and Dhoti for the Pushpanjali. Usually, we are expected to fast and offer our prayers in the form of Anjali to Goddess Durga and this day is primarily significant because of another ritual SandhiPuja where 1001 Lotus flowers and 108 diyas are offered. Anyways coming to feasting during Ashtami in our family its Luchi for post Anjali breakfast, Luchi for Lunch and Luchi for Dinner.

I am a self proclaimed Luchi fanatic but I do not claim to make Luchis. Nobody can make Luchis like my mother. They are soft, fluffly, to the extent you can see the lightly crisp base from the fluffy top layer. They are “perfect”. After offering our Anjali we headed back to our home and I quickly chopped the Pumpkin ( Kumro) for Kumror Chhakka.

Kumror Chokka

It is a small dish made with one of the wholesome spice used generously in most of the vegetarian Bengali dishes, i.e., Kalojeere or Onion Seeds. The pungent smell of the nigella seeds adds the requisite kick to any vegetable. Dice the pumpkins and soak some Chana overnight. Add a spoonful of oil to the wok. Once the bubbles disappear add kalojeere or onion seeds and dry red chillies/ slit green chillies. Add the diced pumpkins, salt, turmeric and soaked chana and stir fry it. Once the pumpkins softens finish it off with bhaja guro masala ( basically it is a spice mixture prepared from dry red chillies and cumin seeds. Dry roast the dry red chillies and cumin seeds and grind it into a mixture). Finish it off with a little pinch of sugar.

Then it was over to Mother dear who prepared Cholar Dal, Alur Dom, Phulkopir Tarakari and Lamba Begun Bhaja. We were too hungry before we could take photos. Just one shot brilliant relish of Luchi and Begun Bhaja …

Luchi aar Begun Bhaja

Have to rush now to take care of some friends who are coming down to take them on a Puja tour.

Watch out this space for my Navami Dinner and more …

Happy Pujo.

©itiriti

Feasting during Durga Puja-I

Durga Puja is an autumnal festival celebrated mostly among Bengalis for over five days. “The first recorded Durga Puja seems to have taken place in Nadia district in or around 1606. In those days it was more of a family festival for the rich or landlords. The oldest Puja in Calcutta, as some believes, was used to be the family Puja of Sabarna Chaudhury of Barisha which dates back to 1610. The first publicly organized puja happened in Guptipara of Hoogli district when twelve men were stopped from taking part in a household puja. They formed a twelve man committee and held a puja. Since then these kind of puja arrangement is known as barowari (baro-twelve, yar-friend). Later the term ‘barowari‘ was replaced by ‘sarbojonin‘ (for all men and women).The first community puja in Calcutta was held at Balaram Bose Ghat Road in 1910”1. Durga Puja is a five day affair beginning with MahaShashti (the first day of the Puja ), followed by Saptami ( the most significant being the bathing of Kalabau(banana plant dressed as a bride and Pranpratistha), the third day is called Ashtami, fourth day Nabami and finally Dashami. Each of the households has their own rules regarding the foods that they can cook. For instance in my house, we do not take any non- vegetarian food during Shasti and Ashtami. Though we do not cook any non vegetarian food on these days, we can eat at the various food stalls in the pandals.

Though I miss the grandeur and aesthetics of the pandals in Kolkata, the festival in Delhi has acquired its own charm. Each Puja Committee in Delhi organises a Anandamela in the Puja grounds where groups of men and women sell different food items ranging from Peas Kachori, to Pasta, to Pineapple Chicken. Yesterday we visited the famous Puja at Bengali Senior Secondary School and everybody was waiting in line for the inauguration of Anandamela. As soon as the event was inaugurated people poured in to savour the veg and non- vegetarian delicacies on offer which included delicacies like Peas Kachori, Chicken Korma, Alu Phulkoir Singara (Samosa stuffed with Potato and Cauliflower) etc.

Today is Mahasaptami- the day when cooking and eating non vegetarian food is allowed. We decided to feast on the following : Bhaat (Rice), Bhaaja Moonger Dal, Niramish Bandhakopir Tarkari, Chingri Machher Batichochori, Katla Machher Kalia and Chutney.

Bhaja Moong er Dal.

Dry roast the Moong Dal and wash and clean with water. Pressure cook the moong dal with salt and turmeric powder and keep is aside. For tempering the Moong Dal first add a spoonful of oil to the kadai. Add Cumin Seeds, Dry Red Chilli, 1 Bay leaf, wait for these to crackle and add tomatoes. Cook for ½ a minute and add the boiled Dal. Finish off with a pinch of sugar and generous helping of peas and some freshly chopped Coriander.

Bhaja Moonger Dal

Niramish Bandhakopir Tarkari

Finely chop the cabbage. One trick my mother insists I follow is to parboil the cabbage. Take a spoonful of oil and add panchphoron and wait for it to crackle. Following with add crushed/ grated ginger, salt, sugar and turmeric to the oil. Add tomatoes and slit green chillies and cook till the oil starts separating. Add the parboiled cabbage to the masala and cook it. (My mother says its important that the masala should blend well and the Bengali trick is kashano… which means constantly keep on tossing and turning the vegetables till your hands give in J)Add salt and sugar to finish it off. Once its cooked add freshly grounded garam masala (preferable cinnamon and cardamom) to the vegetable and serve it hot.

Niramish Bandhakopir Tarkari

Chingri Machher Bati Chochori

Take 300 gms of prawns (medium size) and marinate it for half an hour with salt and turmeric. Add a spoonful of mustard oil to the kadai and lightly fry the prawns. To which add a pinch of finely chopped garlic, onions, tomato, green chillies and tomato and let is cook. Give it a nice toss and close the kadai/ pan with a lid. Take a break for 10 min and you will find the aromatic hues of bati chochori find its way into your drawing room. Finish it off with a nice helping of coriander.

Chingri Machher Batichochori

Katla Machher Kalia

Take 400gms of Katla Machch which means approximately 6 nice pieces. Marinate the fish in salt and turmeric and keep it aside. Add a spoonful of oil . Fry the fish. You may need to add another generous helping of oil after you are done with frying of the fish. Add onion paste to the oil, 1 Bay leaf and wholesome garam masala. Fry the onion paste till it turns brown. Add tomatoes, cumin powder, coriander powder, sugar and salt and cook the masala till the oil separates. Add water to the cooked paste and cook it till you see the bubbles appear. Add the fried fishes and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes. Finish it off with coriander.

Katla Machher Kalia

Finally Plastid Chutney

1 nice raw papaya. Thinely slice it. Take a pan and add oil. Add some Saunf and 1 Bay leaf. Saute the papayas, and add a pinch of turmeric and Salt. Add water and now comes the sweetening ingredient- sugar . Mix it nicely and let it cook on low heat. Your Plastid Chutney is ready.

Plastid Chutney

Watch for Ashtami Special tomorrow. Time to serve the lunch.

1 Visit this website for more details http://www.calcuttaweb.com/puja/

©itiriti