If any renowned statistical institute was to embark upon a pioneering program involving food related habits of people, it might well be found that the TIME and MONEY spent by an average Bengali on FOOD (dreaming, discussing, cooking, eating and savouring) are many notches above the National (or rather, International average) !! – Even without any such statistical data, it is well established that the perennial question of do human beings “Eat to Live” or “Live to Eat” is answered as “Bengalis live to Eat” for most Bengalis.
Food and Adda (informal conversation amongst group of people, often for hours at an end) and usually accompanied by food is a common spectacle in Kolkata or wherever there is a concentration of Bengalis. Though, Satyajit Ray (in his film Agantuk) traces back the origin of the Adda tradition to regular intellectual dialogues prevalent in Ancient Greece at the time of Socrates or Pluto, many Bengalis still try and claim copyright of this culture.
However, with the advent of the technology and gizmo world, rarely do we find time to hunt up an old friend, slip into an old pair of jeans, fatua (kurtas) and Kohlapuris and stop by for those mouth-watering Kabirajis and Fish Orlies and adda. Rarely does our inner soul urge us to bunk school or college or even office on a rainy day and enjoy a simple meal of khichuri and maach bhaja. Also rarely do we enjoy the anticipation of waiting for Ma and Thakuma to serve the traditional Ilish Paturis, Chitol petis and Bhapa Bhetkis which they had been toiling over for the last few hours; the aroma of which made us pop in and out of the kitchen, trying to pick up any titbits we could. The dishes that we all took for granted maybe a decade or two ago and what we now accept are rare and far in between… could run into thousands. We have grown up and moved on.
This realization of what we are missing and also what the newer generation has probably not experienced at all, in relation to the renowned Bengali cuisine, encouraged us to make an honest endeavour to open an outlet where we could serve some of that. Being passionate about food and sincere in our efforts to recreate all those forgotten delicacies in the heart of Delhi, “City of Joy” was founded.
Bangali and Maach !
Spending lazy afternoons after sumptuous meals, listening to our grandmothers weaving spooky ghost stories in darkened rooms with the blades of the fan whirring very fast… is something most of us born in the 60s and 70s in Bengal can identify with. Ghosts are an important part of folklore not only in Bengal but in most states in our country. But … is it possible anywhere other than Bengal, that there is a even a special category of ghosts who eat only fish? We find many mentions of the “Mechho Bhoot” in our folklore – meaning, the ghost who likes to eat fish ! The word Mechho comes from Machh , meaning fish in Bengali. Mechho Bhoot usually lives near to the village ponds or lakes which are full of fish. Sometimes they steal fish from kitchens in village households or from the boats of fishermen. Thereby meaning, in a nutshell, even after freedom from the physical self by way of death, a Bengali spirit will still retain his craving for fish !
Is a Bengali meal complete without fish? “Absolutely No !”, a quintessential Bengali will say. But then comes the other important question of “Which Fish?”
And then the fights start…
Bengalis can keep on arguing for hours on whether the Padma Ilish (Hilsa) is superior to its Kolaghat cousin whereas euphoria of the “Ghotis” (Bengalis of the West Bengal side) will cause prices of Chingri (Prawn) to soar on a day when Mohan Bagan wins against East Bengal.
It is difficult to bring to the table the 30 to 40 commonly loved sweet fishes ; however we pride ourselves on our ability to be able to serve more than 15 varieties of the staple diet of Bengalis.
At CITY OF JOY, our earnest and honest effort is to try and bring to you the “Bangali Maach” reminiscent to the true and original taste and flavours cooked to perfection with authentic ingredients in the traditional manner ……
With our fishes flying in fresh from Kolkata, we hope that all families nostalgic about Murighonto and Bhapa, Tel koi, Daab chingri, Mangshor jhol and all those by-gotten dishes would love to come and have these delicacies and leave with a sense of fulfillment and a smile of satisfaction each time.
But before our vegetarian friends get disgruntled, let us clarify. Contrary to a common misconception amongst casual eaters that Bengali cuisine is only Maach (Fish) and Bhaat (Rice), a connoisseur of good food would love the colossal repository of vegetarian cuisine that Bengal has on offer. Probably on account of the fact that before Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar prevailed upon the society to allow widow remarriage, since widows in Bengal were only allowed to partake of vegetarian food, this gave birth to the multitude varieties of vegetarian food starting from Neem Begun to Shukto to Dalna and Ghonto and Chutney. Bengal is probably the only state in the Indian subcontinent which has an elaborate multi-course tradition where food is served course-wise and in a particular sequence! And when does this all start? Right from when a Bengali baby is all of six months old. He and she is made to taste one bite comprising of the best of Bengali cuisine. And from then on, it’s a case of “Yeh Dil Maange more”…
And yes, we are ready for prolonged Adda sessions too ! Be it on Food, Feluda or Football, or the one other bug which inspite of the best of anti-bug coils cannot remain separated from a Bengali – the Travel Bug !
Here’s to carrying on the legacy of Bengali food ! Enjoy !!!