It is often said that Bengalis have more festivals than the number of months. And the grandest of them all is undoubtedly Durga Puja. And it goes without saying that an integral part of every celebration in Bengal is the Food.
#Restaurant Food: The first picture that comes to my mind when I think of eating out during Pujo is the unending queue outside every eatery. The menu is curtailed and only a fixed menu is made available at most places. Servers hover around visibly and unapologetically, for people to shove the food down their throats, and make way for the next group. So badly do the servers and cooks mentally curse the customers for keeping them working during Pujo, that almost always gets reflected in the food and the service.
The only exception to this is provided by the sweet shops. They keep up with the increased demand with elan and provide the perfect sweet endings to every meal.
#Home-Cooked Food: Anytime during Pujo, if I am at home, I prefer the simple unbridled joys of luchi-chholar dal (deep fried flat bread and Bengal gram curry with crispy coconut) for breakfast, and mangsho-polao (tender goat curry with flavoured rice) for lunch. True that the prices of fish and meat shoot up, and one has to push and shove through the shops to reach the counter, but that’s what makes it all the more coveted.
#Street Food: Pujo to me has always meant freedom, freedom from the routine. The freedom to eat as much street food at any freaking hour is one major part of it. To be able to gulp down one phuchka (I wouldn’t dare translate this one. One has to see it, smell it, and definitely taste it, to really get an idea as to what it really is) after another, at 3 a.m. is liberating indeed.
To see kids slurping on ice-cream cones all through the day without being reprimanded, is sheer joy. That old lady biting into the deep fried breaded fish fillet right after a heavy dinner, without worrying about the ‘strict diet’ her doctor asked her to stick to, is what Durga Puja is for her, maybe.
Kolkata street food reaches another level altogether on these days of celebration. Momos, noodles, dosa, meat balls, hummus-pita, good old biriyani, Kathi rolls, chaats, pizza, cotton candies – you name it and you have it, that too for 24 hours a day, at every corner of the city.
#Bhog: In spite of my undying love for street food, no Puja is complete without Bhog. The ghee doused khichudi (lentil hotch-potch with generous dollops of clarified butter) with long, crisp begunis (batter fried aubergine slices) is heaven on a plate.
End it with chatni – papad -payesh (dry fruits in spiced sugar syrup – papadum – rice porridge) and your taste buds will be ever-grateful to you.
Devpurna, in her own words, is “the forever hungry Bong lady. Might just be the easiest female to understand – give me food, and I will be happy!”
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