Though language binds the people of West Bengal and Bangladesh, when it comes to Bengali cuisine, the palate of people on the two sides of Bengal is very diverse and different. What sells here as Bangladeshi cuisine is not even close enough to the taste and feel of authentic Bangladeshi flavours, claims Chef Nayana Afroz, an authority in Bangladeshi cuisine. "Apart from a few ingredients most ingredients are not available and the cooking method too is very different," says Nayana Afroz.
The home chef is here in town again with an elaborate fare of the popular Bhortas and daal curated exclusively for the Bangladeshi Bhorta and Dal Food festival that's currently going on at 6 Ballygunge Place. Bhortas are a staple across all the divisions of Bangladesh and originally used to be rustled with leftovers from the previous day's meal. "It's a very economical and zero-waste preparation usually made by Bangladeshis from the previous day's meat or fish or veg curry leftovers. The meat or fish is heated till the gravy dries up and the the meat is shredded and mixed with onion, chilli, pickle and other spices. You need only a small spoonful of it to finish up a plate of rice and hence economical for a big family," informs Nayana.
Originally, Bhorta, as an item, was predominantly a rural phenomenon and was made using local farm products and ingredients like pungent mustard oil, green chillies, coriander, sauteed onions, and garlic that are added to the main ingredient, using the traditional grinding stone.
For the festival, she has carefully chosen a mix of meat, fish and vegetarian Bhortas which bring out unique and delectable flavours. We started off with Morich Bhorta, a spicy and simple concoction of red chilli, onions and mustard oil before moving on to the very well-known and loved Begun Bhorta, which never fails to charm with its delicious mix of spices, tomatoes, onions and chillies.
Then we had the lip-smacking Dim Kolija Bhorta made with duck eggs and mutton liver, and were bowled over by the simple yet eclectic burst of flavours. "We usually have a notion that Bhorta means everything has to be as smooth as a paste. But not all Bhortas are pasty mixes. If I had made a paste out of the mutton and duck egg, you wouldn't have been able to appreciate the distinct taste notes of the egg at all. Hence they have to be mixed very tenderly without any pressure," she explains further.
We also loved the Mangsher Bhorta, a smoky hot dish of shredded mutton cooked with adequate red chilli, onion and coriander. A dollop of it with whole-grain red rice -- especially brought by Nayana from West Dinajpur -- and a pinch of mustard oil, had us salivating for more.
We also tried the much-loved Taki Bhorta, made with the auspicious Lyata fish (Lyata is called Taki on the other side of Bengal) and thankfully it had no smell and tasted heavenly. Before moving on to the daals, we had to taste the Chingri Bhorta which tasted simply like a zesty chat with lots of onions, coriander and a liberal sprinkling of lemon. The preparation is so addictive that you need no other accompaniments with it. You may also try their Tishi Balachao Bhorta.
The daals were equally yummy be it the Mashkolaier Daal with Ilisher Matha or the Moong Khashi. We simply heart the latter made of chunks of cooked mutton dunked in moong daal. The chunks of meat were soft and succulent and it's a dish that you must relish with pieces of flaky parantha on a lazy Sunday morning, just the way Bangladeshis prefer their breakfast to be.
The festival is on at 6Ballygunge Place's 4 outlets in Rajarhat, Salt Lake, and Chowringhee till November 19