ITC Sonar’s hilsa fest curated by Sudripta Tagore brings Bengal’s bard’s favourites to your plate
Though Rabindranath Tagore's culinary preferences changed with his fluctuating mood, the presence of Ilish on the table was a must during the monsoons, one of his favourite seasons
The Bengali cuisine and its rules change distinctly as one moves from the banks of Padma to the Gangetic plains. While Bangladeshi cuisine leans towards richer gravy and thicker texture with a sharp, spicy palate, the taste on the eastern side of the border gets milder, with runny gravies possessing a sweet note. But if there's a single unifying item that tickles both the tastebuds and the intellect of Bengalis across the two riverine plains and, in fact, any part of the world, it has to be Ilish – the besotting queen of fish.
While most of the city diners go all out to offer the best variations of Hilsa during the monsoons, ITC Sonar's Eden Pavilion has taken a very different approach this season by underscoring how the fish has historically been represented in the culinary culture of both Bengals. The hotel has taken help from Sudripta Tagore, a descendant of the famed Tagore family to curate an exotic and varied fare of the silver queen aptly called Poetry in Cuisine.
Since the times of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs and influencers in the days of East India Company, the family has been entertaining a large number of important guests including British aristocrats. Naturally, the kitchen was run by expert chefs including Bamun Thakurs, Khanshamas and Bawarchis to deftly handle the traditional Bengali, Middle East and Continental cuisines respectively. "All of these were meticulously overseen by the women of the Tagore household who curated the daily menus. Purnima Tagore and Indu Devi Chaudhurani especially carefully collected and drafted most of the precious recipes in their diaries, often also mentioning the sources of their origin," informs Sudripta.
Sudripta's grandmother Purnima Tagore was Rabindranath Tagore's favourite granddaughter-in-law, who used to helm the Tagore kitchen to cater to the finicky tastebuds of the bard. "Rabindranath was very moody and his food preferences, too, changed with his temper, and my grandmom was the only person who could perfectly read his likings," says Sudripta while talking about the rich culinary history of the Tagore family and how that influenced the course of Bengali culinary culture. "In fact, according to many food researchers, and culinary historical sources and anecdotes, the use of sugar in Bengali cuisine was a symbol of affluence and was introduced by the Tagores," he added.
Though Rabindranath's culinary preferences changed with his fluctuating mood, the presence of Ilish on the table was a must during the monsoons, one of his favourite seasons. His pet items included Doi Ilish and Ilish Narkol Dudh Diye, Sudripta tells us.
In this Hilsa fest, Sudripta has included all the dishes that used to grace the family table through generations and had been favourites among the guests and family members alike. With some unique items including Ilish Roast, Smoked Ilish, Bhapa Ilish, Ilish Machher Jhol, Doi Ilish Islish Narkol Dudh Diya and Sorshe Ilish, the comprehensive menu at ITC Sonar covers all variations of the celebrated fish.
"Since guests from across the shores were frequently entertained at our home, it was a must to present the desired Hilsa to them, deboned and roasted to appeal to their palate and convenience," Sudripta mentions. We tasted the Roast Ilish with accompanying veggies and mashed potato. Roasted in charcoal and jaggery-coated puffed rice, the dish had a distinctly sweet note to it that added more to the flavour.
But what bowled us over was Ilish Dudh Narkol Diye. A delicate dish constructed with coconut milk, the item is sublime and irresistible for the way it has melded the strong individual flavour of the fish with that of coconut. No wonder it gladdened the heart of Asia’s first Nobel winner.
"This festival of food is in keeping with our ethos to help sustain the intrinsic flavour of this region, part of our initiative towards Responsible Luxury," says Nitin Bhal, hotel manager, ITC Sonar.
Among other dishes, you must savour Ilish Roast and Doi Ilish since both are extremely painstaking to make at home.
At Eden Pavilion
The a la carte festival starts from today till August 28, 12.30-2.45 pm and 7-11 pm.
Rs 2,500+ per person