Novotel Chennai OMR serves up a feast of of Bengali and Odia specialities
It’s been quite a mammoth task to find an authentic three-course Bengali meal during my two-year stint here in Chennai. However, I got the taste of maa ke haath ka khana (food cooked by our mother) at the Novotel Chennai OMR. The three-course Bengali and Odia meal, a sampling ahead of their food festival starting January 24, is your perfect introduction to Bengal cuisine in case you’ve never given it a shot!
The entire menu has been curated by home chef Abhipsa Saran who originally hails from Cuttack, Odisha, but has been in Chennai for the past 13 years. If you are a Bengali who has been missing your homeland and its food, then this my friend, is your nirvana. So, let’s get the ball rolling.
Like any true blue Bengali meal, we begin with the maach (fish). The Jhingar Chutney Paturi (Prawn Paturi) that comes next was cooked with the perfect blend of poppy seeds or Khus Khus, mustard seeds, grated coconut and lemon juice, placed expertly in a banana leaf and then steamed to perfection. The chef used a variation by pan frying the prawns with a coriander chutney marinade, and we loved it.
Pro tip: the dish is best accompanied by plain white rice with a squeeze of lemon. Mustard oil was used in a healthy quantity to get that rustic aroma and flavour, which is authentic to Bengali cuisine.
Eat your veggies
The prawn delicacy was followed by a delectable serving of Dalma, an Odia staple, which is made with nutritious split chick peas cooked along with raw papaya and potatoes. Taste it with the Bengali Style Shaak Bhaja (Stir Fried Green Amaranth) that followed and you’ll be in an East Indian food coma.
A perfect potboiler
Misa Pariba Khichdi is considered to be one of the most famous Odia delicacies as it is served on Ganesh Chaturthi and Dussehra as prasad in western Odisha. The chef recommends this specific dish as a part of your everyday lunch for its no-fuss recipe that can be cooked at home anytime. The rice and moong dal is boiled to perfection with all kinds of healthy vegetables — potato, raw banana, pumpkin, cauliflower, carrot, beans, radish, tomatoes and some grated coconut to add a tinge of sweetness. This recipe also includes fried cashew nuts, raisins, roasted peanuts and a lot of ghee, of course!
Almost every Bengali meal especially if you want to have a light lunch is incomplete without this dish. Greeting us right after the veggies, was the tasty and fluffy Radha Ballavi (spiced Urad dal stuffed pooris) which had the dominant taste of roasted cumin and red chilli powder. Typically, the Bengali poori or luchi doesn’t boast of roasted spices, it is only deep fried puffed bread made using maida.
“Our delicacies have a prominent flavour of ginger and garlic. It also has a somewhat Andhra influence, as we share our borders with Andhra Pradesh. That’s how almost all our dishes are more spicy as well,” explains chef Abhipsa.The fish was reminiscent of the comfort food my mother prepares back home in Kolkata. And the chicken too had a homely feel, sure to remind a Bengali of their Sunday lunch shenanigans back home. Both the delicacies are not rich or heavy and can be consumed as a part of your every day meal.
No rasagulla for dessert
It’s a significant misconception to just associate Bengalis with rasagulla (also called rosogolla) — our dessert repertoire offers a lot more — take it from a true Bengali. Which is why we were thrilled to bits about the Pithe that was served next.
A mainstay of the rice-harvest festival in Bengal, Poush Sankranti (Makar Sankranti), Pithe is not a single delicacy, it is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of items prepared using rice, date-palm syrup (patali gur or jaggery, only available in winter), coconut, milk, and flour. What we were served for dessert was patishapta, a type of pithe, which is a delicious, light crêpe filled with either kheer or a coconut-and-jaggery mixture.
Lunch INR 1,234 onwards (for one). Festival dates: January 24-February 5.