Nômoshkar..Comment ça va?

I absolutely love theme based restaurants. Not to forget my quest to learn new languages (case in point showcased in the heading above. For all those who are scurrying for a translation; it’s a Bengali dialect of the greeting derived from the Sanskrit word Namaste – simply translated to ‘the divinity within me greets the divinity within you’ and for all you French lovers I’m just asking you all- how are you?) salutations et all. 

Now when the establishment in mentions concept is based on my favourite condiment- Mustard, there is reason to hop. Dijon, beer, spicy brown deli (with horseradish), honey, hot pepper, sweet Bavarian, and French (music to ones ears and palate) holds a special reserve on my fridge shelf; smuggled as reminscent of ones travel (aside from fridge magnets of course!!) 

Nestled across the green sleepy slopes of Sangolda, comes together the perfect unison of Bengali & French cuisine for the love of all things- Mustard. After all, we know the liberal use of this condiment across both cuisines. That’s exactly it!, wherein lies my adoration for the simplicity of a concept. A theme so united from parts of the globe yet so delicately crocheted together. 

If you don’t have the inclination to head over to the quaint town of Chandannagar in Bengal (btw it’s a French colony that was established in 1673, when the French obtained permission from Ibrahim Khan, the Nawab of Bengal, to establish a trading trading post on the right bank of the Hughli River. Bengal was then a province of the Mughal Empire. For a time, it was the main centre for European commerce in Bengal) it is a must to head over to this beautifully restored old Portuguese villa in a ‘paperbox happy cookie dough’ art Parisian style theme cafe with vibrant subtle hues. For everyone else in every season there will always be Paris!! 

If you have had the privilege, to know and meet some residents from West Bengal,you would know how to be spoilt for choice ranging from affable intellectualism to gracious hosting. Well read, articulate, proud of their legacy and (by George!!) fabulous hosts. The live to eat kind, they pride their hospitality with food and know all how to add a few inches to ones bulging waste line with a smile on their face. One can never deny a serving of a Bengali host on the dinner table and live to tell that tale so joyously- they pride themselves in the art of ‘culture sharing’ through ones plate. Chef Jay Bhatt sure does take the tradition seriously at mustard and a step further (might I add) belting out the classics under his watchful eye. 

Fish is as integral part a meal as sugar to a tart for the average household in Bengal. 

Heading steady course to the theme of simplicity of two legendary cuisines, the first thing that comes to mind is the underplay of owerpowering greats- the Terrine and the Smoked Fish (simple in name, arduous in preparation) We all know of fine dining establishments filled with the razzle-dazzle of pomp and flair, much to my pleasant surprise these preparations are well plated, yet let their flavours do all the talking.

The Smoked fish steeped in history; was born aboard the steamers that plied the waters of the Padma River in undivided Bengal. It is delicately marinated in mild flavours with just a hint of mustard powder, mustard oil and smoked with puffed rice, jaggery and husk (the traditional way). This is as much a history lesson as a culinary one and the fish on plate was the Goan local- chonak. Fresh, light and flaky it melted off the fork with every serve and the after hint of mustard tickled your tastebuds for more. 

Smoked Fish
 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

The classic terrine is forcemeat (similar to texture in pate) usually made from meat and is served cold. In France many terrines are usually made with game meat normally deer or boar (generally not eaten any other way). A twist has this classic made with local fresh kingfish served warm with onion pickle. This hit the spot. 

Kingfish Terrine  
Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

While you and your loved one decide to venture out this monsoon and are in a mood for some ‘four-play’, might I suggest an eclectic mix of cuisine (a heady mix of Bengali & French) to grace your table with some classics on offer- do try the BBQ on Fritters (work of art indeed) with some Kosha Mangsho (mutton curry) and place allowing the Rui Maacher Shorshe Jhaal (Mustard Fish).
Trust me if you have no more room to digest insist on a ‘doggy bag’. do NOT leave the restaurant without trying it (you will thank me later, trust me.)

 It is imperative to plan your meal here (especially for all you sweet tooth fairies) to keep place for dessert. Mind you as deceptive when witnessed these portions pack quite the volume and must be savoured slowly and steadily. A must have would be the Kheer Komala and the Bhapa Doi (the distant cousin of the ever popular Mishti doi). 

If you read this and decide to head on over immediately without further pause try the Steamed Mustard Eggs on toast. A breakfast item that can be had all day long. Bon appetit. 

Fishing for Mermaids 

Ever lived in a fishing village? Its the gate to the seas -much like the keepers of the land, from an invasion far from told, waiting in abeyence to happen. The smell of fresh salt in the air with the waves thrashing against jagged rock a defense fortitude used to protect them from the vehement sea trying to grab what is hers.

A mermaid perhaps?

I used to read about fisherman and mermaids when I was little. Those glorious fairy like creatures who would lure men to their demise far out in the blue. Around village camp fires, men would regale tales of delight and horrors of the deep as they braved winds and tide to make it home to their loved ones. This would be lauded over some local moonshine (country liquor) and some good old spicy food.

One preparation that stands out is the prawn koliwada a spicy fiery dish relished as a starter. In contrary to popular belief of its origination on the Konkan coast, it actually birthed itself from the Sion fishing village (koliwada) by a North Indian immigrant from Punjab.

These deep-fried crunchy prawns can be identified by their signature red color due to the use of Kashmiri red ground chillies. Mouth watering as is, I chanced upon an invite to a friends house for the same without a moments hesitation.

Desolate spots where one finds oneself 

Koliwada refers to a colony of Kolis (fishermen). A fish market is usually located near the entrance of the Koliwada locality. This is predominantly found in Mumbai till date and fisherfolk have lived across the seven islands off the Arabian Sea that subsequently merged over time to form the city of Mumbai.

Believe you me, savoring fish at a village table is something one must try at least once. Sans the fancy and the razz,  it’s home made fresh food at its best- no frills attached. In its most crude and humble form it’s literally straight from the frying pan onto your plate. The aromas drive you to a tizzy and your fight within to curb your enthusiasm is paramount to avoid searing your mouth.

A day well spent (we ate, we laughed, we sang karaoke, played monopoly, and some gully cricket) with an invite for dinner in tow here’s to some added belches and a whole load of smiles over the meeting fireplace.

Gone fishing. Back in …… 😉

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography