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A Fish Called Pabda

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I am not a great one for celebrating every Bengali festival under the sun. In fact, I find the Bengali baro mashe tero parbone (13 festivals in 12 months) tradition downright tiresome. However, if you're staying away from home, you tend to experience the typical expat’s zeal for observing every date on his or her native culture calendar. And so it was that I decided to celebrate Poila Baishakh, the first day of the Bengali New Year, by cooking a few special dishes. And, needless to say, eating them.
Pabda Maachher Jhaal is an eternal favourite in Bengal. The fish has a distinctive taste, no bones (barring the central one), and tastes absolutely smashing when cooked in a simple mustard sauce.
However, this is one fish I don't cook too often. Mainly because frying it is fraught with danger — it sputters and sets off minor explosions when placed in hot oil. Frying Pabda and escaping unscathed is basically a function of superhuman agility and dumb luck. You have to move away at lig…

Mad about mutton

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The other day we went to this restaurant called Pot Belly. The name was endearing enough. But what intrigued me was that its USP was Bihari cuisine. Now, I would not have described myself as insular, but the fact is that though I am from Bengal, and Bihar is a neighbouring state, I was completely unaware that Biharis have a distinctive culinary repertoire.
Anyway, so off we went to the newly opened Pot Belly outlet at Bihar Niwas in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area. Browsing the menu itself was a delight. There was the commonly known Bihari staple of Litti chokha (whole wheat balls stuffed with sattu and served with aubergine mash and potato mash), of course, but also a whole lot of other gorgeous sounding dishes such as Fish Chokha on Marua Roti (Fish paste served on crispy buckwheat pooris), Pothia Machhli Fry (Small deep fried fish serve with hot banana chips), Dana Jhamarua Thali (Aubergine and potato in a mustard gravy served with rice flour rotis stuffed with spiced poppy seeds), Golmir…

Spaghetti Bolognese

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What’s your most favourite Italian dish? After the pizza, I mean. If you're not a food snob and wont to drop names like “Zabaglione” (which is quite a sublime dessert, by the way) or “Saltimbocca alla Romana” (a delectable veal concoction), likely as not, you will say it’s spaghetti Bolognese. It’s simple, it’s hearty, and it’s available everywhere — which also accounts for its popularity.
Unfortunately, in India at least, the spaghetti Bolognese is a much abused dish. It often tastes a lot like spaghetti with keema curry, or spaghetti with minced meat groaning under an overwhelmingly sour tomato sauce.
I can tell you about a horrendous spaghetti Bolognese I had at Calcutta’s Bengal Club a few years ago. The so-called Italian restaurant there was being managed by an outfit called Don Giovanni at that time. It was an oily, spicy, minced meat sauce served with tough, underdone pasta. It was nothing short of an abomination. 

So anyway. Here’s my recipe of spaghetti Bolognese. I did read…

Kissa Khichuri Ka

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It was Saraswati Puja yesterday — my first since I moved to Delhi. In between setting up house, settling down and finding my feet at work in a new city, I haven’t managed to do much cooking for pleasure lately. Saraswati Puja is a special day, however, a day redolent with childhood memories. Memories of the Puja at my aunt’s house, of my mother draping me in a small-sized “basanti” (yellow) saree, which invariably came unstuck after a couple of hours. Of murmuring “Jaya Jaya Devi Charaachara Shaare…” before the resplendent idol. And most of all, of the glorious food that was to be had after the puja was done. There was khichuri and begun bhaja, luchi, kheer, kuler aumbol, murir moa, khoiyer moa… Since my Mom’s family came from east Bengal, there was also the delightful ritual of jora ileesher biye, followed by lots of dishes featuring the peerless fish.
The chilly winter morning in Delhi yesterday brought back those memories sharply. I longed for the airy luchis, that thick creamy khe…