An article published by Zee Zest in 2021 explains the story behind the cookbook Thakurbarir Ranna, a Bengali cookbook attributed to the Tagore family. In 1985, Purnima Thakur compiled over 250 recipes from a notebook of handwritten recipes passed down by Rabindranath Tagore’s favourite niece, Indira Devi. The purpose of this book was to share the simple joys of cooking food, and how patience, time and love are crucial for the creation of any dish.
The Thakur family, anglicised to Tagore, were food connoisseurs and had attended many high teas and balls hosted by foreign nobility, whose recipes they brought back home. A Mint Lounge article from 2022 explains how the dishes in the cookbook celebrate this international influence, featuring different preparations of the hilsa fish such as narkel doodh diye ilish (hilsa cooked in coconut milk) and European flavours like hilsa roast accompanied by sautéed vegetables and mash.
The Tagore kitchen was, therefore, a melting pot of different cuisines and cultures. The dishes also featured vegetarian dishes like aam o echorer torkari, which translates to pointed gourd and jackfruit cooked with green mango, and beguner chutney made out of eggplant.
In 2009, Mint’s interview with the great-nephew of Purnima Thakur, Sumanto Chattopadhyay showed that “though Bengalis are hard-core non-vegetarians, their vegetable dishes are brilliant.” Vegetarian Bengali dishes are lightly spiced to highlight the true flavour of the ingredients.
Esplanade, a Bengali restaurant in Indiranagar Bengaluru, is set to feature dishes from this cookbook in their festival, Thakurbarir Ranna, which is happening till the end of March. Chef and owner Subhankar Dhar will also showcase dishes that have been passed down through generations in his family.
Esplanade’s Thakurbarir Ranna is a vegetarian-only festival with dishes such as chalkumro pasto bora (white pumpkin fritter stuffed with poppy seeds and ground coconut paste) and chapor ghanto (sauteed mixed vegetables cooked with lentil dumplings). Dhar also highlights the chhanar malai curry, which normally uses prawns and other seafood in a coconut curry. The dish has been given a vegetarian twist in the cookbook and is made out of cottage cheese instead.
When asked why the focus on vegetarian food, Dhar says, “At Esplanade, we wanted to break the myth that Bengali food is all about mustard and fish. Instead, we hoped to showcase the vegetarian side of this cuisine to people who may have never tried it. There is such a depth in flavour, why not show it (off)?”
Another favourite dish of Dhar’s, is the mochar dhokar dalna which is banana floret dumplings cooked in a tomato-based gravy. “The taste of the curry is subtle and does not need a lot of masala. If you can achieve a certain texture and taste, then that makes the dish satisfying,” he explains.
Other items on the menu include different preparations of vegetables like potoler tel jhal (pointed gourd cooked in mustard and green chili paste), and chhanar paturi (mashed cottage cheese with mustard and coconut paste wrapped in a plantain leaf). An assortment of rice and breads are also available. These include chhanar pulao, which is made of mini cottage cheese, and karaishutir dalpuri, which is a flatbread stuffed with green peas.
A Bengali meal is incomplete without mishti, or dessert, and there is an assortment of sweets such as baked rasgulla and mishti doi.
The festival is on at Esplanade in Indiranagar, Bangalore till March 31. Prices start at ₹295.