Two Bengals on a plate
Two pop-ups by home chefs combine Bengali cuisine from both sides of the border
Iti Mishra, or “Iti Aunty", offers travellers traditional and inventive Bengali fare, and her famed fish kochuris, at her home in Kolkata, as part of the Traveling Spoon service. The retired airline executive has also been extending her expertise to restaurant kitchens. Last year, she collaborated with Monkey Bar (in Kolkata and Delhi) to create an elaborate Bengali thaala for Durga Puja celebrations. Now, in Mumbai, she has teamed up with The Bombay Canteen’s executive chef Thomas Zacharias for a two-week “Bengali Bhoj" pop-up that begins on 28 May, and hopes to improve the understanding of the region’s cuisine.
“We need to correct this concept people have that Bengalis only eat macher jhol. There are so many vegetarian ingredients and dishes in Bengali cuisine that are unknown in the rest of the country," she says. Like radhuni, or celery seed, which “imparts a very unique flavour to a lightly prepared vegetarian dish in which no other spice is used".
Mishra’s flavours are an amalgam of two culinary traditions. “Food from East Bengal, or Bangladesh, is more spicy, while West Bengal is blander. In my family, we have members from both regions so my dishes have elements from either side of the river," she says.
The home-style summer menu for The Bombay Canteen pop-up is guided by seasonality and authenticity and will be served in a traditional seven-course meal structure that follows a traditional flavour progression: bitter, sharp, hot, sour and sweet. These thaalas will be available on pre-order for dinners only.
In addition, a changing à la carte menu will feature specials like different preparations of hilsa. “The head will be fried and cooked with climbing spinach to make chorchori, which is a mélange of five-six vegetables. Other bits will be cooked in a hilsa biryani," says Mishra.
Another forthcoming pop-up in Mumbai will take a closer look at Bengal’s culinary divide. Home chef Ragini Kashyap will launch “Bordered" pop-ups next month, in association with Good Food Lab, as a means of understanding cuisine and conflict. “A ‘Bordered’ dinner celebrates our similarities and differences by eating across a border and across a culture," says Kashyap. Her first dinner, on 10 June will explore the Tamil-Sinhala conflict in Sri Lanka, while the next edition, on 15 July, will examine the culinary history of Bangladesh and West Bengal. “I will be hosting a seven-course meal. Over the course of the meal, we will eat our way around Greater Bengal, uncover the history of the conflict, the identities, the relationship with food across the east and the west."