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Sunday, 22 July 2007

FOOD GUIDE - Oh! Calcutta

For years, I have harboured a myth - there can be nothing more in Bengali food than fish and rice.

And even though I knew I was being stupid, I somehow believed that there's nothing much about that cuisine which the vegetarians can relish.

Well, unfortunately I myself had to shatter all my myths into pieces when I devoured an amazing amount of food at Delhi's latest Bong heaven Oh! Calcutta.

I really would be the last person to know how would an authentic Bengali luchi or dhokar dholna taste, but the only thing I knew for sure was that the food there was simply delicious.

When the opening of this restaurant was announced some months back, it had stirred quite an interest in the Bengali population of my previous office, many of whom made frequent trips to the place.

Frankly, I had never thought of going there. But recently, for my mallu, fish loving husband's sake, I thought of giving that place a shot. After all, the birthday boy had to be pleased.

And only later I realised what I would have missed had I not ventured. From the moment I set my feet into the warm and pleasing restaurant right next to Hotel Park Royal InterContinental I knew I had fallen for it.

The lighting was just perfect, neither too dark nor too bright. The sitting arrangement comfortable.

So if you wanted a cosy romantic dinner, you could opt for a corner sofa or your noisy group of friends could occupy the long centre table. Basically, there is room for everyone.

But the one thing that really stole my heart at Oh! Calcutta was their staff. In a city where warmth and smiles have become rare commodities, this restaurant seemed to have stocked up these two things very well.

The waiters came, stood patiently and took time to explain each and every dish to us who were very obvious first timers to a Bengali joint.

And when the food was served, we almost forgot that we were sitting in a restaurant and paying for the meal. Every item was lovingly served to us till we said stop.

An extra care was taken to ensure that the non-veg food was kept away from the veggies. And the waiters amazingly seemed to hover around and would pop up when any of our plates had some empty space.

I'm sure I ate a trifle more than my appetite thanks to the way the food was served.

So, there was begun bhaja (yes, I love brinjal so much that I honestly didn't care about the others' taste!), aam de bhindi, dhokar dhalna and luchis.

My husband wanted to taste the famous Hilsa so there was smoked the hilsa and mutton curry for him and my father.

The plain deep fried begun bhaja was amazing and so was the slightly sour bhindi overflowing with friend onions.

But the luchis stole the show. Swollen to perfection, and so soft that they would literally break with three fingers.

And the oil. No, the luchis didn't taste as if they were fried in a can full of oil. Believe me, they tasted surprisingly oil free!

Though many might not agree with him but my husband was of the view that the vegetarian fare was much tastier than the non-veg.

But then I really can't comment much on a Keralaite's taste for Bengali fish, even if it is Hilsa. The railway mutton was tasty was what I was told.

Of course, how can a good Bengali meal be over without a good sweet. So we sampled the rusgulla, sandesh and mishti doi.

I was hesitant at the thought of shelling out extra bucks just for a mithi doi which can be picked up for Rs 8 from Mother Dairy.

But I almost hit myself when I licked a small quantity of it from my mother's kulhar (clay glass). Thick, sweet and divine.

With stomach just about to burst, chewing paan, I finally roved my eyes around to observe the crowd.

There were the obviously Bengali couples sitting and relishing smoked hilsa and luchis amongst loud discussions on everything ranging from politics to painting.

And then there was the typical Dilliwala population who would have suddenly decided to become adventurous and move over their butter chicken.

And then there was me, whose myth about Bengali food was finally broken here today. Oh! Calcutta.

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