Halfway through our conversation, I declared – So is Shotkora the cousin of Gondhoraj from other side of the boundary? Nayana di’s eyes lit up with a mischiveous smile and after an initial resistance, she agreed.
I was in conversation with Nayana Afroz or Nayana di for most of us, as she was explaining to me the journey of her recipe collection, an insight to Bangladeshi cuisine and what is on the offer for Ahare Bangladesh – The Bangladeshi food festival in Aaheli of Peerless Hotels.
How Nayanadi’s foray into Bangladeshi cuisine started
Nayana di is a well known Bangladeshi food consultant and her pop ups at various parts of the world has often caught enough positive attention. Nayana Afroz landed in Bangladesh in 1993 from Kolkata and her work as a translator with development sector made her travel the length and breadth of the country. Most often, to gain the trust as an interpreter, she has had to share a meal with the natives at remote locations, villages, chat up with the female folks and most of the recipes that she cooks surfaced from these conversations. Her passion for cooking and love for food acted as a fuel.
Bhorta or Bhawrta and how they are paired in Bangladeshi cuisine.
My limited knowledge of Bangladeshi cuisine has been centred around few outlets in Kolkata. I realise, it has been more of scratching the surface for these outlets and not many have gone in depth of the cuisine. One most popular dishes in any Bangladeshi place is Bhorta. This ‘mash’ or bhorta, a simple dish, is a now a face of Bangladeshi cuisine across globe. As Nayana comfirmed, the spicy and hot Bhortas go better with Panta Bhaat (fermented rice) like the rosun bhorta, moreech bhorta and dim bhaaji is the delicacy with a meal like this. With steamedl rice, the bhawrtas that go well are alu bhawrta, begun bhawrta and mostly the vegetable bhortas. However, with Roti or the flatbreads, it is the oily bhortas that taste good.
We tasted begun bhorta or eggplant bhawrta which was sweet and that came as a surprise. Unlike our begun pora or bhorta, the Begun Bhawrta here was made with sweet curd and poppy seed. It takes a moment or two to grow on your taste buds.
Ruti, Roti and the types in Bangladeshi cuisine
As we jumped into Ruti or flatbreads, Nayana shared that there are two types of rutis mostly found in Bangladeshi cuisine. One is a kalai ruti which is made with Kolai daal or urad dal. This is the one which is kneaded with hands and then dried on a tawa. These are hard enough to be broken into pieces and to be had with hot and spicy Bharta. A very common feature in Bengali kitchens is the ruti or roti being first rolled out, roasted on the tawa and finally flipped on a iron net or jaal over the flame till the ruti puffs up. Contrary to that, the jaal is not used in our neughboring country to make ruti or roti. The most common form of ruti is something called Siddho Aatar Ruti. The process involves boiling the flour in salt water for sometime, making the dough with the warm mixture andfinally make the circular shapes and then heating on Tawa. The flipping happens on the tawa itself and only three times.
Journey of Shotkora lebu from Sylhet to Dhaka to Kolkata. Shaktkora mutton as a part of Bangladeshi cuisine.
This was the moment when I tried to be cheeky and declared that Gondhoraj can be called as a cousin of Shatkora lebu. It is a rare variety of lemon grown in warmer places of Sylhet like Hobibgunj and Moulobi Bazaar. Nayana got these from Sylhet to Dhaka and then carried to Kolkata for this festival. Tangy yet bitter in taste, this is used in daal and as well as in Mutton and Nayana made Shotkora mutton. Made with Methi seed oil, this dish is oily, the meat was falling off bone and the Shotkora lemon was used in the end when the juice and the pulp, both were added. Very rarely have I tasted a Mutton which has a tinge of tanginess and bitterness both yet very ably balanced. I would not be surprised if this gets a permanent place in Aaheli.
What else from Bangladeshi cuisine at Aha Re Bangladesh?
There is a lot else to be honest. There is Begun Khasi, which is round slices of eggplants cooked the same way as mutton (generous amount of onion, ginger paste, cummin seeds), palong shaker bora or fritters made with kolai or urad dal, haathe makha ilish jhaal and hathe makha musoor dal where the ingredients are mashed by hand, no separate tempering on flame, added salt, water and oil and then cooked. There is sobji poa pithe, which is winter vegetables in the pithe form, Beresta pulao which is loaded with fried onions in different layers. The list is endless. Nayana proudly claims that some of the dishes are even unavailable in popular eateries in Bangladesh as well.
Till date, I cherish the friendship of couple of my batchmates in my Post Grad studies who were from Bangladesh. Though it’s almost 19 years that we have passed out, we have kept in touch on and off. On numerous occasions, they have invited me for a visit to this neighbouring country but for various reasons, it has never materialised. Nayana has just given another reason to make my plan to Bangladesh soon.
All these dishes are available in both the outlets of Aaheli Kolkata from 27th February till 31st March and other than the A La Carte menu, there is Veg thali known as Dhakai Bagan thali @INR 1555 plus taxes and Non Veg Thali known as Padmar Parash at INR 2325 plus taxes.