Let’s say you are planning to start a Bengali restaurant
What are the things that come to your mind when you start planning the menu? Shukto (quintessentially Bong vegetarian dish made with bitter guard and other vegetables), Alu posto (potatoes with poppy seed paste), mug daal, jhuri Aloo Bhaja (thinly sliced potatoes which are deep fried), Rui machher kaalia (Rohu fish deep fried and cooked in rich red gravy with onions), Ilish and different preparations (the sweet heart of Bengalis, Hilsa needs no further introduction) and Kosha Mangsho – the deep rich Bengali mutton curry which is a Bengali’s answer to Sunday roast.
I bet, there will be some rare Bengali restaurants around the globe, which will not offer Kosha Mangsho. I remember in one of my first meetings with Mr. Vir Sanghvi, when I discussed my latest piece on Kosha Mangsho. He asked me curiously about my reasons for this love. On its natural course, the discussion moved on to the fact that although, it’s supposed to be a slow-cooked dish, how come the Kosha Mangsho is served so quickly in restaurants.
For me, Kosha Mangsho is one of the litmus tests for any restaurant. Not only the food critics but every individual has a dish of the test that confirms whether the restaurant and the chef care for the method, ingredients and time for cook. For me, it is Kosha Mangsho. I have been proved right most of the time. Preparing a bad kosha mangsho doesn’t make a restaurant bad or good. However, if someone is a Kosha Mangsho aficionado, then a badly/moderately prepared kosha Mangsho is not taken in very good spirits.
What are some of my horrible experiences?
Coriander leaves (this was in one of the 5-star property), a slightly yellowish-red gravy, which is gravy and not the paste of cooking the masala in slow heat, same gravy for kosha Mangsho in kalia also, use of typical north Indian chat masala in the dish, grainy half-cooked masala in the paste, use of tomato as a souring agent and the list can continue..
Inevitably, anything which becomes popular gets abused in the name of inspiration and a very contemporary example being the bearded look of Virat Kohli. As a matter of fact, I have also tried that look and a mess out of it.
What are some of the places serving the best Kosha Mangsho in Kolkata?
I am not very hopeful about the middle rung restaurants and I have stopped checking out Kosha Mangsho in these places after some horrible experiences. However, few places which make a really good kosha mangsho with care and love, just as you would be about your brush strokes in a canvas painting are as follows-
- Golbari– This is considered the baap of all. Situated at Shyambazar 5 point crossing, it is often said that Kosha Mangsho was originated from here. Originally named as New Punjabi restaurant and later named as Golbari, this place is 95 years old and serves the spiciest Bengali Mutton curry or Kosha Mangsho. This variant is a little tough on the stomach and not meant for the weak-hearted; however, the staunch kosha mangsho lovers will always vouch for it. Rich, dark, oily and sinful, you asked for this eroticism. I remember once we were adventurous enough to wait in a queue for 45 minutes, sweating like pigs in an end September heat and that too, during Durga Pujo to taste the great Mangsho. The seating arrangement was not that great and 4 of us had to get split and sit on narrow benches with small wall fans, all added up to a situation where we wanted to finish the meal quickly and sooner the better. In case the doctor has suggested no mutton – then go for chicken kosha.
- Koshe Kasha – As the name suggests, this brand of the restaurant started in 2006 with a focus on north Kolkata Kosha mangsho. In 2006, they started with some of the old employees of Golbari during the latter’s temporary shut-down phase. The Kosha Mangsho here is a notch milder in taste. However, the flavours burst in your mouth. Which started as a small joint in north Kolkata, it now has branches all across the city.
- Oh! Calcutta – The fine dining Bengali restaurant has changed the way Bengalis look into the food. Yes, the food may be very upscale and a bit innovative, but they do make a mean kosha mangsho. True blue kosha mangsho lovers have loved this dark and spicy curry, rich with all the right nuances of the perfect kosha mangsho. But just as the romance in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is different from Ijaazat, the Kosha Mangsho is different between Golbari and Oh! Calcutta.
- Kewpies – A very small boutique restaurant in the heart of the city, Kewpies was a first-of-its-kind restaurant providing and promoting Bengali cuisine in a restaurant format to the city. It’s small but has a lot of style and elegance. The same goes for its kosha mangsho. Very home-styled, this kosha mangsho has a lip-smacking quality and is served in small clay bowls making the experience very satisfying. If you are there ask for the owner Rakhi di and say hello to her. High chances you will get to listen to some interesting food stories.
- 6 Ballygunge Place – This place has its own variation of Kosha Mangsho, which is again very home-styled. The mangsho is not too rich in taste, however has all the correct flavours of spices binding it. Although 6 BP has got many other signature dishes but the Kosha Mangsho here is worth trying.
- Aaheli – Aaheli is the first fine-dining Bengali restaurant ever and no wonder, when they claim that Ghee or Mustard oil is the only cooking medium used, the taste of Kosha Mangsho supports that too. In my opinion, this is by far the best that I had. The aroma, the thickness of the paste cooked and the quality of mutton, all tick the boxes that one should always look for. This place is priced premium; perhaps the costliest amongst all.
- Oberoi Grand – I was a little reluctant to include any 5-star restaurants in this list but once tasted during the Grand Pujor Mahabhoj and then at Three Sixty Three Degree buffet, I was prompted to include this in the list. During one of the conversations with Chef Sourav Banerjee, he said that Oberoi Grand Kolkata always uses lamb instead of mutton for Kosha Mangsho and strangely, there was no strong odour. In fact, the lamb was soft and was falling off the bones and the spiciness of the gravy was just perfect.
This list is not an exhaustive one
A list like this is not writing on the wall, nor is it the gospel truth for ages to come. Like any other food, there can be personal favourite places and ways of preparation which will be liked by many and disliked by some. If eating out is not my option, then the home-cooked one is my comfort food and I can vouch for it. However, I will like to re-look at this list after a year and see if anything has changed. In case you can recollect any other place serving this greatness of a dish, do let me know.
The Best Kosha Mangsho in Kolkata is a journey on an ongoing basis and not an actuality that will remain relevant for centuries. Do you think any other place needs to be added here? Please mention in the comments section
Addition to Kosha Mangsho in Kolkata
I could have ended the post here and hit the publish button and rushed to taste my Kosha Mangsho. But let me introduce two mutton dishes in Kolkata, which may not be exceptional but impossible to not love them. When I posted these pictures and my experience on Instagram and other social media channels, some interesting comments flew on the recipe and origin of the dishes.
As Pia di (Pia Promina Dasgupta Bharve one of the co-founders of Kewpies) approved my interpretation of Mutton Gelasi which is served in The Gateway Hotel; glassy is to glaze in French and even on internet searches, it doesn’t show up any recipe. Mutton gelasi is a Bangladeshi dish that has mutton cooked in the stewing method and the end result is a curry that has a lot of glaze. Like Kosha Mangsho, the cooking medium here is also mustard oil and perhaps most of the ingredients are similar too.
From far east to down south. This is another which you cannot miss. Mutton ghee roast and as the name suggests, this one is made in ghee and topped with ghee for its flavour. The spices are first blended into a paste and the ruling ingredients are red chilies, fennel, peppercorns and other spices and the souring agent is tamarind. We had it at The Coastal Macha and have become a fan forever.