It’s almost two months now that I am back from the ‘Unsavoured Pujo’ pop up at Mustard Mumbai. I have been wanting to share my stories of the pop up for quite sometime but with various commitments, this had taken a back seat. However, it’s better late than never. This Durga Pujo of 2019 had been one of a kind for me. This was the first time that I was away from my family on Durga Pujo- our biggest festival.
A phone call from a friend and the connection with Mustard Mumbai happened
It was during our Bengali food festival at Chilekotha by Debjani and me that Anindya received a phone call from Rushina. Rushina and Anindya have been friends for a long time and she had been following our work and the pop up stories. She asked if we would be interested in doing a pop up at Mustard Mumbai but during Durga Pujo. To be honest, I was thrilled with the opportunity and I immediately went back to my pop up partner in crime, Debjani and asked if she would be keen on it too.
Within the next few days, we were introduced to Punam Singh and Shilpa Sharma, the two ladies behind Mustard Restaurants. Emails, chats and phone conversation happened and a date was set for food trials. Debjani and I flew to Mumbai for the food trial. Over a couple of days, we cooked close to 50 dishes. Both Punam and Shilpa liked what we presented and as trials go, we made a few changes here and there, keeping in mind the Mumbai clientele and shortlisted the final menu.
Unsavoured Pujo – A pop up with honest Bengali food
With heavy hearts, Debjani and I said goodbye to our respective families and left for Mumbai on the 2nd of October (on Tritiya). But there was excitement and anticipation in our strides. We were already acquainted with the chefs in the kitchen from the trial days. Once we reached the restaurant, we met with Chef Rajan Mhatre and went over the final menu, the ingredients list and all other necessary details. Our poc in the kitchen for the both of us were assigned, Chef Pranay and Chef Bibek and we were ready to go.
Address of Mustard Mumbai- Ground floor, Atria Mall, Worli
Mustard Mumbai has an extremely professional kitchen
As expected from a fine dining establishment, the kitchen at Mustard was extremely professional. The chefs, right from the executive to the cuisine experts and commis, were cooperative and most of all, eager to learn. They were well trained and Mustard was a part Bengali kitchen. Therefore, it went to our advantage. 3rd October was the preview for dinner and we had selected a few dishes from each section for the same.
The preview dinner on the 3rd
Till such time, we had only cooked but getting the food ready on order was a different ball game. Being the first day, we were expecting a few glitches. Both of us were on our toes. And Chef Rajan was at the pass ensuring things moved on time and we got all the necessary help. Once a few dishes started rolling out and we realised that the kitchen has picked up the pace of our food, we went out to meet the guests.
This was a completely different experience for us. I won’t shy away from saying but Kolkata was our home turf. We knew the people who would come for our food. But in Mumbai, we were introduced to most of the guests. Plus there were stalwarts from the food industry, some celebrities and many distinguished and influential people from Mumbai. There was a lot of excitement in the air. The restaurant was buzzing and Punam, Shilpa, Debjani and I spoke to the guests, explained the food to them and ensured that things were in place. Yes, we did take a lot of pictures (unfortunately in low light), which I will share here. At the end of the preview, we were convinced about our food and were looking forward to the next 5 days.
Here are a few pictures from the Preview Dinner. I have posted whatever images I had on my phone. Perhaps a few of these images are taken by others and shared on whatsapp. There were many eminent guests that night but we do not have all the pictures.
The next 5 days at Mustard Mumbai
This was the second Durga Pujo for Mustard Mumbai. Punam had already informed us that they were getting a lot of enquiries about the food. We were also aware that the restaurant would be busy. But things went beyond our expectation. Every single day, till Dashami, Debjani and I were on our toes from morning till midnight. The restaurant was packed, there was waiting and we were seating guests the minute a table would be cleared. So, after cooking the major part of the food, Debjani and I would take turns and go out to meet the guests. Punam was also on her toes, standing outside the pass and keeping a close watch over each and every table.
I also understood the importance of interacting with the guests and explaining our food. That helped them in placing the order and also our understanding of the taste buds of Mumbai. By Saptami morning, the kitchen functioned like a well-oiled machinery and things were just terrific from there on. The kitchen staff also got at ease with us and we knew the strengths of each person in the kitchen.
Let the food talk
While crafting the menu, both Punam and Shilpa briefed us that it needed to be Pujo centric. Khichuri was a must and preferably, different kinds of khichuri thalas. An equal mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian varieties in appetisers and main course was expected. And they couldn’t be all fried. At that point I realised what an unhealthy lot we bongs were. Most of the popular snack or appetisers are deep fried. Hence, the food remained pure Bong but we tweaked with the cooking techniques and presentation, to make it more appealing and in sync with the French food in the restaurant.
We took a Thakurbari classic- kumro chingri, stuffed it in a puff pastry dough and called it kumro chingri hath pithe. My grandmother used to make savoury deep fried hath pithe. The idea culminated from there. We also had shile bata murgi- stone ground chicken with spices. This is a dish which is had with rice. However, we decided to serve this as an appetiser with a ball of herbed rice. Macher patishapta, phulkopir shingara, narkel bora, chhanar cutlet, bandakopir dolma, aam kasundi phulkopi paturi, mangsho ghugni crostini and bandel cheese fish fry were the appetisers. Between all of these, we had incorporated all kinds of cooking techniques- deep frying, steaming, baking, shallow frying and rolling a crepe.
Khichuri thala was the most popular dish in the main course
I think everyone wanted to have a khichuri thala. Every table had at least one order of it. Khichuri thala comprised of bhoger khichuri, labra, panch rokomer bhaja, mug mohon, roshogollar rosha, narkel kumri, khejur aamshotor chutney and paromanno. While it was loved by all and many were riding in nostalgia, it was narkel kumro which surprised all. No one could believe that chal kumro or ash gourd could be cooked this way and taste good.
There was something in the menu for everyone. Mangshor khichuri was served as a risotto, only with bhaja. When you have an elaborate khichuri thala, you don’t expect this lone rider to sail. Having said that, mangshor khichuri was very well appreciated. There was nothing on the menu which did not sell. Even pantha bhat on Dashami. Traditionally, in several barowari pujo, Ma Durga is offered Panta Bhat on the final day. Some say, it is to cleanse her system before she goes back home and others say, that Durga’s father punishes her for leaving and hence gives her panta bhat. Whatever the story, the food worked. We served panta bhat with musurir daler bora, kochu shaker ghonto, alu- tomato and begun makha and begun borir ambol along with Ilish mach bhaja.
Ms. Shobhaa De came with her family on Ashtami night and the best part was that they ordered takeaway from the menu the next day.
I had to take a selfie with Mr. Suneil Shetty who came for lunch with his family on Dashami
Now that I look back, we actually didn’t face many difficulties other than having to work really hard- which is part of the deal right? We enjoyed the entire process. It was a breeze cooking in this kitchen with really helpful chefs. The ingredients were sourced correctly and it is fun working with good quality ingredients. We used good quality mustard oil and jharna ghee for cooking, which enhanced the taste of the food. On dashami, when we reached the kitchen, we saw a huge bunch of kochur shak and that was a relief. However, the boys had no idea about the amount of time it takes to prep kochur shak. So it wasn’t until the last minute that Debjani finished cooking the shak. She couldn’t taste it (allergic) and hence, I tasted and finished the dish right on time for the first order.
A few pictures from the last day of service. We were so busy most of the time that we did not get an opportunity to take pictures with all the kitchen staff. However, we thank each and everyone in the kitchen as well as in service, for all their help and support.
Lastly, I would like to thank each and every person who supported us for this pop up. Some of our close friends and families came over and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts. There were many who couldn’t come and I know that their good wishes were there with us.