Food, they say, is all about nostalgia.
The exhilarating aroma wafting from the ancient soot-blackened kitchen in our Karimganj home as Grandma, seated on her pire in front of the mud oonoon, patiently stirred her payesh.
Or that crunch as Dada and I bit into the crispy nimki, straight out of the kadai, filled to the brim with oil, our tongues singed by the heat. (But that too doesn’t deter us as we reach out, even before Maa can warn us, for yet another one.)
So when Kankana, one of my blogger friends sends a note regarding hosting a virtual potluck for Diwali, it is all about foraging the vaults of memory, of long-lost childhood, for that one dish that brought back Diwali, rather Kali Pujo, to me.
It was one such Kali Pujo, many autumns back, we embarked on a long-anticipated vacation to Kolkata.
And in between mornings at the Museum, appreciating antiquated Kalighat paintings and awe-inspiring chhou masks and afternoons in the expansive greens of the Victoria Memorial, staring listlessly at the pastel-blue autumn skies as the wispy cirrus floated aimlessly past the fairy, it was Dada and me exploring the city for all the sinful street food it had to offer.
And what a hedonistic universe this was !!!!
Kathi Rolls. And a mind-blogging spread of them – Egg. Chicken. Egg-chicken. Double egg-chicken. Double egg-double chicken.
Jhalmuri, bhelpuri and phuchkas. And the to-die-for churmur !!!! (Long before acclaimed chefs started playing with textures)
Singaras and kachoris.
Radhaballabhis and aloor dom.
Ghugni served with a smile in earthy sal-pata bowls. With a profusion of chopped onion and coriander leaves. And a generous squeeze of lemon.
Tele-bhajas. Full of sin.
Chops and cutlets. The colonial hangover.
Chicken momos and thupkas. And that wicked red sauce !!!
Chicken chowmein and that delectable Chinese breakfast at Territy Bazaar.
But what remained etched in my little just-into-my-teens brain was the Mutton Pantheras we savoured one lazy afternoon in a hole-in-the-wall tearoom, somewhere around Park Street, run by an elderly Anglo-Indian couple. Been around for three generations now, the gregarious gentleman had remarked, beaming with pride, as he regaled us with stories of the metropolis during the Second World War. (Overnight the eatery became a warehouse of the Americans. I still have the comic books one soldier left with me when it was time for him to leave the city…..)
Of course the taste was delectable.
But it was the name (Pantheras, really ??? Panthera as in a tiger ? I mused in innocent glee as I pored over the menu) that stuck to me for years to come.
And it is that languorous afternoon I attempt to re-create as I go about with my Mutton Pantheras for the potluck.
That time-stops-still ambience that so defines Kolkata.
That unforgettable taste, each layer teasing the senses before revealing itself in all its splendid glory.
The occasional fiendish chilly that I encountered.
Or the piquant kashundi that accompanied the Mutton Pantheras.
Mutton Pantheras. Spicy mutton mince. Cocooned in the embrace of a warm crepe. Rolled in breadcrumbs. And fried to a sinful golden.
Redolent of the Raj.
Of lazy afternoons and hedonistic tea rituals.
If this is not festive indulgence, what is ?
And if you want to know what our potluck looked like, here are the remaining recipes –
Lilva Kachori by Binjal Pandya
Prawn Pulao by Chandrima Sarkar
Ilish Pulao by Deepasri Deb
Karachi Halwa by Somedutta Sengupta
Mysore Pak by Radhika Penagonda
Balushahi by Himanshu Taneja
Rasmalai by Kankana Saxena
Paal Kozhukatai by Vijitha Shyam
Mini Gulab Jamun by Rumela Roy
Malai Laddu by Prerna Singh
Wishing you all a very happy and safe Deepavali !!!!!