It’s the most awaited festival for any Bengali. And the first question on every Bong’s mind these five days is ‘what is the time for Pushpanjali?’ Pushpanjali is the fresh flower offerings and prayers made to the Goddess Durga – mostly after a morning fast – which means a cup of black tea in the morning & head to straight to the Puja Pandal in crisp new clothes.
And after the Pushpanjali is done – the next most important question on a Bong’s mind is – what the time does Bhog start?
And while that can only be post 12 (after the Khichdi Prasad is first offered to Ma Durga) – the interim hunger is combated with some Anjali Prasad – cut fruits and sweets served in a leaf bowl.
And then amidst all the adda that ensues with the Durga Puja gang (friends one invariably bumps into only during Durga Puja) and the numerous mashis, meshos, kakus and kakimas (unlimited uncles and aunties beaming in their cotton Panjabis – that’s what we call the long kurtas & sarees) – some more appetite is worked up & it’s time to head to the food stalls outside for – Singara and Cha!
Cha is sweet milk tea that is usually served in earthen cups and Singara is the Bengali version of Samosa. Only smaller and stuffed with peas and peanuts along with the yummy non-spicy potato filling.
The other popular option is hot Luchi (Bengali version of puris) and Shaada Alu (A light mix of potatoes cooked in five spices and without any turmeric).
And armed with newfound energy after these lip-smacking snacks it’s usually time to head for the Bhog-er line. And notwithstanding the long winding lines in the hot sun – the Durga Puja Bhog is a must have!
Bhog Khichdi is the prasad which is served at almost every Puja Pandal – along with a generous helping of tomato chutney, labda (a delish mix of assorted vegetables), begun bhaja (brinjal fritters) & rounded off with a serving of Bengali sweets and kheer. And anyone who has had Bhog during Durga Puja will swear by its distinct flavor which is just impossible to replicate at home! Almost as if there is a divine touch to the proceedings.
Durga Puja evenings are totally earmarked for exhibiting the best of new saris, clothes, and jewelry! All the heavy silks, kanthas, gorgettes, gold, and pearls are brought out & adorned. Look anywhere in a Puja Pandal in the evening – and it will all be glitter and glamor! And the latest designs of saree blouses!
And after the evening Aarti, Dhaak, and Dhunuchi naach – it’s either time a host of programs like musical shows, plays, dance & dramas mostly by artists flown in specially for the evening or pandal hopping & food sampling!
Right outside the main Durga Puja Pandals – one can sample the best of Kolkata Street food! From vendors flown in straight from the city of joy or local connoisseurs of Bong food. And here’s a list of what you must sample:
Phuchka – It’s Pani Puri for Mumbaikars, Gol Gappa for Delhiites, and always Phuchka for Bengalis! This tangy masala version along with tamarind water and mildly spiced potatoes in a mouth-sized puri blend in for some crackling flavors in the mouth!
Jhaal Muri – This hugely popular Kolkata Street food makes for the perfect evening snack with a cup of cha! Puffed rice or muri mixed in a milieu of flavours – boiled potato, peanuts, dry coconut, masalas – it’s perhaps the yummiest low fat snack you will ever chance upon!
Vegetable Chop – Actually read that as Beetroot chop. A most amazing concoction with minced n cooked beetroot and peanuts – deep-fried in the batter! Another version is the mochar chop (banana flower cooked and rolled in batter n breadcrumbs & then deep fried)!
Kochuri and Aloor Dum – Puris stuffed with gram flour and potatoes cooked in dum aloo style! The combo is yummy to the core.
Rolls – There is always a neck-to-neck competition between the Kolkata Roll and the Phuchka! For the coveted crown of the most favorite Kolkata Street food. It’s almost impossible to pick one over the other! So Kolkata rolls are egg wrapped moist and soft parathas with chicken, mutton, egg or potato filling! The special technique is not just in the way the paratha dough is rolled, it’s also in the way the filling is cooked.
Moghlai Paratha – This is one specialty that is so synonymous with Kolkata that it’s difficult to replicate by any novice. Again a combo of egg, paratha, and mutton that is fried together – to make for the perfect snack! Usually, the one’s manning the Moghlai Paratha stalls are specially flown in from Kolkata for the purpose.
Fish Fry – Deep-fried Bhetki fish cutlets that is to be dipped in Kasundi (the Bengalis most trusted mustard sauce) before taking in a mouthful. Need we say more?
Biryani – Make no mistake, the Kolkata biryani is very different from the Lucknowi and Hyderabadi versions. It is lighter, mildly spiced with large chunks of potato, one whole boiled egg and an even larger chunk of chicken or mutton!
Mishti Doi – Of course, you have to end any Bengali meal on a sweet note!
Add to these, traditionally Bengali households make a stock of sweet and savory homemade snacks like kuchu neemki (tiny crispy diamond shaped fritters), elojhelo (a crunchy deep fried Bengali sweet) & ghughni (gram cooked in gravy).
So there you have it – five days of magical festivities & food!