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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Oh Kolkata – what would you be without Aaheli?!

Milestone - This blogpost has been referenced in Potpourri- The Carnival of Bengali Cuisine, January 2010.


It is a fact, that Bengalis, like the French and the Italians, are Bon-Vivants, with a shared heritage of intellectual prowess and virtuosity, coupled with an equal fervor for literary, cultural and culinary gratification. Bengali, can rightfully lay claims to being India's true romance language, having laid the tapestry for some of the greatest literature ever written, and recognized by the world thru the magnum-opus of India's Nobel prize winning poet-laurete, Rabindranath Tagore ("Robi-Thakur" to the Bengalis). Food for the Bengali, is raison d’etre, a celebration of life, and sheer indulgence of the senses like there is no tomorrow, not unlike their brethren from France and Italy!

Nowhere is this manifested more than Le Ville Magnifique de Bengal - the bastion of Bengali culture – “Pracheen Kolikata” (ancient Kolkata). Being the enfant-terrible from Bombay that I am, I hate to grudgingly admit that Kolkata (used to be called Calcutta), presents opportunities to indulge my taste buds at an incredible price and offers culinary value like no other city in India! Although not marketed half as well as North and South Indian cuisine that, in the West, is synonymous with Indian cuisine, Kolkata (and Bengal) offer a bewildering repertoire of fine cuisine and gastronomical delights that would put many a
Cordon Blue chef or connoissieur to shame!

Why do I keep going back for more:

La Grande Dame of fine Bengali cuisine is without a doubt,
Aaheli at the Peerless Inn at Esplanade, positioned in close proximity to the Oberoi Grand (Kolkata’s pride and one of the Leading Hotels of the World). What keeps me going back to Aaheli for more, is an ambiance worthy of the Bengali Bhadrolok (aristocracy) complemented with the finest in Bengali cuisine served up by the friendly staff clad in traditional Bengali attire - the ladies replendant in their red bordered silk sarees, with the men clad in their crisp Dhooti-Punjabis, looking like they have stepped out of a Biye-Bari (a Bengali wedding banquet).

What lends a touch of class to this festive culinary experience is the attention to detail (see photo below) such as the traditional brass cutlery, the dainty slices of Gandhoraj Lebu (the most aromatic limes anywhere that are unique to Bengal), the manicured Dhaani Lanka (tiny green peppers that pack an awesome punch) and the clay dishes clad with banana leaves on which the food is served, that transponds you to an era gone by - the Golden Age of Bengal, marked by the avant-garde seminal, artistic and literary accomplishments worthy of the then intellectual, political and economic capital of India!

Aaheli_Lanka Lebu

My Favorites:

  • Kaacha Aamer Sharbot – a novel rendition by Aaheli, with the flesh of aromatic tender green Mangoes extracted and flavored with spices to render this into an inimitable nectar that serves to stoke your taste buds in anticipation of the culinary delights that follow
  • Cholar Daal – a Bengali favorite with chola (also called Chana in Northern India) cooked with Paach-Phoron (a combo of five condiments flash fried, that is the essence of Bengali cooking) that delivers a delicate full bodied, almost curry like soup that is best enjoyed with either Loochi (Bengali fried flat bread also called Puri in Northern-India) or white rice…oh la la la!
  • Murgi-Posto – a clever variation of a classic dish (Alu-Posto) unique to Bengal, with chicken cooked using Aaheli’s secret recipe, using poppy seeds that lend an unique texture and flavor
  • Dab Chingrir Malaikari – giant shrimps cooked in a classic Bengali coconut curry, and served up in a hollowed tender coconut…mmm!
  • Bhetkir Paturi – truly Bengali Cordon Bleu, with a popular fresh water fish, marinated in a secret recipe and wrapped up in banana leaf and steamed to perfection!
Aaheli_Bhetkir Paturi
  • Galda Chingrir (Lobster) Shorshe Bata – Lobster or giant shrimps delicately cooked in a spicy mustard sauce (see photo below), with that oh, so inimitable pungency of hand ground mustard that implodes on the palate – Pavlovian delight personified!
Aaheli Lobster Shorshe Bata
  • Bhaapa Illish – Aaheli’s rendition of a traditional classic – the ultimate seafood indulgence for the discerning Bengali palate. This bony, yet quintessentially Bengali sweet water fish, marinated and delicately steamed and rendered in a mustard curry that when accompanied by long grained white Basmati risotto, sends one into raptures! And happily, in answer to my prayers, they now offer this dish bereft of the bones as an option (see photo below)...La Dolce Vita comes alive!:-)
Aaheli_Shorshe Bhapa Iilish Maach
  • Morolla Maacher Bati Chorchori - a rare Bengali delicacy that comprises a anchovy like fish deep fried and cooked to curried perfection using an age old, secret recipe (see photo below). This is de-rigeur for a Bengali banquet and has been perfected in the kitchens of the aristocracy, over the years.
Aaheli_Morolla Maacher Bati Chorchori
  • Khasshir Mangsho – classic goat curry spiced with recipes handed down from one generation to another, with a touch of dry fruits – leger-de-main from the chef-de-cuisine of Aaheli, that serves to indulge the Bengali’s craving for the flesh!:-)
  • An ensemble of classic Bengali desserts comprising Malpua, Patishapta Pithe, Payesh and Mishti-Doi that are sinfully delightful and crave indulgence, with utter disregard for the calories!:-)
While its phenomenal success and celebrity has spawned a myriad of me-too offerings in pretentious settings, Aaheli with its unique ambiance, the attention paid to my every need by Subhash Panna, the maitre’d and his well attired staff who personify superb service, but most of all, its closely held and often esoteric recipes perfected over generations in the kitchens of the Kings and Zamindars (landlords) of Bengal, has cast its spell over me!

I can never leave Kolkata without paying obeisance to the finest that Bengali cuisine has to offer, at the altar of culinary sacrament that is Aaheli!

This adventure in Kolkata, West Bengal, India, begins at: Aaheli at the Peerless Inn, 12, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Kolkata-700 013. West Bengal, India. Tel # (011) 91 (033) - 2228-0301/ 02/ 03/ 05/ 06/ 07. Click here for the Google Map and Directions.
Comments: SUKI said (in "Bonglish"): "Jeebh thekey jol gorachchhey. Incidentally, yours is the first hit if one googles "gandhoraj". I was looking for an English translation, I guess there is none. April 3, 2008 7:10 AM
(via e-mail - in Bengali):
Andy, Great blog! Bhissoon Bhalo laglo porte. Chaliye jao.
Smiles, SG Fri 2/9/2007 9:19 AM


Suki said...

Oh my - do shut up, if you can't feed me all that!
Jeebh thekey jol gorachchhey.

Incidentally, yours is the first hit if one googles "gandhoraj". I was looking for an English translation, I guess there is none.

Kalyan Banerjee said...

Great read, Andy. Havent been to Aaheli, but your review sure pulls me there.

I've quoted this post and a few lines in Potpourri: Carnival of Bengali Cuisine at Cook Like a Bong.


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