The air is thick with incense,the conch blows loudly and the priest offers prayers to Goddess Durga in his sonorous voice. Keeping time with the beating dhak,clashing cymbals and ululation,men dance with the smoking dhunuchi (censer). Amid all this,mouth-watering scents float in from the kitchen and waft through the pandal. Durga Puja is as much a celebration of the goddess as it is a treat for the senses,none more so than taste.
From the day the pandal is set up to the last day of the festival,no one cooks at home. Everyone likes to eat at the pandal,surrounded by friends and relatives, says Prodipto Roy,who is in charge of the food stalls at the pandal organised by Nandanik a Bengali association at Rohi Villa,Lane 7,Koregaon Park.
The association has been organising the puja pandal for 10 years now. This time,they will have about 10 food stalls at the pandal,offering items ranging from traditional Bengali fare to Chinese and Italian. A mixed set of people come to the puja every year,and we have a little something for everybody, says Roy,adding that there will be stalls by Rajdhani,Yo China,and Kremes and Krusts. But perhaps the jewel in their crown is the twin stalls by Mumbai-based Pratap Caterers.
They will serve traditional Bengali items that you will not find at any other time of the year anywhere in the city. The delicacies will be served on banana leaves,soaked in chhena,which people buy and stock up for the next four to five days, says Roy. Gautam Bose,who has been associated with Nandanik for years,adds,About 40 people will come from Kolkata to assist in cooking. There will be hilsa,lobster,mutton and chicken. The sweets stall will have over 40 varieties of Bengali sweets such as the pran hora,which literally means losing yourself in taste,and abar khabo. Vegetarians will have options such as mocha chop (made from the banana tree flower),and singada or the Bengali samosa,and luchi served with aloo dum. The bhog will feature khichdi,sweet chutney,kheer and other items prepared by Pratap Caterers.
At the pandal at Congress Bhavan,Shivaji Nagar,organsied by Bangiya Sanskrit Samsad,the celebrations are in their 74th year. There will be 16 food stalls this year,offering Kolkata rolls,Kolkata sweets,chops,and more. Bhog will be served from October 11 to 13. On the final day,October 14,we will serve pulao, says Anup Dutta,secretary of Kali Bari Samiti,adding,Food is an integral part of the Bengali way of life.
Famed for their bhog,Kali Bari in Khirkee will have 12 stalls with a variety of cuisines on offer from October 9 to 14. Bhog will be served in the afternoon,between 1 pm and 3 pm. We serve about 5,000 people each day, says Dutta. The stalls will have all the popular fast food and street-food items from Kolkata such as chops,cutlets,oolls,macher jhol and cholar dal.
For those who enjoy cooking as much as eating,Anandamelas will be held at various pandals. Anandamela is a concept during the puja when community members cook traditional items and offer them on sale to other community members. Try the anandamela at the Nandanik pandal,or the Anandam pandal on Salunke Vihar road,where a cookery competition for any one course snacks,dessert or main course is being organised on October 9.