Like the rohu in a pond or the seeds in a jar of homemade Kashundi, the culinary vista of Delhi has become flecked with eateries serving food with a kalchar that defies the fish-and-sweet stereotypes so often associated with Bengali food. Oft times tiny, these eateries still manage to pack a disproportionate whallop in their food. Earlier restricted to Bengali pockets of the city such as Chittaranjan (CR) Park or Alaknanda, the cuisine has spread across Delhi, from Vaishali to Vasant Kunj, as well as gaining a firm foothold in Noida and Gurgaon.
Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar’s Big Bongg Theory is a testament to this. The small restaurant serves home-style Bengali food in the cosmopolitan village of Shahpur Jat in South Delhi. Having trained as a Japanese chef, Dastidar used to do a pop-up called Bento Bong at the CR Park pandal during pujo for the last few years, something she continues today. However, in December last year, she launched her restaurant, utilising her culinary tutelage in Japanese fare to pick the freshest fish off the boat. “I didn’t want to open in CR Park or another Bengali colony because I wanted to take this cuisine to the rest of the city. Besides, there are already quite a few institutions there,” says Dastidar.
Sambaran Mitra, or Chef Baron as he is popularly called, quit his job in the merchant navy to open Bong Appetit in Malviya Nagar with his business partner, who is also his moshi (aunt). Having worked part-time in UK restaurants during his university days, Mitra always wanted to open a restaurant that showcased Bengali cuisine, ranging from colonial favourites to Kolkata street food to ghar ka khaana. “In Alaknanda or CR Park I would have been one among many. In Malviya Nagar I can introduce other people to our dining minutiae. Besides, the Bengalis themselves will travel any number of miles for food,” says Mitra.
It seems to be working, given that both Dastidar and Mitra are looking to expand their brands. Older dadas such as Oh! Calcutta and Bijoli Grill have already started mushrooming in different parts of the city while others such as City of Joy enjoy a faithful fan following as well. “The thing is that Bengali food is not a homogeneous cuisine. There are several different elements and techniques to it. Some dishes are oily, others far healthier, all with a range of ingredients,” says Dastidar.
Indeed, their food is not just about ilish and its ilk (or even sandesh), something Bengalis have been trying to convince the rest of the country. People now seem to be getting it. “Bengalis have travelled to all parts of the world by now, and almost everyone somewhere or the other has a Bengali friend. So I think people are finally getting the finer nuances of the food,” says Mitra. Most non-Bengalis flock to these restaurants looking for the region’s many-layered food.While most of Mitra’s clients are from West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Odisha, some of his regulars also include Chinese and Russian nationals. Dastidar admits that Bengalis make for less than half of her clientele. There is certainly something for everybody.