The Calcutta Connection, by Asia Alive
Dussera holds a special place in my life. During my childhood, it meant ten glorious days with my cousins, binging on street food, visiting Durga pandals and museums, cleaning up pots of mishti dahi and chai in Calcutta ( as it was known back in the day). An annual tradition, passed down from my parents who were born and brought up in the City of Joy. It's a tradition that's not been followed in over a decade unfortunately. I make do with the pandals and food that pops up in Bengaluru, but it's still not quite the same.
However, this year was a tad different. The team at Asia Alive at Double Tree Suites by Hilton have put together a food festival titled 'The Calcutta Connection'. Where this is completely different from the regular formats of the food festival is that this takes four of the key days of Dussera and celebrates a different connection to the city of Calcutta on each day. On saptami, the seventh day, the festival brings together the flavours from the houses of the rajbarirs, better known as the zamindars and nawabs of undivided Bengal. Ashtami, the eighth day, 'Bagbazar ba Maddox', features dishes from the cafes and eating joints at the two ends of the city. The penultimate day of the festival brings you some of the cult dishes from the famous Park Street. The final day, dashami, allows you to experience 'Opar Bangla', a culinary treat from the time of undivided Bengal.
Yours truly, with other fellow food enthusiasts was invited last week to try out some of the dishes that would be featured over the four days. Before we sat down for dinner, we were served some fabulous snacks that brought back memories from being in the city, especially the jaal muri. As much as I hate restraining myself from eating, I had to remind myself of a main course that awaited.
The team had put together a thaali that had classic dishes like shukto, mishti pulao,cholar dal and more. The sighs and smiles on the faces of folks who have a deep connection with Calcutta was a testimony to the food that was served. The Kosha Mangsho, served with piping hot luchis made a few of us forget all etiquette, and rapidly gobble away delicious chunks of mutton in a gravy where cinnamon, mustard oil, cloves and garam masala all came together to create a delicious dish. The Paturi, which was made with bhetki, sang to me. With strong flavours of mustard, I nearly had tears in my eyes on the perfection with which this dish was cooked. The Shiraz Mutton Biryani, the Peter Cat Chelo Kabab, the Mangsher Chop, Fish Orly, each and every item served to us that evening was cooked to perfection. No holding back on the mustard oil and spices.
Dessert was a special affair. While the mishti dahi with apricots was great, the hero of the evening was the Darjeeling Tea Panna cotta, smoke with Goldflake cigarette. That's right... Goldflake cigarette! As pointed out by one of the folks at the table, the aroma of tobacco brings back memories of many a hostel room. Bringing together the classic combination of tea and smokes, the chef had created one of the finest desserts I have had this year. It's one of those dishes that words can't quite describe.
The only way the food could have gotten better was if they could actually take us to Calcutta and serve it there. The attention to detail on getting every ingredient in place was commendable. Too often do we see restaurants replacing ingredients of classic dishes with locally available ingredients, these don’t quite add up. It's a bold move from the team to put together different dishes for each day, and get the ingredients to cover them and ultimately deliver on flavour. At the end of the evening, it was truly a 'home away from home' experience. Ambition is a good thing, delivering on that is a whole different ball game. And the entire team at Asia Alive have delivered.
Aptly priced at INR 999 for the buffet, for both lunch and dinner, the Calcutta Connection is a festival you really shouldn’t miss. If it weren't for the distance, I'd be there every evening to experience each of the themes. I've already booked my table to go back, with family on saptami. Do come over and say hello if you see me.