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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Farm fresh nature niceties

I am sitting in a low chair at a low wooden table, both made from seasoned, solid railway sleeper wood. The walls of the room are two feet thick, made entirely of mud from the land around and the roof is thatched.

In my hand is a Mochar Cutlet, which I regard with the keenest pleasure. The crumb-fried exterior is perfect; inside, the finely minced banana blossom and mashed potato stuffing seasoned with a paste of roasted and powdered coriander seeds, red chillies and cumin, along with ginger and chopped coconut, is still steaming hot, and is delicious. Not surprisingly — the banana flower is from a tree just outside, the potato from a patch no farther away. Some of the spices and other ingredients too. All grown the age-old way, sans chemicals or fertilisers, purely organic.

I dip the cutlet into an excellent kasundi sauce made by grinding both the dark and light mustard seeds with cumin and deseeded, soaked red chilli and blended with sweet vinegar. The mustard is also grown organically, a stone’s throw away. Another dip is made of mint, tamarind and jaggery (molasses), seasoned with paanch phoron, or Bengali five-spice mixture. The first sauce sends a zing up your nose because of the sheer purity of the mustard; the second soothes with a sweet-sour balm.

Another starter is Bhapa Kakra and Shrimp Kebab. Equal amounts of crabmeat and shrimp (uncooked) are made into a paste and seasoned with chopped coriander, deseeded green chilli and garlic (both finely chopped), are shaped into spheres, flattened, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. An important ingredient, added just before steaming, is a drizzle of raw, cold-pressed, organic mustard oil.

A third starter is Allen’s Prawn Cutlet. For each cutlet, one medium-sized prawn is de-veined, cleaned and flattened. The head is removed but the tail remains. The prawn is marinated in a paste of ginger, garlic and tomato sauce. Separately, a preparation is made with boiled mashed potatoes seasoned with chopped coriander leaves and green chillies, roasted and ground coriander and cumin seeds and red chilli powder. The potato mixture is then carefully shaped around the prawn like a jacket, and then this is dipped in an egg batter, crumbed and fried. This item, as well as the shrimp crab kebab, are served with the same dips mentioned earlier.

I pause for a moment. There are plenty more items to come — as many as a dozen. There are five of us in all and this is more like a tasting session during which we will try a little of everything. It is not a formally orchestrated, course by course Bengali meal and we are breaking with custom because of the wealth of temptations on offer.

There is Radhaballobhi — the lentil-stuffed luchis to be had with Chholar Dal and Chacha’s Alur Dom, which is green, because the baby potatoes have a dryish coating made of mint and coriander. There is a chorchori made with potatoes, aubergine, pumpkin, drumsticks and pui saag (climbing spinach), cooked without a drop of water over a slow fire, in the juices released by the vegetables. All these vegetables are also grown organically just outside where we are sitting and enjoying them.

A couple of fish preparations, two items in mutton and the chorchori are all accompanied by some fragrant gobindo bhog rice. One fish item that must be mentioned is Ulto Palta Fish. Made with boneless chunks of bekti that day, this is prepared by first smearing the fish with salt and turmeric, frying it to a light brown and keeping it aside. Containers that will hold individual portions are taken and a mustard gravy is poured into them. Pieces of fish are placed in this gravy till half submerged. From the top, a tamarind-jaggery chutney similar to the one served as a dip, is poured over. The fish is then oven-roasted till the gravies sizzle and their flavours are absorbed.

Kasha Mangsho and Goalando’s Steamer Mutton Curry are the two meat items — the first dry and garnished with crisply fried onions and the second a gravy with potatoes, the famous curry served at the ferry crossing between Goalando and Tarpasha in East Bengal. This item is equally famed when prepared with country chicken, and when a Bengali dreams of a single-item meal such as mangsho-bhaat, his dreams are made of these.

Finally, before the dessert, a taste of Bhapa Ilish Biryani, a typical East Bengal dish. Healthy pieces of hilsa are generously marinated in a mixture made with mustard paste, yoghurt, turmeric, mango pickle oil and green chillies. These pieces are wrapped in banana leaf and the leaf is perforated. The little packets are placed over a layer of rice, half-cooked and flavoured with cardamom and clove. They are covered with more of the same rice, and then the vessel is made airtight and the biryani is cooked, dum pukht style.

For dessert, there was Patishapta and Chhanar Payesh. I will say no more.

So where did we enjoy such a rich repast' Not more that 45 minutes’ drive from central Calcutta, and only 20 minutes from the airport. At Bhoomi, the speciality Bengali restaurant at Vedic Village Spa Resort, 150 acres of almost virgin land on the periphery of the new Rajarhat township. They have preserved the idyllic beauty of rural Bengal and every window you look out of you see pukurs or ponds with water lilies, surrounded by coconut groves, vegetable patches and paddy fields.

There are landscaped gardens, lotus ponds, organic farmlands and waterways. Guests can check in to over 125 villas, suites, studio and farmhouse rooms or even buy cottages and farmhouses outright. There are state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor facilities. There is ayurveda and naturopathy and there are other wellness programmes as well. In my opinion, top marks must go to the architects and designers.

A thorough look at Vedic Village could make for several episodes on any international travel and lifestyle TV channel, and it is surprising that it has not already happened. It is just a matter of time.

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