|Phuchka is a
pop Puja food
The chants of Mahishasuramardini Chandipath reverberating over All India Radio from each household at the strike of dawn on Mahalaya marks the beginning of Durga Puja. Bengalis wake up to a fresh dawn — a prolonged period of festivities and holidays, a well-deserved break from the drudgery of daily life. That has generally been the halo surrounding Mother’s arrival for the common Calcuttan through the years…
Today, however that halo of festivity seems to have overtaken the real Durga Puja. Now this phrase connotes mega festivity, whose raison d’etre is having a good time. ‘Puja’ is relegated to a dutiful pushpanjali on Ashtami. The rest of the five days is a fashion-cum-food festival all across the city. Looking at the ‘physiological’ inflation due to overeating between every pandal, one wonders at the ruckus about the economic inflation.
Is it solely about eating? A Calcuttan will deny saying there are lots of important businesses he has to expend his energies on, like restaurant hopping, studying menus, booking tables, planning, discussing, comparing notes on cuisines, et cetera, et cetera. They are even too busy to eat. Ask the faithful devotee of Ma Durga who is about to plunge headlong into a phuchka and she will tell you how she has had no other food for the past few days but only phuchka for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Her neighbours can empathise with her only too wholeheartedly. They are surviving on bhelpuri, chaat, Mughlai, roll and rosomalai themselves these frenetic days.
“Where is the time for a square meal?” asks an exasperated Ghoshalbabu. As a puja committee member, he is in charge of all things pertaining to taste. With a dedication to his post that is admirable, he has personally tried scores of caterers, 30 menus, a hundred recipes and dishes till each met his connoisseur’s standards. On the final day of the feast, who should be dutifully back in the kitchen but, of course, Ghoshalbabu, double checking the seasoning of luchi-aloordom. Thus the ever-faithful son of Ma Durga soldiers on.
The highest demand for antacids coincides with the Pujas. During the festivities, no one steps out without an antacid in their pocket, ready for the event of someone coaxing them against their will to have a third or fourth chicken roll. The Pujas are not always easy on the stomach, and a Calcuttan has to suffer many a silent burp. And a little precaution goes a long way to ensure that there is no interruption to the five-day long feast. For the unavoidable hangover after the Pujas, well, that is for another day.
From the puja pandal, we head straight for the restaurants or rather, they come to us. Ads, hoardings, posters, every inch of painted or printed surface talk of little else but restaurant food. The newspaper makes you hungry as soon as you open it in the morning. Buffets shove daily news to the bottom. And food shots leap out at you from the centre-spread in tantalising detail.
Step out of your home and a banner shouts at you from the pavement across about a food festival. Now, try as you might to get on with your business, your feet march on their own accord to the corner food stop and you are soon checking out their Puja specials. Guilt pangs? What guilt pangs? Am I to blame if I am just ambling towards a pandal and a sudden whiff of biryani fogs my brain and makes me lose my sense of direction? When a whole city is under mass hypnosis, can they be held accountable for what they do, specially what they eat or drink?
The blameless souls are caught up in Ma Durga’s divine warfare of good food over bad. What with an army of waiters, valets, line cooks, chefs, food-stall vendors stirring boiling seas of gravy, hacking through forests of vegetables and kneading mountains of dough for four days and four nights. Clash of knives on chopping boards. Flames licking black iron woks. Hissing oil and grinding blade. A scene like this can strike terror in the heart of the unfaithful but the steadfast Calcuttan knows it is the blessed birthplace of the divine biryani or the fish fry.
Thus the city braves through a storm of taste for four days and nights. Chinese, Indian, Continental, Lebanese, Mughlai, Bengali, all the world’s major cuisines launch their attack. And the loyal Calcuttan eats his way onward, all shifts, no overtime, no unions, no slogans, no strikes. Seeing her valiant children, a pleased Ma Durga promises to return again next year. Till then, it is peace again for Her only too faithful devotees.
sweet treats from
natasha aggarwal- Gondhoraj Lebu Mousse
Ingredients: 280ml double cream,
Zest of 1
Juice of 2 gondhoraj lebu (as per taste),
60g castor sugar ,
2 egg whites
Method:Beat the cream with the lemon zest and sugar in a bowl until the cream is light and fluffy but not too thick. Add the lemon juice. In another bowl, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold egg white into the cream mixture. Spoon the mousse into mini shot glasses or regular glasses. Garnish with some more lemon zest and chopped fresh fruits if you like.