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Taste the Joy!

Food is key in the Calcuttans’ celebration of Durga Puja but how it’s indulged in has changed after the pandemic
A street food stall doing brisk business during Durga Puja in a different era

Anjan Chatterjee   |   Published 10.10.21, 01:02 AM

As the trees start shedding their leaves and the mellowed season of autumn starts creeping in, the people of Calcutta get enthused to welcome Goddess Durga into their abode. For the people of Calcutta, Durga Puja is not only a festival, or a celebration, but is an emotion and a passion that goes beyond the boundaries of religion.

The onset of the Pujas means a veritable food fiesta. One can get whiffs of tantalising aromas wafting from every street and alley. The five days of the festival mean no one cooks at home. Calcutta at this time turns into a foodies’ paradise. Every pandal sports a series of delectable food stalls serving kathi rolls, chops, biryani, noodles, et al, to name a few.

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All those who live away from their hometown rush in to the city, to celebrate the festival. From queueing up for Ma’s bhog in the afternoon to indulging in street food, there is a myriad of choices — starting from breakfast with luchi and aloo dum. And Calcuttans take to the streets to openly gorge on them!

From last year, however, the pandemic has played spoilsport. The sudden oncoming of the virus has dampened the spirit of the festival. No more can people hobnob freely with the crowds, or go pandal hopping, or even indulge in a Calcuttan’s greatest passion — food — as they used to. Reeling under the wave of the pandemic, the theme this year follows the global scenario… the Goddess Durga is all set to slay the ‘virus-asura’!

But pandemic or no pandemic, the spirit of the festival and its celebrations remain undeterred. For now, the virtual world has stepped in. Pandal hopping has shifted to channel hopping, either on your television or mobile phone. The tradition of ‘rowak e boshe’ adda (rendezvous with your friends), has now come to a halt, in keeping with the norms of social distancing.

The norm of feasting on street food from different stalls has totally gone off the radar. Now the new norm is food delivery. One can try out all the delicious street food as well as a plush restaurant’s food from the comfort of one’s home. This Durga Puja, the concept of cloud kitchens and home chefs have gained immense popularity.

So, in keeping with this concept, Oh! Calcutta has adapted itself and is bringing out Special Meal Boxes dedicated for each day, right from Saptami to Dashami. So there will be a Saptami Meal Box, an Ashtami Meal Box, and so on. Now, your festive spirit need not be dampened. You can indulge and relish a different delicacy each day — all within the precincts of your home! As someone recently mentioned, this year people will be ‘eating in’ rather than ‘eating out’!

At the moment I am penning all this down on a drizzling Sunday afternoon, overlooking Oxford Street. Oh! Did I forget to tell you that I am in London, giving the last finishing touches to the Chourangi (a restaurant from Speciality group in London). Like most probashi Bangalis, I too am feeling just as nostalgic, missing home as the festival draws near. So here’s wishing all my readers a very safe and healthy Durga Puja!

Shubho Sharadiya!

Anjan Chatterjee is the chief of Speciality Restaurants, which owns Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Cafe Mezzuna, Sigree Global Grill, Hoppipola, Asia Kitchen and more. He can be reached at acgenx@gmail.com



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