Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Keep Calm or I’ll Feed You Mishti

Also published on Huffington Post India 




The furore over the imposition of meat ban in several states in consideration of the Jain festival Paryushan made me realise what a peace loving community we Bengalis are. We don’t care that nobody cares for our religious sentiments. During festivals like Durga Puja, we are so engrossed checking out each other’s saris and ingesting copious quantities of biryani and kabiraji cutlet that we don’t get time to demand bans. Rather, we go for a self-imposed ban on vegetables during those days. True, the bhog of ‘khichudi and labda’ is vegetarian but we more than make up for it in the evening by having protein and bhajabhuji (Bengali-pioneered junk food, way before the West could think) on behalf of the entire nation.

We Bengalis are a contented lot as long as others acknowledge our intellectual superiority, rich kaalchaar and don’t serve us a vegetarian meal. I know of instances where a particular Bengali family was put in deep freeze for a lifetime of indifference because they dared to serve only one non-vegetarian dish on their daughter’s wedding. My Ma-in-law has yet to get over the horrific ordeal of being invited for a meal by our Punjabi neighbour in Delhi and made to eat just rajmah chawal. How can someone invite you over for lunch and serve just one dish and that too rajmah!

I know Punjabis are passionate about chhole and rajmah, but for us it’s cattle feed till generous quantities of keema have been added to it. Our love for maachh is as legendary as our lust for mangsho. My husband often recalls with glee the recipe for dumoorer chop on a TV show that asked for two teaspoons of dumoor (raw fig) to be added to half a kilo of minced mutton. In fact, true blue bongs equate “non-veg” with only mangsho. Fish (phish) is a daily comestible that borders on being “veg”. If your Bengali friend has invited you over for a bhegetarian laanch, you are forewarned that the daal could have a fish head looking dolefully at you and the humble lauki, Baba Ramdev’s favourite vegetable, will have a crunchy splattering of shrimps. We don’t like vegetables to feel lonely.


It’s not as if we do not like vegetarian fare. In fact the things we do to the much loathed karela will put a lover claiming expertise in seduction to shame. We marry it with shuktos, sizzle it to a golden brown and serve as a garnish to daal, knead it to a soft pulp with boiled potatoes and have it with ghee and rice. In a Bengali meal, teeta (bitter) is as important as mishti (sweet). While the former begins the meal, the latter completes it.

In fact, the sure-shot way to hurt our religious sentiments is to pronounce roshogolla as rasgulla and claim you have no idea what nolen gur is. Winter is synonymous with nolen gur (date palm jaggery). We wait the entire year for this seasonal delicacy to make an appearance. When it does, we behave like a thirst crazed traveller who has just discovered an oasis in the desert.

If you hear loud voices from your Bengali neighbour’s apartment, they’re most likely engaged in a bitter debate on which moira (sweetmaker) is the final word on a given mishti! “Sen Mahasay is the best for mishti doi”. “Chhi, they are useless, they mix Dalda! Have you even tried Mallar Chaak? You can hold the bhaar upside down and the doi will not fall.”

Our meals don’t end on a sweet note. They end on many sweet notes of chutneys, mishti doi and an assortment of mishtis, fried and steamed. We may be on the verge of losing the GI war over roshogolla to Odisha (perish the thought) but we can safely lay claim to be the birthplace of diabetes.

As a child, our trips to Kolkata (Calcutta, then) would send a shiver of excitement down my gullet. A visit to a relative meant being served platefuls of just rajbhogs in every conceivable colour. What’s more, I could finish them all on my own without reproachful glances from my Mom. Too bad I did not show the same enthusiasm when the hopeful groom, now my husband, demolished the entire plate of desserts and savouries served to him. He couldn’t care less for Delhi etiquette that demands, as a guest, you display extreme aversion to food and reluctantly break dainty pieces of the mithai only after your host threatens to shoot you.

Mishti for us is not an occasional kuchh meetha ho jaaye. We have it with meals, in between meals, when we get emotional (which is always) or we have some time to spare. Traditional Bengali households will venture where no man has gone before and fearlessly serve mishti doi with Nescoffee. Why, I’ve even had roshogolla with noodles!

When I visit my Mom, she makes it a point to ask me ‘mishti khaabe’ every 10 minutes till I finally break down and say, sure, why not!

I think I know why. Once you’ve bitten through the almost powdery, lightly sweetened kheer of the kheer-kodom and your mouth fills with the sticky sugary syrup of the roshogolla inside, a strange calm descends upon you. The world seems like a much better place and you no longer feel like arguing with your Mom over nasty things she’d said to you 25 years back.

Now you know why a Bengali finds everything including a herd of noisy sheep ‘kee mishti’ and expresses annoyance with a mere ‘uff, kee dushtu’!

But dare you confuse gulab-jamun with pantua, brace yourself for the narrowed eyes, I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-this look and take a deep breath. You are about to be kneaded to a fine paste, fried and throw in a cauldron of boiling syrup of indignation.

Eesh, even bacteria is more kaalchaared than you are!



47 comments:

  1. I have gone to a Bengali's house and asked for a vegetarian meal . They served me phish and when I protested they said but eh toh jal tori hai ! Absolutely hilarious post Purba !

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    1. Why cant I comment on the original post?! Anyhoo.. see, this is the kind of intolerance I like.. the one where we are fed mishit if you don't like us..

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  2. hahhaa Purba u made me all hungry. am craving a mishti now. Tell me pls - does mishti mean any kind of sweet dish ? and what does 'uff, kee dushtu’! mean ??
    What a fun and sweet craving post

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    1. Mishti is the equivalent of mithai.

      *Uff, kee dushtu* - How naughty you are!

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  3. Now I want to go to the nearest Haldiram and eat Rasmalai. Unfortunately, chocolates have taken over mithai when it comes to gifting and greeting. Don't narrow your eyes but I don't know what a pantua is?
    Good to read you again.

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    1. I am happier to write again.

      Limping back to normalcy and loving it.

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  4. So absorbing--all this talk of mishti.Aami too,khabe.
    ;-) Thank goodness you folks don't add fish-heads to mishti;or am i wrong?

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  5. That was big mishti bite:) looks you are already possessed by the Durga Pujo spirit, Purba!

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  6. You are giving a tough competition to our funny government!! Not just A Musing but A marvelous read! Rich kaalchaar ki Jain Jain!!

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  7. First I laughed very hard as you kindled my memories of my days in Calcutta. Hmm thank god Bongs don't like to keep there vegetables alone! And I remember that big fish head with round eyes staring at me in one of the phunkshun I was invited in good old Calcutta.

    But But, let me also add that some of the best vegetarian meals I have had were also in a Bengali home in Tollygunge, where my host took special care to make dishes that are hard to pronounce but the flavors of some poshto seeds and mustard oil still linger in my memory. And truth be told all the Bengali non veg dishes can not compete with the sweets that Bengal has given to the nation :) I can go to Calcutta again and again just for the sweets :)

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    1. My favourite dishes are mostly vegetarian with a splattering of chingri of course!

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  8. I have a very limited experience with Bengalis hence am certainly not aware of the right etiquette in food. I do love Bengali mithai or mishti, is it? A hilarious post, Purba.

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    1. I am glad you liked it, Rachna.

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  9. Loove this post. The Great Bong War over fish and Mishti:)

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  10. Na na .. they cant be punjabi if serving vegetarian.. I dont beleive that :)
    roshogulla i thought it was called Sandesh.... i must say its been a long time , i was in class 10-11-12 when we use to go to calcutta for our school holidays and my uncle would give us 2 rs. each , 1rs for "sandesh" and 1 rs was to buy a Kite :)

    the first time I had fish was then and it was not considered meat at all :)

    Bikram's

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    1. But I do have many Sikh friends who stay away from kukkad shukkad.

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  11. Absolutely hilarious and true. Bengalis certainly don't like to keep their vegetables alone. Couldn't stop laughing.

    Every Bong mom will offer their child mishti in every 10 mins unless you have had enough to her satisfaction...I also love the paatali gurer paayesh in addition to nolen gur roshogolla.

    Great post. It made my mouth watering. :)

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    1. It made my mouth water too while writing :p

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  12. True True :-) ..By the way of exception I am a vegetarian bong (well eggetarian). You can imagine the number of questions I am subjected to.

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  13. "she ki! mishti khelo na? O ki neeramish? Tahole deem koredi?"

    Actual, almost verbatim, reactions from assorted mashis/pishis/kakimas-in-laws when I would visit in the early days.

    https://sloword.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/mishti-doi/ so am aware of nolen gur... :)

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    1. The Bengali omelette friend in shorshe tel and soft and squishy inside with pieces of onions and chillies in it. Aargh!

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  14. So true! A great post. I am craving for some pantua now.
    As I am a vegetarian Bong (I eat eggs though), I am subjected to tons of questions whenever I visit a relative's house. It is torturing and people behave as if I have committed a crime by leaving fish and meat. A superb read :)

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    1. I can only imagine your trauma.

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  15. My mother hyper ventilates if she realizes that I served only meat or just fish to my guests. She gives me a 'tumne khandaan ka naam mitti me mila diya" type of looks! And serving only phiss is blasphemy! She will look at only kadhi chawal or rajma chawal with disdain, " a 'bhaji' could have been added and some bengena bhaja or potol bhaja, a chutney, a salad...Used to love accompanying my gran to her neighbours' home. Magnet was the lusy, alu bhaji and omelette, no matter what time of the day! Loved the post!

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    1. I don't go the multi-course way but don't mind if someone else is cooking it for me.

      How convenient :p

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  16. Lol this was actually more informative than hilarious for me :D In fact I laughed at the part where you said 'birthplace of diabetes'.

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    1. Well, now you know what to expect if a Bengali friend invites you over.

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  17. Oh I love Bong food.. and Bhegetarian :) And my bestie who's a Bong served me that for a whole week ! Imagine.. but 'Deem' was always there.. In fact i recently tried my hand at 'Deem Jhol' and it turned out quite well..

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    1. Deem jhol with aloo in it. Yum!

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  19. ooh..the para about mishti doi and dalda etc...when i used to go home during vacations, every time my dad bought me a lot of "mishtee"(s) and on the very first day of getting home,he told me "misti ene rekhechi"..:D

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    1. This is how Indian parents will express their love.

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  20. Purba!I am new to your blog and it's a sheer coincidence that morning itself I was thinking how to use that coconut for patishapta.Or should I settle for mango cheese cake instead.Your blog has increased my craving for Mishti even more..Yumm!I can completely relate with the dushtu-mishti kombo :)

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    1. How can you ditch pathishapta for the lowly mango cheesecake. THIS IS SACRILEGE!

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  21. An absolute laugh riot! ROFL honest :D. My Brit boss and Mallu colleague thought I was laughing at their accents!!!

    I wish I had some Bengali friends too :) I wonder how they would react to my mom's shuddh-shakahaari Gujju khaana :) Great post Purba!

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    1. I love shudh shakahari khana. Please invite me over!

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  22. Brilliant, brilliant post, Purba Ray! The more I read you, the more I get in awe of you. When do we get to read your book?

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  23. I remember my mom having the same culture shock as your MIL! She was invited to a Punjabi household with 'thoda dal-chawal kaake jao' and to her horror, she was given dal-chawal! They did break down and put in some aam ka aachar too, but can it really rectify the mental torture she underwent?!

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