Towering pandals, dressed-up revellers and the sound of dhak aren’t the only markers of Durga Puja. The one thing that makes everyone’s world go round during this time, is the mouth-watering food.
With Durga Puja being celebrated across the country, we visited a Bengali household in Delhi to understand what makes Durga Puja food distinctive. Sharmila Sinha is an environmental educator who hosts food pop-ups called ‘Luchee’ in an effort to revisit traditional Bengali cuisine and put together dining experiences for tourists and locals.
According to Sinha, during Durga Puja, potatoes would be cooked with Cauliflower and served with Luchi (deep-fried flatbread).
“So you offer to the Goddess and you do your regular puja. Lunch would be fried cauliflower and poori, and Chana Dal. So this is staple, shashti has to be this. Shashti is when Bengalis become vegetarian. And Saptami, it has to be non-veg. Ashtami again we’ll be veg. What strikes me most importantly is that any festivity in Bengal, especially during Durga Puja, it is not about fasting, it is about feasting. Ashtami, again, the moment you’ve given your Anjali, you’re done with. It’ll be Pulav with either Paneer or Chana Dal and some vegetable, along with Chutney, is offered to the Goddess. And Pooris are offered. And in traditional Bengali homes on Shashti and Ashtami, we don’t eat rice, we eat all-purpose flour.”
Durga Puja food, like everything else, has evolved with the times.
“The pandals you see are not as fancy as you see today. Bhog was khichdi served with bhaji. So with time it has become fancy. All the three days – Saptami, Ashtami, Navami – there will be bhog and little fritters all around served with Chutney. We would all sit together and children would eat with papad.”
There are subtle differences in Bengali cuisine in West Bengal as compared to elsewhere in India.
“For example, the Rasagullas are very different in Bengal. Here they’re made of buffalo milk, there they are made of cow milk. There is no concept of vegetarian Potol Dolma which is pointed gourd stuffed with meat or chicken. When I came here, I saw my mother-in-law make it with Paneer because there were lots of our friends who would be vegetarian. There are little mish-mashes that have come in and they develop with time and place and taste. For example there is something in the summers which is very common in Bengal, they make Katla fish with raw mango. They’ll slice it raw with the skin.They put a little bit of nigella and ginger. That’s it, no other masala.But here I’ve seen, they would add a little bit of mustard paste. The reason being that the fish wouldn’t be as fresh as it would be in Kolkata.”
Durga Puja is being celebrated from October 4 to October 8 this year