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Bengal has been a melting pot of cultures and it has, as a state experienced various cultures influencing the society from time to time, and the food style was no escape. From the Anglo Indian and British influence to the Mughlai influence of the exiled families of Wajid Ali Shah and Tipu Sultan, there were many more. Proximity to the North Eastern states has also brought in the influx of Tibetan and other North Eastern finger food.
Such as the way the food of the royal palaces of Rajasthan has been popularised and become a delicacy on its own, the same has never been done about the royal cuisines of undivided Bengal, although the Nawabs or the rajas have been real connoisseurs of food. It is said that, the exiled families of Wajid Ali Shah and Tipu Sultan brought hundreds of Khansamas and moshalachis with them after their death, these superbly talented cooks dissipated into various royal estates and influenced the food patterns there.
In an effort to explore and revive few of the exotic dishes from these Royal estates, The Gateway Hotel, Kolkata is holding a special food festival called Raj Barir Khawa Dawa (the food of the royal estates). Divided into Niramish bhoj or the vegetarian spread and Amish Bhoj or non vegetarian spread, some very interesting dishes are on the offering. The “gumo-aanch er mangsho” or meat cooked in slow fire by putting the dying charcoals on top, originated from Murshidabad, and is a classic example of food influenced by the “Dum Cooking”. When Maharani Gayatri Devi, the princess from Cooch Behar got married to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur, she introduced some of the cooking styles from the Royal Palace of Jaipur to Cooch Behar also. One such was lal mangsher pulao or pulao with lal maas. There is doodh ilish or safed ilish where the ilish or hilsa is marinated with milk, mustard and yogurt. The addition of milk and yogurt is clearly an inspiration from Rajasthan.
Fish roll was never a Bengali street food, however as the British started frequenting Sovabazar Raj bari, the fish roll was created to impress them. Wrapped in a fillet of fish with a stuffing of more fish ground with spices such as nutmeg and mace, and enhanced with coriander and green chillies, this became a delight for the British visitors.
The festival starting from 21st May 2016 is indeed a novel concept and more initiatives similar to this can help unearthing some more exotic dishes from the past.
A true blue Kolkata foodie, Anindya loves cooking and eating his Kosha Mangsho. Anindya weaves stories around food as he believes exceptional food is an emotional experience. Previously a restauranter, now a passionate photographer and traveller, he runs a successful blog called Pikturenama and contributes to other publications.