Oct 20, 2015
I left home, a steel city called Durgapur three hours away from Kolkata, more than 15 years ago. Initially I would miss everything about it – my parents, our dog and the home food of course. But there was one thing I’d find very difficult to cope with, and that was being away on Durga Pujo. In the years to follow, I went pandal-hopping for rolls and mishti at Congress Bhavan in Pune, and endured long queues to eat bhog at CR Park in Delhi. It was exciting in many ways, and yet I felt something was missing.
Despite being an atheist family, we celebrated Durga pujo with as much enthusiasm as anyone else. My brother and I were told that pujo was about being together as a family. It was about new clothes, adda and pocket money to eat as much as you want. The neighbourhood paraar pujo, where we spent most evenings, was an absolute delight! Unlike a Ganeshotsav pandal, a Durga pujo pandal has multiple sections—a main stage with the idol, an area for dance, drama and other cultural activities (inspiration being Tagore, of course), and an area for serving bhog at noon.
As far as I can remember, on Saptami, Ashtami and Nabami, lunch would typically mean standing in serpentine queues for khichudi, labra (mixed veggies), tomato chutney, papor and misthti. My favourite was the Ashtami-r bhog, when they served luchi! One year, the crowd swelled like never before and I couldn’t push my way to the lunch area. Seeing me in tears, Maa took me home. Bhoger luchi is rubbery, she said, and promised me hot fluffy luchis once we reached home.
Now I live in Mumbai, and miss pujo like never before. I still crave the Moghlai porothas (a version of the baida roti) and Dimer Devil (Bengali-style deviled eggs)—simple pleasures that you usually don’t get at Mumbai’s pujo pandals.
Of all the things I miss about pujo, I miss gobbling luchis while patiently waiting for an extra serving of tomato-r chutney. This Bengali speciality is very different from the ones prepared in other parts of the country. It’s sweet in taste, sticky in texture and dark red in colour. It is a hot favourite at weddings too and is served in the last course of the meal. I recently learned to make this chutney from my mother, who takes this to a new level by adding aamshotto (mango papad typically from Bengal) and khejur (dates). Here’s how you can make it at home and imagine you’re in a pandal far, far away.
Recipe for Tomato Aamshotto Khejurer Chutney
4 ripe tomotoes, chopped
1 tsp paanch phoron (Bengali five spice)
1/2 cup sugar
10 – 12 dates, de-seeded and soaked in water
1/2 cup aamshotto or sweet mango papad, sliced into small pieces
A few raisins, soaked in water
A pinch of salt
A pinch of turmeric powder
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp bhaja moshla* (optional)
*To make this, dry roast paanch phoron and then grind into powder.
1. Heat some oil in a wok and add the paanch phoron. Let it splutter.
2. Add the chopped tomatoes at this point. Put the turmeric powder and salt and cover it with a lid.
3. Once the tomatoes have softened, add the sugar.
4. Once the water has evaporated and the tomatoes have thickened in texture, add the dates, aamshotto and raisins.
5. Mix well. Now sprinkle the bhaja moshla and turn off the gas.
6. Serve once it has cooled down completely.