Typically Murgir Jhol or chicken curry is a homely Bengali preparation. Photo: Kalyan Karmakar
Park Street and Christmas are synonymous when it comes to the Yuletide season in Kolkata. The street is lit up and packed with revellers. Restaurants offer special menus reprising old-club favourites. People queue up outside Flurys to buy Christmas cake. Others go to Nahoum's and Kathleen's a bit further down at New Market.
Boro Din, as Christmas is known in Kolkata, is celebrated all over the city including the suburbs and is not restricted to the posher areas such as Park Street. Small corner shops across the city stock Christmas cakes and other goodies. Buying these, and enjoying them at home, is a ritual followed across the city. These cakes are usually a lot cheaper than the ones available in the iconic Nahoum's, Flurys and Kookie Jars, and have helped democratise the festival. People love their mishtis and cakes, and the celebrations over cakes are not limited just to the Christian community.
I used to live in the suburbs of South Kolkata. There was a church close to our house, and people would visit it to see the Christmas decorations. It almost had a festive Durga Puja-like feel around the church. The nativity scenes would have inscriptions in Bengali beside them for everyone to understand the sequence of events.
My grandmother would make pulao and chicken curry on Christmas. This pulao is a vegetarian one, and is made on special occasions. She would add raisins or kishmish to it. I loved these and would keep fishing them out of the pulao to eat them at the end of the meal. Dessert would be Joynogorer moa, a winter sweetmeat prepared using date palm jaggery and puff rice popular in the town of Joynagar in West Bengal. The Christmas cake would be eaten in the evening.
Years later, I looked up this post on Preetanjali's blog, and made a microwave version of it in Mumbai. It brought back happy memories of Christmas in Kolkata. Of the time we spent at grandmother's where we decorated a tree from her garden. We later moved into our own apartment, and bought a Christmas tree from the market. My mother, who raised us as a single parent after my father passed away, would make sure that my brother and I got gifts too.
We would go back to my granny's house on Christmas even after we moved into our apartment. Quite evidently, she would make the pulao and murgirjhol (chicken curry) for us. For me, this was as special as a roast turkey and stuffing Christmas meal. Here's how you can cook Bengali pulao using a microwave.
Bengalis love their pulao sweet. Photo: Kalyan Karmakar
Recipe for Bengali pulao
1/2 cup Basmati rice (traditionally gobindobhog rice is used in Bengal)
A small bowl of green peas
1 tbsp whole mixed garam masala (cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper & bay leaves)
2 slit green chillies
1 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 tbsp raisins & cashews, broken
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp curd
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp ghee
1. Take the ghee in a non-stick pan and heat it.
2. Add the whole mixed garam masala once the ghee melts.
3. Add the green chillies and the finely chopped onion once the garam masala begins to emit a nice aroma.
4. Add the raisins and broken cashews and stir till the dry fruits darken and cook a bit.
5. Add the soaked Basmati rice. The rice traditionally used by Bengalis is a the short grained gobindobhog rice, which is difficult to get outside of Bengal.
6. Add the turmeric, salt, sugar, fresh grated ginger, curd and the green peas. Stir till the rice is bit fried.
7. Transfer the par-cooked rice to a microwave cooking dish. Add 1 & 1/2 times the original amount of rice. So, if you started 1/2 cup of rice, add 1 & 1/2 cups of water. You can add a couple of strands of saffron soaked in milk too.
8. Put it in the microwave for 14 minutes.
9. Squeeze some lime juice to the rice. Stir the rice gently and put it back in the microwave for another minute.
Want to know where to find the best Christmas cake in Bandra, Mumbai? Kalyan goes hunting.
Kalyan is a Mumbai-based food blogger and columnist who loves to travel in search of local tastes. He is at his happiest when eating at small, family-run places. His blog Finely Chopped won the Best Food Blog Award in 2013 and 2014 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. He is the lead critic for Mumbai at EazyDiner and is a columnist for Femina. He is also the Chief Chowzter for Mumbai, and conducts food walks in the city.