Varanda do Mar rising high against Miramar beach front in Panaji: The boutique hotel is becoming popular with budget tourists; plus they have a Bengali kitchen crew to cater to Bengali cuisine on order! Cool restaurant on the ground floor with garden surroundings.
BY TARA NARAYAN
THERE is something like too much of a good thing to make one feel sick or sicker if one is already sick from all kinds of eating in and out shenanigans. Have you ever heard of the Bengali sweet curd called “mishti doi”? I’ve just polished off the last of this silky tart sweet curd from a matkena and am feeling sick to my soul!
Never eat too much of a good thing even if in your mind it’s all connected to memories of life and times in Kolkatta. It would be hard to find real mishti doi out of today’s Kolkatta, which my dear Bengali friend Mita Sen down from Kolkotta, tells me is degenerating further… “Although Mamta-didi has now stopped painting trees blue and white…she’s taken to painting as many buildings as she can blue and white!” Don’t even ask why she suffers from a blue and white complex.
Mita was in Mumbai and decided to do a flying visit to check me out in Goa and she came with a large terracotta pot of mishti doi from one of the famous Sweet Bengal shops in Bandra, carefully packing it in a towel in her baggage,”The shop people promised me it would be safe and stay fresh.” Sweet friend! Mishti doi is one of my favourite delights for the palate and especially if it is sweetened with noton gur (or date jaggery which comes into the Bengali market during the winter months and most prized by Bengalis).
But this mishti doi I got was one of caramelized white sugar only, still tartly sweet and refreshing enough to delight the senses. I suppose I should not have helped myself to it so exclusively though. One may make this mishti doi at home, bringing full fat milk to a boil and thickening it on slow fire till it is reduced by half or so; then stir in the just so caramelized sugar…when it down to room temperature more or less (dip a finger and check) stir in the curd stirring in the starter of warm stirring in your starter of curd. Leave in a warm place and Mita says mishti doi sets beautifully in a terracotta matkena or a casserole container (during cold months). Matkena naturally absorb any residual water of the mishti doi…to offer a silky thick sweet curd. Cool in fridge before relishing your home made mishti doi.
Mishti doi is a West Bengal and Bangladeshi special along with their range of chenna or cottage cheese sweets, beginning with most famous rossogolla, followed by such tea-time or any time dainties as kaccha gola, sandesh, ras malai, chum chum, kheer kodom, etcetera. Noton gurer doi is not a chenna sweet but a curd sweet of the very best kind, truly a pièce de résistance). There’s another sweet my friend Mita makes which I remember…grated coconut somewhat dry-cooked before adding sugar, stirring, before it gets overcooked remove and turn into ladu. Nutritious fare for the ailing and jaded, she says, and I would consider the noton gur or gurer mishti doi nutritious fare too.
Bengali cuisine is in a class of its own and since a true Bong like a true blue Goenkar may not survive without their light-hearted fish curry macher jhol, we decided one evening to visit my old favourite sit out, Simply Grills, at the Marriott, where a Chef Swarnandhra Maity was happy to make mustardy macher jhol with rice, plus paturi mach — red snapper cooked in banana leaf amongst other things.
Mita also remembered a memorable prawn balchao at Rio Rico (Mandovi Hotel) on previous trips to Goa and so one afternoon we lunched there. I was happy to find my favourite methi roti still on the menu and discovered that they do a super moong sprout salad …at Rio Rico it’s always like old times for me!
The friend’s three days speeded by quickly. She insisted on staying at the Varanda do Mar boutique hotel fronting Miramar beach because her hubby and son had accompanied her. This Varanda do Mar is idyllically located, she said, and offered the most economically tempting stay while booking in a hurry over the Internet.
What’s there not to like about an air-conditioned double bedroom overlooking the Mandovi river front and close enough to where I stay? It was a fairly reasonable room and breakfast offer by way of a `13,000 package and, “To my surprise I found they have quite a Bengali kitchen team and breakfast could be luchi-aloo dom one morning! Or upma, mini uthappaa, excellent sambar with various chutneys including a buttermilk chutney…even my vegan son got what he wanted!”
VEGAN basically means sticking as closely as possible to a plant diet. No dairy, no animal fats, no meats, no honey, nothing which contributes towards further use and abuse of mother earth! Veganism is the fastest growing choice of eating and it does offer better health parameters if you eat intelligently — and lest you think what’s there in lieu of dairy milk let me tell you almond milk, soybean milk, rice milk, oat milk, peanut milk is going places in big-time Mumbai, and never forget coconut milk (richest in lauric acid, closest to mother’s milk). Sweeten if you wish with a bit of honey or jaggery syrup…enjoy hot or cold.
Well, Mita and family were happy. I was happy catching up with a lot of stories about who’s where and what’s happened to whom amongst our common friends in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkatta and abroad. Our contemporary group is growing old gracefully or disgracefully wherever we are! We feel bad about a friend or two who’re in the tight control or non-existent mercy of their various family members….
Family, I can tell you, is not always a blessed word. Both Mita and me have seen how family relationships fall apart the moment one or two members of a family think: All mine! Funny, how we as a people value property, jewellery, money…above relationships or friendship. Every generation sees these embittering battles of whose rights are more important…end-result? No family left for comfort or peace of mind.
ANYWAY, this is to say Mita bought caju plain, salted and peppered and chaat masala spiked; spices like black pepper, cardamom; two big rounds of baath and bebinca. I gifted my collection of Sudha Murthy books to her younger son who’s doing some good work in educating the less privileged and wealthy in Mumbai’s slums with, “If you want to do some social work walk in Infosys’ Sudha Murthy’s chappals (or walk in the footsteps of an Ela Bhatt, Sindhu-tai Sapkal, Mother Theresa)!” Are there no male footsteps to walk in? Nope, I replied!
(Sigh) I had half-a-mind to return with Mita to Mumbai-that-was-Bombay, but then again, what’s there left in Mumbai for me at the tail-end of life…except some sweet memories and many bitter ones. As the French put it, c’est la vie.