All you wanted to know about Onam Sadhya

When Saibal, a foodie friend, called and suggested Onam Sadhya, my first reaction was twitching my nose! First of all, it’s a carb-based meal and secondly a vegetarian affair! But then, I remembered my mantras- ‘I should experience everything at least once so that I don’t die with regrets’ and ‘If not now, then when?’ So I said yes to Saibal for my first Onam Sadhya.

Photograph courtesy: The Coastal Macha

The obvious choice of destination was ‘The Coastal Macha’ – a restaurant that specializes in coastal cuisine and had been a favourite since almost inception. Chef Piyush Menon is a Malaylee from Bangalore who frequented Kolkata and observed that the city lacked mid-level restaurants that offered non-vegetarian southern delicacies. He took a bold decision of opening his first restaurant in Kolkata and since then had majorly contributed to the changing palate of the city. Breaking the monotony of north Indian cuisines, the introduction of cuisines from Kerala, Goa and more, was excellent  exposure for the Kolkata foodies who slowly started embracing such experiences. For me, The Coastal Macha is all about honest and great food that reflects Piyush’s sincerity. And he is also one of the nicest, humble persons I have met so far and each interaction with him had made me believe that good men still exist in this world.

With Chef Piyush Menon

Before I share my Sadhya experience, here’s a little bit of history of Onam celebrations. Onam is the 10-day harvest festival celebrated in Kerala. The festival, celebrated on a grand scale, marks the homecoming of King Mahabali, a mythological character. The story goes that the beautiful state of Kerala was once ruled by an Asura (demon) king, Mahabali. The King was wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali.

There was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. There was neither crime nor corruption. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Mahabali and everybody was happy and content. The growing popularity of King Mahabali made the Gods feel threatened of their own supremacy and they tricked the king out of his kingdom. To save his people, King Mahabali offered to sacrifice himself, and so, was banished to the netherworld. But Lord Vishnu, moved by the king’s gesture of great personal sacrifice, granted him one wish — and Mahabali asked for the chance to return to his homeland once a year, to visit his people. To mark the annual return of the king, the people of his kingdom — all over Kerala, and within the Malayali diaspora all over the world — hold ten days of extravagant celebration. There are boat races in the backwaters, homes are decorated with flowers, and a lavish feast is prepared with the harvest of the land.

Onam Sadhyas are traditional banquets in Kerala. Food is cooked in giant ‘urulis’ & served on a banana leaf. There are a few interesting protocols that are followed. For example, the banana leaf is placed in such a way, so that it’s narrow part always points to the left side. Sadhya is served from the top left corner of the leaf, on which is placed in order, a small yellow banana, sarkara upperi (shakkar paras) and papad. Then the mango pickle, injipuli (a thick ginger tamarind curry), lime pickle & the Thoran, olan, avial, pachadi, kichadi, Erissery & salt are placed in order. The feast ends with payasam, often two or more varieties are served.

My overall experience with Sadhya was something that I would want to return to. It’s all about simple home-cooking relying primarily on the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Focus is on bringing out the flavours with minimal intervention. And that is the reason Onam Sadhya has won my heart. It was like going back to the roots of Indian traditional cooking, very earthy, rustic and very very sensory-pleasing. Piyush had sourced all the authentic recipes from his family. He made sure that every dish was cooked fresh each day and that really helped in keeping the flavours intact. This was my first Sadhya but Saibal is a serial Sadhya offender having spent considerable time down south and he gave The Coastal Macha full marks. Even the group of 6 Bengali youngsters who occupied the table behind us was full of praises. It was heartening to see how food could erase boundaries and could be a unifier in today’s world of man-made hatred and intolerance.

The full-fledged Sadhya consists of 32 varieties of food. The Coastal Macha had thoughtfully offered mini Sadhya containing 16 dishes that totally filled us up. I cannot, of course, share the food with you all, but here is a visual treat of the Sadhya with Piyush explaining each item:

A few of the dishes deserve special mentions.

Injipuli 

injipuli is a pickle like dish made with ginger, tamarind, chillies, and a bit of jaggery. It’s tart, spicy with a lingering hint of sweetness. A little of it can elevate a meal.

Injipuli

Avial

It reminded me of our Bengali mixed vegetable curry made with milk and drumsticks. The Kerala version has the vegetables are steamed and then finished with coconut milk. Simple yet immensely satisfying.

Avial

Olan

Olan is a light and mild stew made with ash gourd, cowpea beans, coconut milk and curry leaves. It tasted delicious with Kerala red rice (matta rice).

Olan

Sambar

The Kerala sambar, accommodates all variety of vegetables, with a base of tuuar daal. The freshly ground spices and coconut masala gives it a very different flavour which is very robust, coconutty and earthy.

Kerala Sambar

Cabbage Thoran

This one just won the heart. Shredded cabbage and coconut sautéed and then finished with a tempering of mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Cabbage Thoran

Kalan

This is a sour, full-bodied gravy with bright yellow sunshiny colour. Kalan is made with yam and curd. Ground coconut is also added to balance the sourness in the gravy.

Kalam

Rasam

At the beginning of my career, I had spent a few months in Bangalore. My landlady used to make rasam every night making me dread my dinners. The Coastal Macha Rasam made me realize that my landlady was a bad cook. I loved the spicy broth that was full-on flavours. Kerala rasam is an instant rasam made without rasam powder. It is a tomato based rasam with dry red chillies, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, curry leaves and tamarind pulp.

Rasam and Kerala Sambar (left to right)

Parippu Pradhaman

It was the perfect ending to a great meal. Pradhaman is payasam/dessert made with split moong daal (lentils), coconut milk, jaggery and ghee. If I am allowed to draw a comparison, I found it very similar to our Bengali Shinni made on Lokkhi Pujo. The lingering sweetness, the aroma of jaggery and coconut invoked some happy memories of pujo and celebrations. That’s the power of food. The memory of taste.

Parippu Pradhaman

Piyush is considering to keep some of the Sadhya items in menu round the year. That will help us to revisit the memories whenever the cravings start. I ate like a glutton with two helpings of the delicious unpolished matta rice, forgetting all about low-carbing. All of you, who haven’t experienced Sadhya this year, please make a note to do so the next year. I shall wait for the ‘thank you’s. Meanwhile, if you are in Kolkata, keep on developing a taste for the southern spices with the delicious ghee roasts, ishtews and potli biryanis at The Coastal Macha.

The Coastal Macha

P411, 23b Golpark, Hindustan Park, Gariahat, Kolkata 700029 (Location on google map)

Phone: 075959 59042

Facebook page link

Luchi – Fish Fry Bhalobasha at Chilekotha

Sometimes, I truly feel that my parents can be the brand ambassadors of Bengali food. Even after cherishing Bengali cuisine for 8 decades, they still prefer nuchi, pheesh phry and the works when they eat out. So for family dinners, our go-to place is 6BP. However, this time when we were selecting a restaurant for mom’s birthday dinner, we decided to give the newly opened Chilekotha at 7/2B Dover Lane, a try.

Honestly speaking, if you are a true blue Bengali grew up reading Sarat Chandra, Satyajit Ray and Ruskin Bond, you can never ignore a name like Chilekotha. For my non-Bengali readers, I would loosely translate Chilekotha as Attic, but it’s really a room on the rooftop. In the older days, most of the individual houses in Bengal were adorned with a ‘Chilekotha’. It was a space where usually extra bits and pieces of a household were stored. However, it was also a space where rules were broken, imaginations were given wings and passions were let loose. Our previous generation had actually lived the Chilekotha days-played to their hearts’ content in the room that was hidden from the world, emptied that jar of pickles during summer breaks, smoked their first cigarette, or stole the first kiss from their sweethearts. So, Chilekotha spells nostalgia and romanticism for us Bengalis.

And if you combine that with Bengal’s other love – food, the outcome has all the potential to be a super hit. So did Chilekotha live up to the expectations? Let’s find out!

Location wise, the restaurant is pretty easy to found, though it is not on the main road. If you are coming from the Golpark side, after negotiating Gariahat 4-point crossing, you will have to drive straight ahead and take the second left. After driving straight down for about 700 mts, you will find the restaurant on the left side. Here’s the location on Google map.

Chilekotha is on the ground floor of a residential building. The good thing is the entrance,  that comes with an ornamental door, is right on the sidewalk. This was another reason we had chosen the place. My folks have weak knees and they just can’t do stairs-even 5-6 steps. Inside, there are two rooms. The outer room is on the funkier side- with a yellow Kolkata taxi picture on the back wall. The wooden benches give the space a casual look. It was also a bit dark hence was not social media friendly.

I wanted to take pictures. So we moved to the inner room which was well lit and in spite of being not so big a space, gives the impression of a large room. The inner room is on a higher level and my folks had to negotiate two steps. But the staff was extremely nice and they made sure mom and dad could do it comfortably. I met an acquaintance from the PR world inside and we both caught each other by surprise. She was on work, so after exchanging quick hellos we three settled down at a table. There were four large tables and each could accommodate 4-5 persons. One wall was painted with a view from a roof top to give the room a chilekotha feeling. Next to the wall, in a corner, there was a spiral iron staircase just like you find one in the old houses. This one obviously goes nowhere. There were faux antique shuttered windows giving a feel of a typical Bengali house of the previous century. My ancestral house had those and it was emotional to be surrounded by those. There was also an antique phone and how could I not mention the jumbo switch box, immediately transporting me to my childhood days. All good. Mom was impressed which should be counted as 10 stars as she usually does a ‘nak shintkano’ in star hotels as well. No, I am not gonna translate that.

We had ordered Diamond Fish Fries for starters. Impressive sizes, thick fillet of Bhetki and thin crumbed walls. Tasted good, just a tad overpowering lime juices in the marinade. Usually, excess lime is used to cover smells. Was it yesterday’s fillet or was the cook having a bad day? We wondered. Fries were served with herbed tartar sauce and it was yum!

The main course started with Luchi, Begun Bhaja (fried eggplants slices). I like my begun bhaja crispy, these were lightly fried. Luchis were not puffed up. Sliding the luchi into the oil when it is just rightly hot, is a skill. Otherwise, the luchis were soft and light.

Next, we had Daab Chingri and Bhetki Paturi with steamed white rice. Daab chingri was more of a chingri malaaikari than being baked in a tender coconut shell with coconut shell meat. The dish was served in a jhuno dab (older coconut) and that was proof enough. Four large tiger prawns came with it. It had all the goodness of a malaaikari. But if I am to compare it with the finger licking good dab chingri served at 6 Ballygunge Place, Chilekotha has miles to go. I must mention all the ingredients were absolutely superb. Freshest chingri, fresh coconut milk and hand ground spices. The Bhetki paturi too used excellent fish and tasted nice and subtle. The pungency of mustard and heat of chillies were missing. Those were my personal preferences and everyone might not appreciate that.

The last dish of the main course was Dhakai Mutton Tehari. Those who are unfamiliar with Tehari or Tahari, let me enlighten. It is something between Pulao and Biryani. Unlike biryani, smaller chunks of meat with fat are used and another important ingredient is milk. Meat and rice are prepared separately and then put on a dum (low heat cooking with sealed lid). Tehari usually has a lot of onions in beresta form (crispy fried onions) as well as in paste form.

 This was the first time we had Tehari and the Chilekotha version was more of a mutton pulao. Colourwise, it was yellow, rather than white- the Tehari Colour. Melting mutton chunks and delectably flavoured short grain rice really delighted us. We simple loved the taste and ignored the fact that it had no beresta. One pot carried 6 pieces of mutton and enough rice for sharing.

Desert options were not really enticing. Ma had ordered a payesh, and a small bowl of sugared milk with boiled rice was served. Sorry, there’s no picture.

Prices at Chilekotha are slightly less than its seniors such as Bhojohori Manna and 6 Ballygunge Place. The restaurant actually has some Bengali cuisine giants in 2 km radius and has good chances of catching surplus crowd in high demand seasons like Noboborsho, Jamai Shashthi and Durga Pujo. It also has a fusion menu that looked very interesting. I would surely go back to taste some of the fusion dishes. By now it was clear, that Chilekotha team has good intentions. However, they lack in good recipes. Most of the shortcomings I mentioned would not even be noticed by patrons unless they are Bengali cuisine experts which both mom and I were. So all they need is a good recipe consultant and they would be good to go! Chilekotha owner Debaleena Chakraborty was present at the restaurant and when she requested feedback, I did give her some hints.

The interior is surely beautiful, the location is priceless (with plenty of parking on the street outside),  and if you are not extra critical, food is good without creating deep holes in pockets. Our damage was 2153 which really was not much in today’s world. Must mention the staff was extremely helpful, with a great sense of hospitality. They even made sure that my parents could get into the car comfortably. Very rare and I must praise owner Debaleena Chakraborty for nurturing a good team.

Chilekotha was born only 4 months back and is taking baby steps. I have written an honest review from my perspective and I do hope if Chilekotha management is reading this, they will take it in right spirits and take steps to overcome any gaps. Otherwise, in the long run, promotions will not really of big help. Excellent food will be.

Mandatory pic with the birthday girl!

Jagantmata Bhojonolaya- a pice hotel that is keeping Kolkatans well-fed for more than a century

Honestly, I am not a Summer-friendly person at all. I avoid all kind of outdoor or non-AC activities including food adventures during the very inconveniently long summer in Kolkata. But pice hotels had certain attractions for me. I had been hearing about them for some time now and never had the chance to visit one. So when a lunch opportunity at one such place opened up with fellow foodies in mid-March, I couldn’t resist.

Continue reading Jagantmata Bhojonolaya- a pice hotel that is keeping Kolkatans well-fed for more than a century

Street food of India has now a single address – Spicery

For 2 years, my office was somewhere between Rashbehari crossing and Kalighat. I used to carry lunch from home.  However, 4 pm was a crime time when mind would demand a snack bribe and a short break to carry on for two more hours (often more). Now the South peeps know that there is no dearth of ‘cheap n cheerful’ food in Rashbehari-Kalighat area. Shingara, Kochuri, porota, roll, chowmein, chop, phuchka – you name it and the place has it….and to top it all, Apanjon was just a stone’s throw away. My go-to place was, however, a hand-cart manned by a Bihari Mashie in her 50s. She used to sell muri, peanuts, chana etc and you could customize the mix as per your requirement. She was quite a Lalu, albeit in a bright printed saree. Over the months she grew accustomed to my order and from then on I just needed to come to her cart and she would prepare the perfect peanuts mix with tiny slices of cucumber, onion, green chilies, tomatoes, a dash of lime juice and a few drops of mustard oil. She would put the mix in a paper cone and would say ‘Shpecial – 20 taka’. Continue reading Street food of India has now a single address – Spicery

A Time-defying Café at Hazra

The name of the café is…well, Café. If you are getting ready for a review of an upscale café, then it’s my duty to warn you that this café is everything that is not modern. In fact, time here didn’t advance much beyond the 70s. Continue reading A Time-defying Café at Hazra

A Kolkatan’s Tryst with Coastal Cuisine- at The Coastal Macha

I was to meet two friends for lunch, and one of them had suggested The Coastal Macha, a relatively new restaurant that offers cuisine from coastal India. I had readily agreed as I wanted to further my experiences of tasting the delicacies that our nature-nourished western and southern coastal regions offer. Continue reading A Kolkatan’s Tryst with Coastal Cuisine- at The Coastal Macha