A Food Lovers Perspective Of Durga Puja

Dussehra is a special occasion in major parts of India, it celebrates the victory of good over evil through the many faces of the Indian Mythology, be it Lord Rama's victory over Ravana or Goddess Durga's victory over the demon Mahishasura.

Zomato Durga Puja
Credits : Zomato

For Bengalis, Durga Puja holds a special significance as it marks the homecoming of Maa Durga. Ever since peace was restored after the death of Mahishasura, Maa Durga visits earth with her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Karthik and this is celebrated as Durga Puja by the Bengalis.  Like every Bengali home-coming this celebration is marked with loads and loads of food and special sweets.

The food journey in a Puja Pandal typically starts on the 4th or 5th day (Chaturthi or Panchami) in the form of a Anandamela – where members of the puja club play chef and rustle up various food items, typically Bengali snacks and sweets and sell them through makeshift counters. These are bought and savoured by enthusiasts.

Khichudi with Papad, Labra and Chaatni
Khichudi with Papad, Labra and Chaatni: A Typical Afternoon Prasad at the Puja Pandal

On puja days, Bengalis fast in the morning till they offer Puspanjali to Ma Durga at a designated time in the morning set by the purohit (pundit). This is followed by breakfast at the Puja Pandal – typically Luchi Chholar Dal (Maida Puri with Dal) or Luchi or Kachuri with Alur Dom (Maida Puri with Potato Gravy).

Lunch is also at the Puja Pandal, in form of offerings or bhog given to Ma Durga. For lunch the major dishes are Khichudi (Khichdi) with Bhaja (Fry) / Papad to go with it, Labra (mixed vegetable), Chaatni (Sweet Chutney) and Paayesh. The logic behind serving Khichudi at Puja (prayer ceremonies) is that rice is the staple food of Bengal so most of pujas in Bengali community use rice in some form. This tradition is one of the few times when Bengalis actually like eating vegetarian food and relish it to the fullest.

Koraishutir Kachuri with Alur Dam
On any evening at the Puja Pandal, there are multiple stalls to cater to your foodie appetite.
Beginning with Maangsher Ghugni (Mutton Kheema with Yellow Peas), Dim-er Devil (Deviled Egg), Fish Fry, Rolls, Chops and Cutlets, the list goes on and on. While the Cutlets and the Rolls are always a big hit, the Fish Fry definitely takes the crown. Fish Fry is typically different from what we know as the Maach Bhaja. The Maach Bhaja is fried steak pieces of fish with only salt and turmeric as a marination factor. The Fish Fry on the other hand is much more royal and uses fillets of fish fried with salted and peppered bread crumbs on the outside. It is served with a mustard dip known as Kashundi to complement it's taste. Another ubiquitous snack is the Roll in its many versions - mutton, chicken, fish, egg and even vegetarian.

Fish Chop
Fish Chop

Maanghser Ghugni
Maanghser Ghugni

The stalls also serve combo meals for dinner purpose; from Chingri Maacher Malai Curry to Kosha Maangsho there are more than enough choices on the menu to keep a Bengali foodie occupied through all days of the festival.

Shorshe Ilish
Shorshe Ilish

Last but not the least are the sweets and paan shop. Every bengali has a different way of having the paan and often the vendors go a great distance to satisfy their customers. Every paan is tailor made to the whims and wishes of the customer and you rarely see a bengali have only a saada paan.

On the day of Bijoya Dashami, the end of the festival and immersion is marked by exchanging of sweets. It is customary to bring a sweet box to every relatives' house and it is during this time that the full array of bengali sweets is actually visited with the sweets ranging from the Roshogolla and Malpoa to Chhanar Jilipi (Jalebi made of paneer) and Narkel Nadu (Coconut Laddoo) wish are relished by one and all.

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