In 2020, Durga Puja became an opportunity for many Bengalis outside the state to connect with each other through food ♦
“Durga Puja is an emotion for Bengalis,” says Arpita Roy, who runs The Lunchbox Co. in Mumbai. As Bijoya, the Bengali festive season, comes to a close with Kali Puja on November 4, this sentiment is just as true for those who live outside of Bengal – especially when it comes to celebratory food. As Hungry Cat Kitchen, a Mumbai home chef service posted on Instagram, “This Pujo we sold
The lockdowns and job losses of last year gave rise to a wave of home chefs, and Bengali cooks like Roy are at its crest, emerging as one of the most notable regional food trends in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Some started out with Covid relief meals, others found enthusiastic, home-bound customers. Cooking, especially around the 2020 festive season, became an opportunity for many Bengalis outside the state to connect, through food, with larger communities. Under pandemic restrictions, many society pujos were restricted to members, pointed out Sumana Biswas, founder of Petuk Puraan in Bengaluru. She, like many other home chefs, spent their time cooking for others instead. Somma Ghosh of Kitchen Tales, Mumbai was a co-founder of a community pujo, but began a weekend meal delivery last year after cooking meals for migrant workers and staff at her complex.
Roy, who came to Mumbai from Kolkata for her husband’s health treatment, and began cooking after he died, “found a purpose when I was 55.” Back home, her husband had been involved in founding a para—neighbourhood—puja; Roy now found “therapy” in cooking. The 70-plus orders of bhog she prepared in 2020 “transported people back home during a trying time.”
These cooks have found a diverse audience for offerings that go beyond kosha mangsho and luchi into more diverse dishes with east Indian origins. Says Sharmila Sinha of Delhi’s Luchee Food Story, people are increasingly more interested in trying dishes that go beyond “Calcutta city food” to include rural recipes, and those based on seasonal produce that aren’t as widely known.
A couple passionate about food started BongYo in Bengaluru to cater to both Ghoti and Bangal tastes. Says filmmaker-turned-chef Madhumita Pyne of Insomniac Cook, “Earlier the clientele was much more niche. Now more people are familiar with the idea of ordering from home chefs.” Pyne estimates 65 per cent of her customers in Mumbai are Bengalis looking for a taste of home, but the rest are from other backgrounds. Roy, too, has customers from Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, “areas that have had some Bengali influence in their culture”.
The far reaches of this influence, continuously spread through Prabashi Bengalis, is complemented by an enthusiasm for, and relative inclusiveness about, different kinds of food. Awadhi, Chinese, and other cuisines have found a home at stalls between pandals, and in Bengali kitchens. This year, food-nerd Sanhita Dasgupta Sensarma of Gusto by Sanhita in Delhi, prepared festive dishes from Mithilanchal, Assam, Odisha, Bengal, and Bihar for what she calls the “community agnostic” occasion of Durga Puja. Her menus regularly feature the regional and micro-regional cuisines of her own fascinating family background, which spans Burma, Bangladesh, Kolkata, Tripura, Delhi and the US.
The same goes for Sinha, who married into an old Delhi-based family, but grew up in Lucknow. While her joint-family childhood home had separate non-vegetarian and vegetarian kitchens, they opened out onto a common courtyard, where a plate might feature Afghani kababs and shaami kababs alongside Calcutta-style fish chops and shingaras. The maharajas (cooks) routinely participated in “a khansama exchange” to learn from other households too.
Reminiscing about Durga Puja in Nagpur, where she grew up, Moushumi Moitra, who began pop-up dinners in Delhi a decade ago, described the festival as a time “when teenagers go from single to mingle.” The ability of Bengali food, too, to flirt with other cuisines has made its cooks strong suitors on the thriving home chef circuit.
Bengali Home Chefs
Gusto by Sanhita 9810427856
Luchee Food Story 98184 82018
Moushomi Moitra +91 95609 40750
Samita Halder 9687638449
Bengali Love Café 8178112300
One Right Bite 9871268912
Queen Bee’s Table 9811078626
Insomniac Cook 9892803506
Somma Ghosh 9820462881
The Lunchbox Co. 8355980835
Hungry Cat Kitchen 9820928658
The Bong Street 9223236909
Petuk Puraan 9830376451
Bhooka Bongs 9741874477
Bengali Food Books
A Taste of Time
By Mohona Kanjilal
This deep-dive into Calcutta’s food history describes how the food habits of European, Jewish,
Armenian, Chinese, and Parsi settlers shaped the city’s vibrant cuisine.
The Non-serious Guide to Bengali Food
By Arpan Roy
Combining Bengali humour with the Bengali palace, the creator of The Bong Sense page delves
into the historical and geographical background of popular Bengali cuisine.
Those Delicious Letters
By Sandeepa Datta Mukherjee
By the author of the bestselling Bong Mom’s Cookbook, this novel stirs together marriage,
immigrant life and a series of mysterious letters containing recipes and memories.