Tuesday, July 8, 2008
What do Kolkata and Bengali's remind you of? If this question were to be randomly administered by a market researcher, I would surmise that eight out of ten respondents will say "sweets". If the horizon of the respondents could be broadened, I would say the answer is "food". Before Bongs take offence, let me inform those who do not know that I am also a Bengali or Bong, as my friends say. And I should know (about food). Even as we (Bongs) eat one meal, around the table the discussion usually turns to the menu of the next meal. As anyone knows, the success of any expedition rests on proper planning. See where President Bush and Donald Rumsfield landed USA in with hasty action and lack of proper planning. And for the Bong, every meal is a major expedition worthy of planning by Napolean or Rommel.
But the importance of food for the Bengali was brought to me - as if I needed a reminder - in a most unusual place. I stayed three nights at the Apollo Gleneagles Hospital in Kolkata (near EM Bypass and next to Swabhumi). The first morning I went down to get some tea at the cafeteria on the ground floor. What greeted me was surprising to say the least. It was a veritable feast. What was available is the following: masala dosa, plain dosa, medu wada, vegetable sandwich, cheese sandwich, chicken sandwich, fish roll, fish fry, vegetable samosa, chicken wings, chicken lollypop, chicken legs fried with corn, chicken tikka, chicken malai kebab, buns, sweet buns, vegetable fried rice, mixed vegetable curry, four varieties of pastries, chocolate brownies, fruit muffin, chocolate muffin, plain muffin, chocolate mousse, vegetable patties, chicken patties, loochi-aloo (Puris and potato curry), chicken pakoda and I am sure I have missed some more delicacies. This was not the menu, it was what was available on the shelves.
In drinks, apart from tea, coffee and aerated drinks, a reasonable variety of milk shakes were available. While waiting for my hot cup of tea, I noticed a sign board – mouth watering and your favorite delicacies now available in the multi cuisine restaurant at the Day Care Centre (part of the hospital). The accompanying pictures were of biryani, pasta and noodles. The Day Care Centre was opposite the main hospital building where OPD patients are seen. In the evening a friend dropped in to see me. He said, "Don't go to the cafeteria for meals. The restaurant at the Day Care Centre is better and the choice is much better." Apparently a consultant doctor at the hospital, I was told, invited his extended family for lunch one afternoon after this restaurant opened. And I happen to know that the story is not apocryphal.
On the second day my friend insisted in bringing me lunch from his home. My pleas that the hospital food being served was perfectly palatable fell into deaf years. And the lunch arrived. To call it lunch will be to do it grave injustice. It was a feast fit for a king. The menu was something like this: rice, dal, sukto (a mixed vegetable preparation), pat paatar bhaja (fried pat leaves), potol-potato curry, hilsa fish curry (a couple of large pieces with one of them being the peti, the most sought after part of hilsa) with jhinge (ridge gourd). No, there was no dessert! That was missed in a hurry. Bless my friend's wife who conjured up all this and offered to follow up with more at dinner time. I made some excuses. And now let me tell you a secret - while I protested and absolutely forbade them from getting me more meals, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and wouldn't have minded some more of that hilsa fish (hilsa from Bangladesh – paddar ilish, as Bongs would say - at Rs1,000 a kg).
I have reached the end. And it would be unfair if I do not mention the lunch on the first day at a doctor friend's house who lives a stone throw away from the hospital. The menu was: rice, sukto, dal, potoler dolma (potol stuffed with shrimps and coconut), chicken curry, lobster curry (with the head and tail of the lobster in tact) and mango chutney (the Bong variety) bringing up the rear. This on a perfectly normal working day. Now you know what I miss in Mumbai. And next time you are driving to Kolkata airport and want to have some quick snacks or a meal, do drop in at Apollo Gleneagles. It will not disappoint. I do not know if the same can be said about the other departments at the hospital.