This is a really special post.  I hope you all take some time to linger over the food photos here.

A home-cooked meal in India is a treat, like this one offering delicacies not available even in the newer regional restaurants. My friend Jyoti offered me such a meal the other night, and it was wonderful.  It will be hard to illustrate all the nuances of this meal but I hope a couple of the photos will suggest its goodness.   Much of this report comes via Jyoti himself, by the way, who clarified a great many details regarding his cuisine for me. 

We started off with a trip to the east side of Delhi, where we visited a fish market offering many typical Bengali (and other) fish varieties (including surmai, pabda, ilish, katla, rui, prawns, crabs, catfish and more).  The huge curved knife fixed to the floor is called a bonti, and food is cut by pushing it across the blade.  The skill of the fishmongers butchering the fish is freaking impressive. 

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Though perhaps not as impressive as the knife skills of the mutton butchers!

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Although we didn’t eat any meat at our meal, we stopped at the meat market for Jyoti to do some weekend shopping.  He insists on buying only fresh, top quality meat.  You could tell by looking at it just how good it was.  Here again, the butcher is using a bonti of sorts to deftly and expertly take apart the goat.  This requires absolute SKILL.  (He was also selling goats’ testicles, which I didn’t realize was eaten in India; and sometimes ‘nak’ a gourmet bit of meat from the abdomen, but not right now.) 

Look at how he uses the knife!

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We also stopped to buy a few veggies

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 absolutely fresh, grown on farms within the city limits.  See those pumpkin flowers (kumro phool) top middle? 

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They started off our meal, fried into sumptuous fritters in a chickpea batter perfectly made by Jyoti’s wife. 

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The flowers are delicate, and the batter in the middle of the crisp exterior is creamy and soft–just so.  Jyoti explained that the batter has to be well prepared to achieve this luscious consistency, and that the moisture from the flowers’ cooking aids in creating it. 

Bengali food is served in courses, though I don’t know how strictly I adhered to the requisite order.  This is lau chingri, sweet little bay shrimp and bottlegourd delicately seasoned with just a bit of spice and green chilli.   

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And here is a ghonto (an expert will need to provide more definition) of a kind of spinach topped with crunchy fried dal fritter crumbs.  Jyoti teased his daughter that she had to produce the correct crumb granularity. 

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On the plate. 

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Ilish is the most esteemed fish in Kolkata.  Next, I had one fried. 

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The large portion in the middle is roe, it sticks to your teeth in a pleasant way as you chew it.  It’s also a bony fish, and if my conversation might have failed to delight my hosts, I’m glad to report that my eating Ilish was a great pleasure for them.  I’ll be glad to eat Ilish anytime, Jyoti!   

As Ilish cooks, it gives off a great deal of absolutely succulent oil, much loved, and after eating it with rice, much prized by me too.  This fish oil-and-rice combination was my second favorite of the evening.  After the oil is rendered, the offal of the fish is fried in it and a generous spoonful is mixed with the rice.  Really delicious. But my favorite dish of the evening was shorshe Ilish, the fish cooked in a mustard paste with green chillis.

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Simple, full flavored and wonderful: For dessert, we had chum chums, a soft milky sponge soaked in a light sugar syrup, which we bought at a local sweet shop.   

This was a meal I’ll remember for years to come, and I’m glad I was treated to it by such a kind host.

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