Feasting is an essential part of Durga Puja in Kolkata and the bhog offered to Maa Durga is something people queue up for every day. After all, the pujos are the homecoming of the daughter returning to her maternal home with her children. So the people welcome her with lavish meals. This important feast comes in many avtaars and versions and varies from family to sarbojonin (community) pujas.
Paara Or Community Pandals
If you ever thought Bengalis in Kolkata aren’t a patient lot, visit a pujo pandal during lunch hours! You will find people waiting in long queues for the community bhog to be served. The meal differs from pandal to pandal - sometimes it can be luchi and alur dom or kosha mangsho, fish kalia and ghooghni, and more. But on Ashtami, the bhog is pure vegetarian. It consists of khichuri - made with fragrant gobindobhog rice, sona moong dal, and vegetables. With this comes the famed labra - a dish made with mixed vegetables and panch phoron, a five spice mix. Labra doesn’t sound like much but it inevitably tastes delicious. Then there are crunchy bhaaja (vegetable fritters, usually made with eggplant, potato or pumpkin) and a chutney (usually tomato) and payesh (kheer made with rice boiled in milk with dry fruits and cardamom.
The bhog offered at the pujos held in old traditional homes of Kolkata is quite a contrast from the labra and khichuri in paara pandals. You will find several unique dishes - like Shovabazaar Rajbari’s humongous white motichoor ladoos or Ghosh Bari’s sandalwood-laced kheer. An unusual and minimalist feast is the bhog at the almost 250-year-old Baishnab Das Mullick’s puja where anna bhog (rice-based bhog) is made with salt and turmeric powder by cooks who have been with the family for generations. One of the oldest pujos is the Sabarna Roy Choudhury Atchala Durga Puja. The spread includes ghee bhaat, khichuri, basanti pulao with dry fruits, fried vegetables with different kinds of curries, fish dishes, bori (dried lentil balls), payesh, and an array of Bengali sweets. If you come on Dashami, you get to sample a rather unique meal of panta bhaat (soaked, fermented rice), khesari daal, stir-fried kochu saag or taro leaves, a variety of fish dishes, and chutney made with chalta or elephant apple.
If you want stunning photo ops, head to Shovabazaar Rajbari where they line up a spectacular spread of larger-than-life sweets served on giant platters. Among the items are radha bollobis (fried puris stuffed with lentils) which are the size of a dinner plate! The whole thing looks like something from Gulliver’s Travels! Across the road at the Choto Rajar Bari (part of the same family), you will get a lunch of pulao, luchi, alur dum and mishti.
In recent years, old family pujos outside the city have become a popular stop on people’s itinerary. Sign up for a tour of pujos held in five districts including places like Shantiniketan and the former Dutch colony of Serampore. The bhog is a different fare here; you never know what you will get. From dishes prepared with banana stems and green amaranth dishes, each day, the bhog is different at various places. You may get goat meat cooked without onions or garlic on navami. At Chandannagar, you may get hilsa fish with paranthas on saptami. And a fish dish cooked with radish.
Note: WBTDC runs daily tours to bonedi baris, community pandals and to pujos outside Kolkata. You need to sign up for these months in advance as seats are limited and disappear fast. See wbtourismpuja.in & wbtourism.gov.in for more details