How prettily it sits beneath the shade of the large Banyan tree. It is a picture- perfect sight to behold… a scene straight out of rural Bengal… a two-storied mud hut with thatched roof nestling amidst lush greenery.
A short walk-way from the gate, lined with a variety of flowering plants, leads you inside one of the most aesthetically designed rustic interiors of a restaurant...it is Bhoomi, an award-winning specialty restaurant serving authentic Bengali cuisine. Bhoomi is part of the Vedic Village Spa Resort in Shikharpur, Rajarhat, on the north-eastern fringes of the city.
The cool interiors of Bhoomi provided relief from the sultry monsoon afternoon. The architectural design elements have borrowed heavily from the stylistics of tribal huts dotting the landscape of Santiniketan and its surroundings. Bengal terracotta finds pride of place filling in nooks and corners of this restaurant with handcrafted figurines, further highlighting its traditional earthy roots. The handmade furniture and earthen tableware enhance the experience. Once inside, the vibrations are comforting with soft lights cutting off the bold mid-afternoon sunlight with instrumental music acting as a balm for frayed urban nerves.
It was the scripting of the ‘Hilsa Chronicles’ by Rajib Roy Chaudhury, Senior General Manager, Vedic Village Spa Resort, and the skilled chefs of Bhoomi, that made a pure Bangaal (from erstwhile East Bengal) like me…dash several kilometres across the city to relish a delectable spread of hilsa or ilish preparations paired with wine!
The protagonist of the ‘Hilsa Chronicles’ was the Ilish Gondhoraj Sushi paired with Fratelli Classic Merlot—it was a classy combination. I have always considered cheese to be the most perfect combination for wines, but this pairing made me realise that experiments can, and does, throw up perfect surprises! The Ilish Gondhoraj Sushi is prepared with cooked Gobindabhog rice, made sticky using a thickened vinegar and sugar syrup, kasundi—a typical Bengali mustard relish, cheese, steamed boneless hilsa and bottle gourd leaves.
The boneless hilsa is steamed with salt and then kasundi, balsamic vinegar, black soya sauce, finely chopped red and green chili and a little bit of cheese are added, to make the hilsa filling for the sushi. Bottle gourd leaves are cleaned and slightly charred and then hilsa preparation is rolled in and steamed. After steaming it is cut into small pieces, garnished with red chilli and topped with steamed hilsa roe and drops of oil—leftover oil in which hilsa has been fried. When it gets served on an earthenware dish, it enhances your appetite. Ilish Gondhoraj Sushi’s are bite-sized packets of deliciousness! A sip of Fratelli Classic Merlot with it, perfects the pairing.
“Pairing hilsa with wine is an experimental concept and it’s difficult to cite instances of wine being used in Bengali dishes or with Bengali preparations.” says Rajib Roy Chaudhury, “but the Bengali palate seems to be changing and are now willing to experiment with a variety. Moreover, research has shown that wine consumption has many health benefits and, adding an appropriate amount into, or pairing it with, Bengali dishes can actually benefit people. Being a rich source of antioxidants and resveratrol, it is good for both the heart and the skin.”
Talking about Ilish Gondhoraj Sushi, he says that it is a product of two techniques—that of the Bengali pithe (steamed dumplings of rice flour or semolina or sweet potatoes) and the Japanese sushi. “If we talk from the traditional point of view,” he further adds, “the pairing of hilsa and wine can be called a fusion of two completely different cultural practices.”
Hilsa, the State fish of West Bengal, is an oily fish and is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Belonging to the herring family, it is highly popular because of its distinctive taste. Bengalis' love for hilsa is well-known and finds mention in many written texts.
‘Hilsa Chronicles’ also lists Kasundi Baked Hilsa paired with Folonari Trebbiano D Abruzzo; Smoked Hilsa with Fratelli Calssic Merlot wine; Hilsa Bhaja with Bhuni Khichuri (fried hilsa pieces served with khichdi) and Dia White Wine; Bhapa Ilish, steamed in sealed tiffin boxes (boneless as well as with bones) paired with Freixenet Codon Negro Brut; Hilsa Begun Bori Jhal ( thin aromatic gravy with eggplant and lentil dumplings) with Fratelli Classic Merlot and then there are Narkoli Malai Ilish ( cooked with tender coconut flesh); Laupatay Ilish Paturi ( grilled wrapped in bottle guard leaf), Sabzi Diye Ilish ( cooked with seasonal vegetables) and Ilish Biryani—all served with wine.
Kasundi Baked Hilsa was finger-licking good! For this preparation, boneless ilish fillet marinated with kasundi, vinegar, and green chilli was placed on a bed of sliced tomatoes and baked with cheese for 5 to 7 minutes. It was delicious. The ingredients in no way overpowered the unique taste of ilish…a hallmark of a masterchef! I would attribute the same compliment to the Smoked Hilsa…it was delicate with ‘melt-in-mouth’ kind of goodness. In spite of being marinated in barbecue sauce with a dash of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, the flavour of ilish was all powerful. Frankly speaking, the Hilsa Bhaja with Bhuni Khichuri was the crowning glory…it completed the awesomeness of the fabulous spread of the ‘Hilsa Chronicles’.
Bhoomi can accommodate up to forty-five people and is open seven days a week, from 12 noon to 4 pm for lunch, and from 7 pm onwards for dinner. ‘Hilsa Chronicles’ will be on throughout September, 2021. Besides the menu for the exclusive Hilsa and wine, Bhoomi has an a la carte menu that lists some of the most delectable Bengali specialities-- basanti pulao, maach, kosha mangsho, Moghlai porota, mangshor chop, sukto, dhokar dalna, daab chingri, elish bhapha, Chittagong murgi, gurer ice cream and many more. Bhoomi has a well-curated menu with a wide selection of vegetarian as well non-vegetarian varieties.
Bhoomi is an experience to savour and more so the limited period story of the ‘Hilsa Chronicles’. Rush!