Away From Madding Media!
Buyline/Ravi V. Chhabra
I have been devouring Bengali food at various eateries, both obscure and famous ones as it suits my palate most - my first love being fish – be it at ‘Dilli Haat’ or ‘Kalibari Temple’ canteen and during Durga Puja at various kiosks and at many good Bong friends’ homes. The sure shot heavenly Indian cuisine for so many reasons. Just like fine art – skillfully developed and curated.
All photos copyright: Right Impact Media Inc.
You can smell passion in each dish, the taste is so distinct and the versatility to tango with all kinds of vegetables with or without fish and other meats and dishes is mind boggling. The repertoire is unbelievable, both for vegan and non-vegetarians. Moreover, it is completely balanced if pitted against the heavily greasy Punjabi and Mughlai stuff. Incomparable!
Another crazy Bengali food fact: At the bridegroom’s first visit to his in-laws’ place 72 dishes are freshly cooked to honour/welcome him and he must taste each of those. Now, that truly speaks volumes in hospitality and warmth. The louder you burp - more respect you show for food. Likewise, while eating licking finger (as everything Bengali dish is eaten with fingers) is considered complete appreciation and enjoyment.
The Bengali specialty restaurant ‘Madlee Bangalee’ run by duo Deepa Lakshmi and Amit got on to me when I first visited it over three years back, when the former media duo first started at a smaller place and not-so-good entrance, yet I was awestruck with what I ordered – famishingly in a hurry on that day, I had the ubiquitous ‘Rohu maachh’ curry and boiled rice. I had wanted to check out ‘MB’ again ever since. And I did it last week.
The food was authenticically 'Bong'; Far better than my first time and the service exceedingly prompt and courteous by Tuhin. The rates are great value for money. There imposing entrance now on the main road also has ample car parking – great location on main road at CR Park. We had ‘Chital Maach’, ‘Kosha Mangsho’,’ Raw Mango Chutney’ and ‘alu bhaaja’ (I prefer the potato a bit non-crispy though) and two types of brinjals with papar. However, being a trully Punjabi, I also ordered for 2 tawa rotis to go with the finger-lickable mutton. The combo tasted brilliant. I decided to interview the co-owner Deepa this time around.
[Pic Credit: Deepa/Amit]
Fnbworld: What was the driving factor to move out of a leading media company (NDTV) and start a venture not so widely accepted/cherished in Delhi i.e Bengali cuisine?
Deepa: NDTV for me and my collaborator Amit even today is the best workplace and we are absolutely proud to say we say we are from NDTV. But sometimes one wants to do different roles in life.
My passion is food; Cooking, serving, discovering, researching, exploring and of course eating! I have never thought anything beyond food. Amit on the other hand always wanted to be his own boss. My dream was to have my own restaurant. So together we came up with this to achieve what both of us wanted. We lived in CR Park and realised that Delhi didn't have a good Bengali eatery. Whatever was there was at a 'dhaba' level or a five-star hotel and there came the idea of Bengali restaurant right in the West Bengal of Delhi, CR Park. The stress of acceptability of Bengali cuisine was sorted for us because we were in CR Park serving Bengali food to Bengalis.
Fnbworld: Did setting up a bistro entail more pressure than working in media? The story behind the whacky name: Madly Bangalee?
Deepa: Every job/business has its own challenges. You are steaming in a pressure cooker when you work with a news channel and the same goes when you enter food business; but the difference is when you work for others you know you will get your salary at the beginning of the month without fail and you will work only on what you have been assigned and you move on if you are not satisfied. But when you are into your own enterprise you become your boss and employee too!
I still cook in my kitchen to maintain quality (I love it too). But in the beginning for the first two years I had cooked everyday and tasted every food that was served. Similarly, Amit would buy fish/meat and veggies himself and has in every level tried to cut down cost (he is called the cost cutting officer!) and designed the interiors of the restaurant himself. This involves not on mental stress but also a lot of physical labour. There are times when you are so happy and many times you feel helpless and get into such a stressful zone that you start considering your decisions wrong but then unlike a job situation you can't move onto the next but make it work till the time it works. Now, somehow successfully we have trained our staff and finally after 4 years, we take the liberty of taking breaks for vacation.
Fnbworld: How this whacky name?
Deepa: The first name that struck Amit’s mind was Madly Bangalee. Bangalis are mad about their food so yaa...
Fnbworld: What made you move out of the becloud location in CR Park market-2 where I first met you guys and freaked out on the food a few years ago?
Deepa: We are from a different background (Media) and had different expectation too from our business.
It could sound a little rude but the fact is we wanted a different profile of customers (I am not talking about monetary status). We wanted people to come to relish our food, to have good time with family and not people who came for just ‘ek cup Chaa’ with veg chop or customers who wanted a ‘sasta thali’ and didn't go beyond ‘Rohu maachh’. This really affected our sales and the profile of our restaurant. I couldn't even add beautiful Bengali delicacies to the menu and Amit didn't see the sales/profit up to the mark. Later, when we discussed we realised that a restaurant in a market will never help us. My dream was never to sell ‘daal bhaat’ but to tell and make people taste the delicacies of Bengaly cuisine. Luckily, we go this new place, where in the past one year our problems are getting solved and dreams are coming true, slowly and steadily but we are very happy now.
Fnbworld: Do you own this one at a prime and prominent location?
Deepa: We have rented this place.
Fnbworld: Your next food venture in sight?
Deepa: Both of us always wanted from day one to open a restaurant which serves south Indian non vegetarian delicacies (serve liquor too) with the authentic taste which Delhi really needs to savour.
Fnbworld: Where do you source the fish from...is it always the fish market next door or some other places too?
Deepa: We source our fish from Kolkata and Assam.
Fnbworld: I tried the wonderful delicacy among other stuff the other day – recommended by a Bengali former Colonel buddy – a big foodie too, who told me that the ‘Chital Maachh’ is a rarity even in Kolkata restaurants. Is it true? What makes it so special?
Deepa: Chital is a seasonal fish. You get the best catch only if you are lucky. Ilish has really over-powered this amazing tasting fish. Trust me, a large number of Bengalis love Chital over Ilish.
Fnbworld: I loved the dishes served very elegantly and fast by Tuhin. Who is the chef and what are his specialties in the menu?
Deepa: Hmmm...the chef seems to be a very big word. But my kitchen is run by me. I have trained my staff with what I know and I cook whatever I can. The specialities are Kosha Mangsho, Ilish Borishali, Gondhoraj Bhetki, Chicken Lebu lonka and Biye Bari Murgi Bhaja.
As we came out of the restaurant, I desperately needed some ‘Mishti Doi’ and told my Bengali Colonel buddy that I feel sad that most north Indians are just so clueless about Bengali style cooking. All they know is fish dishes and sweetmeats (mithai) as mainstay in Bengali cuisine. That is a fallacy.