Now Reading
Spices and Friends Bring a Taste of Amar Shonar Bangla to Aamchi Mumbai

Spices and Friends Bring a Taste of Amar Shonar Bangla to Aamchi Mumbai

Rohini Bhowmick
+3
View Gallery

Rohini Bhowmick, who has been retailing home-cooked Bengali foods since 2018, has a range of delicacies – from starters and main course to desserts – to delight your palate. Come, celebrate the festivities hassle-free from the comfort of your homes

As a probashi Bong living in Mumbai, till last year pujo meant a celebration in equal measure of the sights, sound and taste for Abhijit Ray.

The four-day festivities used to start with rushing to his parar pujo in pujo finery (read notun jama) early in the morning, diligently offering pushpanjali on an empty stomach, followed by clamouring for a plateful of bhog.

Next on the list, was about adda (hanging around with friends and acquaintances) at the pandal throughout the day, savouring delicacies at the various food stalls put up by the aunt brigade – kakimas, mashimas and peeshimonis.

The aarti, the dhak-dhunuchi naach (drum beats-dance) and the various anushthans (cultural programmes) at the parar pujo made those evenings memorable.

The most important ritual for Ray and Company was about pandal-hopping to catch a glimpse of the deity because each pujo pandal had something different, and he could not miss even one.

Abhijit, who is married to Anita Joshi, a Kumaoni who was born and brought up in Mumbai, is a tad disappointed with how the pandemic ended up spoiling the pujo fun for him and many others of his ilk.

More than anything, it was about missing the taste of Aamar Sonar Bangla.

Bengali Lunch
Bengali Lunch

But thanks to social media, he recently stumbled upon home chef, Spices & Friends, retailing home-cooked Bengali food in Mumbai during the pujas this year.

The discovery has spread festive cheer in the Ray household. “The thought of being offered a smorgasbord of traditional Bengali dishes – from starters and main course to desserts – to tickle our taste buds has left me drooling. The pujo just got a lot better,” says Abhijit.

Spices and Friends started out as an ode to my fathers’ love for homemade food, especially Bengali cuisine and wanted the food to speak for itself. Once it started creating waves and orders started pouring in, did I introduce the emotion, my father and making myself visible on our social media pages.

Abhijit has found his go-to home chef, who will bring a range of delicacies from Bengal and add to the festive fervour.

The 2020 version of Pujo is different. The pandemic has altered the festive fervour, but not the flavour, thanks to a bunch of enterprising home chefs.

For the benefit of many other probashi Bongs, who are in Mumbai and craving for home-cooked meals during the pujo, EastIndiaStory.Com caught up with Rohini Bhowmick, founder and home-chef at Spices and Friends, to discuss their pujor menu, and know more about their brand, culinary journey and plans.

Excerpts:

At Spices and Friends, how are you planning to bring the flavour of Pujo same for so many homesick probashi Bongs?  

Spices and Friends is a personalised homemade food catering service that has been in operation for the last two and a half years. Since its inception, we have served our signature savouries and dessert, every year at a Pujo Pandal.

This year, too, we continue the tradition, by clubbing the ‘once a year Anando Mela menu’ along with mains during the auspicious weekend of Ashtami, Nabami and Dashami (October 24-26, 2020).

The Durga Puja Menu
The Curated Durga Puja Menu

The curated Bengali menu for Pujo has three savoury items, two mains (one non-veg plus one veg) with luchi, one chutney and one dessert.

One can book orders by 20th October for any of the above mentioned days/dates. One may also choose to order for multiple quantities from any/all of the items too, along with the full menu.

The general Bengali menu is an elaborate one with starters, main course – vegetarian and non-vegetarian items – three types of lentils, chutneys, Basanti Pulao, Luchi and Matarshuti’r Kochuri.

The range of desserts includes Lobongo Lotika, Gur’er Payesh, Patishapta, Komla Lebu’r Payesh and Mishti Doi.

The tagline of the brand is Inspired Indian Cuisines, and we also have a range from ‘The Inspired Menu’, which has options from all across the country.

We are situated in Thane West and from here service all over Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane. We are three people that work together, wherein I cook all of the meals.

The food cooked here is my version of Indian dishes, keeping basics the same or that taught to me by my mother. Something I learnt on the way – there is nothing like an authentic dish, for each household makes the commonest of the dish differently.

So, let’s enjoy the festival through this pandemic ‘at home’, with our families, virtual Pujo and with pandal food right at your doorstep.

How did you get into this business of cooking and serving Bong food? 

Cooking has never been a chore for me, and when you’re born into a family of hoteliers and especially a Bengali family, one imbibes the spirit of ‘feeding’ people well.

My friends who have been privy to my food at occasions, insisted I venture into catering, but it is always challenging to branch away from one’s comfort zone, and for me, that was the luxury retail trade from where I wanted to branch out.

Rohini Bhowmick
Rohini Bhowmick with her Spices

However, it was after my father, who was an iconic hotelier with the Taj, passed away in March 2018, that something changed and perhaps the realisation of doing something for myself dawned upon me.

I wasn’t sleeping well past many months and was toying with the idea of hosting an extensive lunch by cooking my fathers’ favourite Bengali dishes for as many guests as possible.

This one ‘night’ in June 2018, while my husband slept, I started curating the menu for this lunch and somehow digressed by creating a collection of all the favourite Indian dishes (I knew of) that my father enjoyed most.

Suddenly by the morning, had a brand name in mind, checked its’ availability, the colours for the logo, a Facebook and Instagram page and a menu!

By the end of that week, friends had helped with the designing of the logo and menu, and we had a dedicated phone number, email address. Spices and Friends was created as an ode to my father.

The extensive Bengali lunch happened a year later for his birthday at our home!

What role did your father play in influencing your culinary journey? 

I was a luxury retail consultant specialising in customer service and brand philosophy with a fine understanding of luxury hotels and its kitchens for more than two decades.

I am privileged to have been associated with good food ever since I was a child. My late father had introduced my sister and me to world cuisines and restaurants from an early age.

We deliver the food in reusable containers, thus eliminating the use of plastic. However, the pandemic forced us to resort to plastic, though.

Of course, with my mother being a phenomenal home-cook and someone who could stir up a dish practically out of anything, I learnt little tricks and tips while helping her in the kitchen from the age of eight and that remains the core of my cooking today.

After my graduation, a natural extension was to get into the hotels, but I wished to break away from the synonymous ‘Bhowmick’ name within the hotel industry.

With an inherent eye for detail and ultimate customer satisfaction, the USP of my food journey remains to tend to specificities towards a client through the food served. 

The Lobongo Lotika remains our signature dessert and an absolute favourite. It is a difficult sweetmeat to make, but even renowned shops have stopped making it due to its extensive procedure

It was a sheer coincidence that I started and founded my homemade food journey with Spices and Friends in 2018, barely a few months after my father passed away.

We officially started with our first order for ten people in Powai.

The menu started only with my (late) father’s favourite Bengali meals and others from across the country and one Bengali dessert – the Lobongo Lotika – his favourite.

Patishapta
Patishapta

The story behind the brand’s name? 

Spices and Friends was a name that came naturally to me. It had to inculcate my passion for Indian spices but more importantly had to reflect the ethos of my training from the service industries (both retail and hotels).

See Also
Sourojyoti Chatterjee, Subham Ghosh, Ritaban Guha, Aritra Mukherjee, Nilanjan Saha

The idea was not to just know someone who places an order as a ‘customer’ but to go that extra mile for a ‘friend’ or as someone who would be invited to our home for a meal.

What is about your brand that sets it apart?

With an inherent eye for detail and ultimate customer satisfaction, the USP of my food journey remains to tend to specificities towards a client through the food served.

I deliver the food personally for a variety of reasons including a reassurance that the food is home-cooked by me; to associate a face to the name, and to be able to share instructions on how to reheat and serve the food.

Could you please take us through the order process?

It all starts with a phone call (or a message on either of the social media handles). I speak to the customer, share our menus and together we decide on portions for the family and guests and customise as per their tastes and preferences.

A minimum of three days prior notice is imperative for an order, since fresh produce and freshly ground masalas are used. We never re-use the same oil or masala for another order.

Special care is taken for every vegetarian meal being prepared as well and for it not to come in contact with any non-vegetarian item/spoon/ladle/kadhai (even if the client/friend has ordered for both).

The preparations happen a day before the actual cooking. The meals are then delivered an hour before the mealtime.

What is the response to this venture? How has been the experience so far?

The experience, by far has been one that is most satisfying a project, and the response has been overwhelming.

It is a well-known fact that if a food business, especially in Bombay, stays on for more than six months means you are probably doing something right and with each new order and/or a repeat client’s orders lends in itself a big confidence boost.

More than 50% of my current database are also new clients, who have stumbled upon our pages without having any ‘friends’ in common. It is in itself precious.

Any sweet anecdote that you would like to share?

Last year, a client and a partner at a law firm tasted the Gur’er Payesh (simmered milk with jaggery) and was spellbound to the extent where he wanted his 200 employees to have the special dessert during the Durga Puja.

Lobong Latika
Lobong Lotika

The Lobongo Lotika remains our signature dessert and an absolute favourite. It is a difficult sweetmeat to make, but even renowned shops have stopped making it due to its extensive procedure and the very few that make it now are overtly sweet and use processed khoya.

A customer once remarked, “I have always disliked Lobongo Lotika, but yours made me a fan.” This lady since then continuously orders with us.

Another one went on to say, “Your mithai is even better than K.C. Das … fabulous!”

The one that tugs at my heartstrings was this beautiful comment for it resonated with my own, “My father’s favourite mithai was Lobongo Lotika, and I cried with each bite. I had four at one go just remembering him.”

What are your plans for the future?

I plan on continuing with the same setup and do not have overly ambitious plans on expansion, even though I have been offered to open a 25-seater restaurant and have ready investors with a chef/s to do the cooking.

For now, I wish to continue servicing my friends and clients with the same zeal and personalised care that is incorporated in each of my dish I make for them.

Photographs by Chirodeep Chaudhuri

What's Your Reaction?
Excited
6
Happy
2
In Love
1
Not Sure
2
Silly
1
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top