A lip-smacking tale of Bengali kosha mangsho

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Feb 2019 11:46:22


By sumit paul,

There’s an interesting Bengali culinary saying, ‘Je khaye ni kosha mangsho, taar sarbosso dhangsho’ (one who has not tried and tasted kosha mangsho, dry goat meat, is a destroyed soul!). Though, it’s a bit too heavy and harsh on those who couldn’t taste it like yours truly, being a vegan, there’s no denying the fact, that kosha mangsho has assumed legendary status, esp. after the advent of internet and social networking sites.

First of all, kosha mangsho is not exactly dry goat meat. Since the Bangla word kosha doesn’t have an exact English equivalent, we make do with ‘dry’. That’s a different dish. ‘Clovens’ of Greece and ‘Morna’ of New Zealand’s Maoris (native people of NZ) can be qualified as ‘dry lamb (not goat) meat.’

Bengal’s kosha mangsho is altogether different because it also contains well-cooked chunks of potatoes (but that's optional)! Mind you, this does sound a tad incongruous but when you see and taste the dish, the eye-catching juxtaposition of mutton pieces with potato chunks and the maddening aroma emanating from it will change your hither-to gastronomical perceptions. You’ll love the sight of marinated, spicy and well-cooked potatoes with rather dry meat pieces which are as succulent as gilauti or kakori kababs of northern India, precisely of Avadh (Lucknow/Rampur).

In Persian culinary traditions, there’s a very apt maxim, “Nerastaz unif ya dezam muraav” (food travels far and wide). So very true. The Nawabs of Bengal, precisely of Burdwan, Murshidabad, Faridpur, Maimansingh and Jamalpur (the last three now in Bangladesh) were gourmets, nay gourmands, to be precise.

All the Muslim rulers of Bengal Sultanate since 14th century, had a stamp of Persian or Central Asian leanings in all that they did even on the sub-continent. With due respect to sub-continental non-vegetarian preparations, it was the magical or say Midas touch of Persian kitchen that the sub-continental non veg preparations assumed greater significance. Gravy is a predominantly Indian concept. Most of our dishes are gravy based, that too light or watery. On the contrary, central and middle eastern non-veg preparations are prepared in a thick or non-gravy base. Central Asians (Mughals in India) cooked non veg with meat's own juices and seldom added water to it.

So, a typical Mughal or Persian non veg item has a flavour that can’t be worded. It’s ineffable and beggars all descriptions.
Now coming back to kosha mangsho, the kitchens of foodie Nawabs were always abuzz with new innovations and dishes to satiate their fastidious palates. Most of them being fussy and finicky meat-eaters. Yours truly accessed an old Persian document written in Nastaliq script of Persian at Fort William, Calcutta. One Dinaram from Ara in Bihar worked as a chef at the Nawab of Burdwan, Rashid Quli-Khan, circa 1695/1700. He later embraced Islam and rechristened himself as Ismail Khan. One day, Ismail was experimenting with meat dishes and he unmindfully threw away the gravy/curry of the mutton curry and went out of the kitchen for some time. He came back and again cooked the mutton with very little curry this time because he inadvertently threw away the gravy. Wow! It tasted different because whatever little gravy was there, it was soaked by the meat chunks and they became tastily swollen and much more delicious! A serendipitous gem of a dish came into the world of cuisine.

He was Nabob’s favourite chef. So he could take liberty with the friendly Nabob. He offered him the new dish. Marhava!! (Blessed! Blessed!), the food-connoisseur Nabob exclaimed in Arabic and gave away two villages and their ownership to Ismail Khan.

Bengalis are often fallaciously criticised as being poor and miserly for, they put potatoes in meat to increase the quantity of the preparation but in fact, nearly hundred Iranian non veg dishes have potatoes and also cauliflowers. Later, Tamir Aslam Khwaja of Nishapur, Iran, added potatoes to Ismail Khan’s kosha mangsho and gave it today’s lip-smacking contemporary taste.

Now, you must be hungry. If you happen to be a non-vegetarian, try it out at home. Various preparations of kosha mangsho are available on the net. But to taste the most authentic kosha mangsho, there's no place like Kolkata. Hotel Shiraz on the Park Street serves the best kosha-mangsho in the whole world. Its preparation is a fantabulous fusion of Central Asian and Bengali styles. For Bengali kosha mangsho, visit Anadi Cabin on Esplanade, near the famous Hotel Grand and the Regent in the vicinity. And please don’t forget to thank me! l