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Kali Puja Mutton Curry

Seasoned culinary researcher Chef Sabyasachi Gorai and Odia Lost Recipe archiver Barnali Rath decode the ancient practice of sacrificial meat – and the uniqueness of it

By Madhulika Dash
Every year, as the rest of India gears up to celebrate the festival of lights and get the blessing of Goddesses Lakshmi, Eastern India –the state of Odisha and West Bengal – prepare themselves for yet another warrior Goddesses – one who is said to have cleansed the earth from all evil with her rudra avatar called Ma Kali.

But that isn’t the only difference between North and Eastern India festival, the real variation is also the food. While most of the country is sugar dipped in a variety of sweets and vegetarian fare, for those in Odisha and West Bengal, it is a treat of sacrificial meat, or as Bengalis would call it Niramish Mangsho, Odia’s term it as the Bhoga Mangsa.

While both are made of sacrificial meat which is given in accordance to the ancient practice of sacrificial offering to Shakti, both the recipes are vastly different in taste, texture and preparation – and a must -have if you are around. In fact, there are special breeds of castrated goats prepared for this purpose in Baripada that has one of the most revered Kali Mandir; likewise, in other places – although lately, the sacrifices are turned into symbolism where a whole pumpkin is used as the sacrifice. But the few places that still go by the traditional rituals, the bhoga is a must-taste to experience the joy of era cooking – some of these meat dishes date back to the 7th century AD. What makes these dishes so revered?

The first among it is the connect to our past, says seasoned culinary expert Chef Sabyasachi Gorai. “Most of these practices remind us of the time when women were considered on par with tthe male peers – and had a significant role to play in structuring and transforming the society. ” A brilliant testimony of this belief in the “perfect balance” is the story of Kali Puja itself. It is said that after killing the asuras, Ma Kali went on a rampage killing all who came in her way. Fearful that she may destroy humanity, Lord Indra and rest approached God Shiva and requested him to calm down the goddesses. Ma Kali, who is believed to be the warrior avatar of Ma Parvati, consort to Lord Shiva, in her anger didn’t hear to reasoning. As a last alternative, Lord Shiva lay down on her path, and Ma Kali stepped on his chest – immediately realising her mistake and calming down.

It is this moment of calming down that has been immortalised in most statue today. The other, adds Odia food blogger and archiever Barnali Rath, “is our ancient culinary repast, which showcases how rich our technique was. In fact, the bhoga mangsa is a prove that we had an amazing array of meat dishes that were made with minimal spices – or flavourants that were good for the body and soul.”

Take the case of adda mangsa (ginger mutton). This ginger hero-ed sacrificial meat dish dates back to the early AD when Odisha was the epicentre of Shaktidam and used ginger, cumin, pepper and turmeric to create a dish that is tender, fragrant and addictive. Puri, once the hub of Shaktipeeth, still has a few temples that follow this ritual. In Baripada, the preparation is more rustic with the use of cumin, pepper (now green chillies) and turmeric. The beauty, adds Rath, “about both this preparation is the quality of mutton which is usually a 60:40 percent of the tender bone front portion and the back, which is cooked till tender – and uses a good amount of gau ghee (cow milk-made clarified butter) to cajole the meat into tenderness.”

The mark of a good quality meat, says Chef Gorai, “is that it easily yields to the cajole of a good fat. And that is secret of a sacrificial meats where this science is perfected. Once that happens adding spices is more about enhancing the texture and aroma of the meat.”

Case in point the Bengali style Bhoger Mangsho, which is made of a Khasi goat variety and often is an ode to the art of batta (paste), which gives it its distinct taste, texture and mouthfeel. In fact, adds the Asansol-bred boy, “even when we work with a lot of paste including the jeera batta (paste of cumin), one of the oldest and most favoured, at the end it is about bringing the brilliant taste of the auspicious meat.” ===========================