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For sheer Anand!


HERE'S THE next best thing to having a Bengali friend who frequently calls you over for a traditional meal. Go to a little restaurant in the Majestic area, which serves food that tastes remarkably like home-cooked food. The large numbers of homesick Bengalis who throng this eating joint are proof of its authenticity.

If you walk down bustling B.V.K. Iyengar Road, past Abhinay theatre and all those shops selling light and bathroom fittings, and if you turn right into Kilari Road (which is one-way, so you can't drive down it), you'll see a board on your right that says: Babu Mosai. If you belong to a certain generation you'll instantly remember how Rajesh Khanna in the movie Anand would teasingly call Amitabh Bachchan by that epithet. "It's a term of respect, like `Sir'," says Sriparna Sinha, wife of proprietor Jayanta Sinha, who thought of the name.

They are an unassuming couple from 24 Parganas who have been in Bangalore for the last 12 years. Mr. Sinha, a former football player who played first division matches in Kolkata, used to work in an insurance company. When he opted for VRS after 18 years of service, he decided to invest the money in a restaurant. Babu Mosai opened in May 2000, and the couple hasn't advertised even once — mere word-of-mouth has done the trick. As Mr. Sinha simply puts it: "Our tasty food is our advertisement." His wife adds: "We can seat only 28 and there is no use advertising if we cannot accommodate more people." They have an equally flourishing branch in Hanumanthnagar near P.E.S. College.

Their cooks are either from Orissa or Bengal. The cornerstone of Bengali cuisine is, of course, fish. A fish meal (Rs. 30) consists of rice, dal (very bland, the way Bengalis like it), sukta (a mixed vegetable curry), aloo posta (a palya made of potato and khus-khus), alu bhajiya (thin and curling slivers of potato fried) and a piece of fried rohu or katla. (Remember that Bengalis have pond or river fish, and not sea fish.) A chicken meal (Rs. 40) has the same items with chicken instead of fish. If you crave for more piscine delicacies, try a curry on the side for Rs. 15. You could go for the most spicy item on the relatively bland menu, the pabda (a narrow fish cooked whole) swimming in delicious mustard gravy.

For the slightly adventurous there's the classic murighanto or fish-head curry that contains dal and potatoes. If you want to skip rice altogether you could order rotis. Mr. Sinha says: "Usually our Bengali customers order rice for lunch and rotis for dinner." To complete the meal, order rosogolla or gulab jamun for Rs. 4.

Bowing to local palates, Mr. Sinha doesn't use mustard oil but refined sunflower oil. "Local people like more khara," he observes that's why the joint serves items such as mutton masala, mutton curry, chicken curry, prawn curry, and chilli chicken.

Admittedly, there isn't much for vegetarians here, and the paneer-mutter and paneer kofta come as sops for them.

On Sundays, the place is packed with bachelors and families, with students in professional courses who come from as far as Peenya, and with employees of software giants who don't seem to mind the un-hip ambience. There's no fancy décor; there's a large portrait of Ramakrisha Paramahamsa on the wall, which faces you as you enter, Bengali inscriptions on the walls, and a stack of Bengali magazines at the counter.

The tourist would feel quite at home here; in fact, one tourist said he had got directions to this place from the railway station the moment he landed. Sriparna informs us that when a Bengali film was being shot in the city, the entire crew, including the star Ranjit Mallick, had their meals here during the 17-day shoot.

Babu Mosai is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with lunch being served till 4.30 p.m. and dinnertime starting at 7.30 p.m.. During the three-hour evening break, no tea or coffee is served, for that would encourage stragglers.

Monday is a half-day. The joint closes around 5 p.m. and the restaurant is given a thorough "disinfection". For catering and party orders, dial 2208067.

M.V. CHANDRASHEKAR

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