A mother and daughter chef team who fought personal loss through food, spread the love
You would miss Bagchiis on Bandra's Ambedkar Road if not for its red logo — a red chilli in the form of a bindi with the joint’s name in it. "Bengali women are fiery, and we stand for women's empowerment," co-owner Papiya Bagchii, dressed in a purple kurta, says.
Papiya and Madhushree Bagchiis at Bandra which opened earlier this month. Pics/Prabhanjan Dhanu
The 34-year-old teamed up with Madhushree Shila, her mother, to launch the Bengali food take-away and delivery joint on May 9. The place, Papiya tells us, is born out of a labour of love and healing.
The Bagchii special mutton is not boiled but marinated in the traditional panch phoran masala for six hours before it is cooked
"Asho, ekhane bosho (you sit here)," Papiya tells her 60-year-old mother, pulling up a chair.
Wiping the sweat off her brow, she settles onto a stool. "I lost my father to a heart attack in 2009 and my younger sister to an accident in 2013. I opened this place to keep their memory alive. Our family was big on food, and as a child, I was brought up with delicious flavours. Everyone who came to our house knew it was an open house and they would be fed great meals,” says Papiya, who quit her advertising job in January after her mother took ill.
"I started at a design company, worked in a production house even, but I knew I was not doing what I was meant to. When my mom was unwell, I took the plunge. I am a good hostess like my father," says Papiya, who lives at Bandra's Perry Cross Road with her twin, Piyali, and Madhushree. "And, we have a fourth member, Mischief, our cocker spaniel." Born in Kolkata, and studied in Pune, Papiya moved to Mumbai in 2011.
Maternal family recipes
Most recipes on Bagchiis’ menu have been handed down by Madhushree’s maternal family. She took them down in an exercise book when she was to marry in 1978. Having never cooked before, Madhushree would memorise the recipe she would have to make. “By the time I reached the kitchen, I would forget. I would rush back to my room, refer to the exercise book and start again. It was a sight," exclaims Madhushree, who finally taught them to a 14-year-old home help. “Then, he became a better cook, and I got lazy,” she laughs. Madhushree’s husband Aloke was a leisure cook, acing biryanis, kebabs and rezala. "He became our khichdi master," Papiya fondly recalls. "He used a lot of dahi, and traditional panch phoran garam masala."
It took some coaxing for Madhushree to taste his khichdi. "Once, he had made mutton liver and it had no oil and spice. It was rubbish! But, I tasted his khichdi, it was awesome. I asked for a second helping, and he was in seventh heaven.”
When Aloke cooked, it was a team effort, making his daughters chop the vegetables and add the masala. “He would always shout instructions, ‘Ye dalo, woh dalo!’ And I would ask him, ‘Who’s the real cook here?’” laughs Papiya.
A light Bengali meal
Chef Pramod, who hails from Orissa, rustles up a few dishes for us to try. The first is his specialty, the Doi Phulkopi — cauliflower cooked in curd, and lightly tempered with curry leaves.
The food at Bagchiis is influenced by East Bengal, a spicier version of what is served in the West, that “uses too much gur (jaggery)” as Madhushree puts it. Rui Machcher Bhijebhaja is a white sweet water fish stuffed with onion and garlic paste. The zing of mustard hits our nostril and makes our eyes water. Yet, it’s tough not to take a second bite.
The menu is extensive and Papiya curates the specials’ on the blackboard every day. “Those who eat this food are taking a bite of my childhood,” she says, serving us Baghchiis special mutton that her mother has prepared. Instead of boiling the meat, it is marinated for six hours to soften, and then cooked on a stove. The curry is cooked separately and mixed later. "The fun of eating mutton is biting the bones. Sadly, my teeth are giving me trouble," says Madhushree.
The garam masala takes centrestage in the Dhokar Dalna, made with three types of dal, and served in a red gravy, while kasundi makes us tear up again in the Chhim Chechki made of edamame.
"There's malpua, don't worry," Papiya promises, as we polish off the dish, along with some aam panna.
At: Bagchiis, F 43/165/ Pali Pathar, Ambedkar Road, Bandra West
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