Slowly you fish a slice up and hold it between your fingers.
It is so clear that you can see through it.The sticky syrup rolls down you fingers and you quickly lick it to stop from flowing down your elbow.
And revel in the taste.
Sweet, lemony, with the kick of the paanch phoron.
And slightly spicy, if a piece of the dry red chilli has crushed.
That is the Plastic chaatni for you.
Every Bengali's favourite. Something every Bengali looks forward to in the menu of a special occasion, especially weddings.
I am not talking of today's catering managed wedding meals.
I am talking of the traditional weddings of yore.
Where food was served on plaintain / raw banana leaves and water was served in traditional earthen glasses.
Where food was eaten with hands and where people sat down together, in large batches, to enjoy the feast.
Where all the dishes were served on the same plate, course by course and the plate holds the heavenly mix of flavours from the all the dishes served.
So the sweetness from the Mishti bhaat or the fried rice, the spiciness from the macher kalia or the jhol, the richness of the Kosha Mangsho, the crunch from the Fish fry .... every dish leaves its print on the plate.
And to that ,when the sweetness of the Plastic chatni is added, it is heaven on your plate.
And the lingering taste and smell in your fingers.
And the sounds of the shehnai mixed with a lot of boisterous chattering and laughing out loud in your ears and the frangrace of the Rajanigandha in the air.
That is what Bengali wedding meals used to be.
The Plastic chaatni ..... it got its name because the papaya slices resembled clear plastic after cooking, is not very common in everyday cooking in Bengali households.
And rare too in occasions like birthdays or Annaprasanna ( when a child eats rice for the first time ).
However, when it came to wedding menus, its place was fixed.
Although I have never seen this chutney served anywhere else, I did notice that the restaurant Sigree always serves it along with other relishes.
Their version is slightly dry though ... but the flavours are the same.
Traditionally, the shape is of thin slices of the raw papaya. I have chopped them for reasons best known to god. I have no idea why I did not slice them.
Also, by the time I cut the papaya to cook, it had ripened slightly.
But I can assure you, it made no difference to the taste.
My chatni has a little too much of paanch phoron / Bengali five spice tempering .... but that is because the spoon slipped from my hand and landed straight into the hot oil.
But again ... no harm to the taste.
Here's how to make this wondrous chatni.
Raw Papaya - 1 cupful ,
( thinly sliced small pieces or cut into very small cubes )
Kismis / Raisins - 1 tbsp, soaked
Lemon juice - around 1 tbsp
Sugar - 2 cupsful
Water - 3 cupsful or a little more
Paanch phoron / Bengali five spice mix - 1 tsp
( a mix of
methi / fenugreek seeds (use just a few seeds),
jeera / cumin seeds,
mouri / fennel seeds ,
sorse / mustard seeds,
kalo jeere / nigella seeds )
Whole dry red chillies - 1, broken
Cooking oil - 1 tsp
Salt - a pinch
(If you are afraid of biting into a methi seed, then you can use just the fennel (saunf ) and the nigella ( kalonji ) seeds for the tempering.
How to :
Heat oil in a pan or a kadahi.
Add the paanch phoron + broken red chilli.
Then add the papaya and toss well.
Add a little salt, cover and cook till just half done.
Remove cover, add the raisins and water and bring to a boil.
Now add the sugar and cook for some more time, covered.
Remove cover, check if the papaya is done yet firm.
Add the lemon juice, simmer for a minute or two.
Remove from heat and cool.
This stays well in the fridge for more than a week.
Just make sure you keep it covered well or in a tight lid bottle.
Poila Boishakh is just a day away.
Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous Bengali New Year!!
Health and happiness and more healthy, happy food to you !!