One Wednesday morning in March, Sharmistha, in a loose light green salwar kameez, was perched on a step stool and her body hunched over a dao – a cutting tool that has a curved blade attached to a wooden platform. She was transversely chopping a rui/rohu mach (fish) into rough heart and oval shapes; known as gada pieces and are every fish connoisseur’s favourite.
When asked why she doesn’t use a chef’s knife, “Not my cup of tea,” quickly comes her answer. “Dao is an essential kitchen tool in most Bengali households. Not just for cutting fish but for vegetables as well,” Sharmistha adds.
Sharmistha, who is in her mid-thirties, is the sole cook at D’ Hungry Caterpillar. A native of Kolkata, now settled in Guwahati with her family, Sharmistha has been passionate about cooking since childhood. A former human resource professional, who had a stellar career for fourteen years, Sharmistha left her well-paying job to follow her heart.
Though there are few Bengali restaurants in Guwahati, D’ Hungry Caterpillar offers a culinary experience, that is more akin to visiting a Bengali’s home. The menu echoes all things yummy. Think fragrant Basanti Pulao (Rs 70), Khichuri and Aloo Choka with Chutney and Papad (Rs 110), Beguni Bhaja (Rs 30), Dum Aloo (Rs 60), Mourola Maach Bhaja (Rs 110), Chingri Bata (Rs 110), Chola Daal (Rs 60), Shukto (Rs 80), Begun Pora (Rs 60), Moori Ghonto (Rs 120), and hearty curries such as Mutton Kosha (Rs 190), Pabda Jhol (Rs 180), Chitol Peti Kalia (Rs 220), Doi Illish (Rs 250), Sorshe Egg Bhapa (Rs 70). For dessert, they’ve Chenna Payesh, Kheer, and Phirni (Rs 70).
“Guwahati doesn’t have many places that serve authentic and affordable Bengali food. Before I moved in here, my husband struggled to find hygienic home-cooked Bengali meals. And it got me thinking why not start a venture that offers freshly prepared homestyle Bong food. I also love feeding people. That’s how D’ Hungry Caterpillar was born. We serve not only a la carte dishes but also offer monthly meal plans; just like tiffin service. And I’m happy to have received such amazing responses,” Sharmistha says.
A steady stream of loyal customers is now giving her the confidence to open a restaurant someday. The fish she was hacking into chunks that afternoon was for one of her best-selling dishes – the creamy and mildly spiced Rui Korma (Rs 120).
When asked if her customers are aware of the difference between Dhakai and West Bengal’s Bangali cuisine, “I make them understand. While the spices are very similar in both cuisines, the cooking techniques are somewhat different. The food in East Bengal features a more substantial Mughal influence, making Bangladeshi dishes richer than their Western counterparts. However, both Bengalis and Bangladeshis dearly love their fish,” she chuckles.
D’ Hungry Caterpillar is built on uncomplicated flavours. “I keep the food simple and real. And I am not serving anything that I didn’t eat growing up.”
Sharmistha cooks in her home kitchen, which has a clean and sanitised environment. Not too many people are involved in the cooking process since she makes everything from scratch single-handedly, or with the help of her assistant. Once the food item is prepared, Sharmistha ensures that it is suitably packed and delivered safely. She personally delivers the food orders in her vehicle.
However since Sharmistha cooks from her home, with skeletal support, one has to connect with her a day ahead to discuss the menu. She has recently started catering for parties and get-togethers. Her meal plans are titled Classic Veg (Rs 90/meal), Deluxe Veg (Rs 110/meal), Classic Combo – Veg and Non-veg (Rs 120/meal), and Deluxe Combo – Veg and Non-veg (Rs 140/meal). She also does breakfast deliveries.