Shantiniketan can be called the average (or non-average) of Bengali’s intellectual capital. It’s just 4.5 hour’s drive from Kolkata and by train, it takes just 3.5-4 hours. Now, as I’ve found, where there is a huge flow of tourists, food tends to be exciting. Is it the same here as well? The last time, I went there, was in 2019, and post-covid, it seems like another lifetime. So, the journey, this time, was by car and it took us around 5 hours (including a 1-hour break at Azaad Hind Dhaba) to reach the place.
Let me talk about our stay at Mayas Shantiniketan and then I’ll talk about this time’s find at Shantiniketan- Jeivan Farm, Shantiniketan.
Stay at Maya’s Shantiniketan
Our stay was at Maya’s Resort, Rooppur. Now, though technically in Shantiniketan, this resort is on the outskirts of the city. A drive to the Viswabharati campus took us a good 15 min drive on our cars. Please check the location on the google map here. But honestly, I had gone there for a holiday, and this resort is ideal for that. Rooms were pretty good, there is a huge terrace on the second floor, overlooking the vast stretch of land around. And the pool was pretty well maintained.
Dbl rooms are priced at 3500/- per night. Also, we took a large super suite and was priced at 7000/- per night. The suite had 3 beds, accomodating 6 people. But apart from the usual modern chic decor, I liked this idea of keeping books at Mayas Shantiniketan. I’ve traveled a lot and stayed in many properties, but rarely I’ve come across a place, where books (rather novels) are put in rooms. Good job, team.
Food at Mayas
Mayas Shantiniketan has one restaurant and that serves standard a la carte spread. Breakfast is not included in the room rate and is to be ordered separately. Breakfast items (like Aloo Parota/ Toast and Eggs to order) are pretty good, but the problem is service doesn’t start before 8 AM. For the early risers, tea/coffee makers are there in the room, for self-help. For lunch, the veg Thali comes at 150/- per head, and mutton was at 200/- for 4 good pcs of meat. Tastewise, it’s pretty good- not mind-blowing, but good honest stuff.
An evening stroll at Rooppur around Mayas Shantiniketan
It was evening and honestly, I didn’t have much to do other than sipping on my rum. And my friend, Atanu, is a bloody health freak and quite good at persuasion. So, after a good afternoon siesta, we went out for an evening stroll. And there we discovered this hidden gem- hot rasogolla tucked inside a village. Well, this is the shop of Santosh Runj (or was it Sanjeev, damn my Rum!!!) And his story of rasogolla. He has been preparing these hot rasogolla at around 830 in the evening and the queue starts at his minuscule shop from an hour before. Village stories, gossips and whatnot. Mostly men come to get the same and to get the daily dose of village gossip. Kids are sent if the adults are dozed off.
Lunch at Aarhani, shantiniketan
Last time, we were spellbound by our lunch at Aarhani. For those, who’ve not heard of it, it’s a small home kitchen run by Rini di (9641962667) and Dibyangshu da (9836611383). And that mutton was probably the best dish (of mutton) that I’ve tasted in 2019. But this time, after aamphan, the location has changed (they’re operating from another place. But food is still brilliant.
Aarhani is one of those very very few places, where I won’t mind having only vegetarian dishes. The begun Tok (aubergine with tamarind and jaggery) is surreal. But still, Rini di prepares killer meat. Kashmiri Mutton (fiery looking, but not spicy) is worth its weight in gold. And this was the first time, we tasted the Black Seasame pork, cooked by the lady. I’ve had this dish many times and they even tasted good. But this dish here is brilliance and something, on which, great things are written. Meal for 8 with all the dishes had cost us 2300/-.
Jetvan Peace Farm, Rooppur Shantiniketan
Now, let’s come to this trip’s finding- Jetvan Peace Farm. But for this, I’d like to thank my friend Somek Chowdhury. Because he’s the one who had told me to visit this hidden gem. This place is at Rooppur and located quite close to the Maya’s, where we were staying. So, when we started with the help of Google map, it dropped us at a culvert on a barren road, with practically nothing around. and we started doing, what we do best- frantically dial the number of the owner- Jayashree Singh.
Google map was right. the farmhouse was right there, just that one needed to walk down around 50 mtrs from the culvert, on an offroading track, to reach the place. It’s a self-sustaining farmhouse, run by one single lady and this is her story- a story of determination and grit.
Jayashree Singh used to excel as an independent travel journalist and gradually moved on to running her own international travel agency. But somewhere upon meeting someone, an idea hit her. Honestly, ask yourself, how much money one needs to be secured and covered in his/ her life? And what are the items, that we need to survive? Make a list and start striking off the unnecessary ones. Probably from 100 items, you”ll end up with 5-6 basics. And with this realization, the lady started this concept- Jetvan Farm House
About the Jetvan Peace Farm- Shantiniketan
A couple of cows, few swans, one middle-sized pond, and a couple of Labradors and Golden Retrievers, that’s all that she had for her company- apart from 2-3 helping hands from the local Santal Village. She started with barren land and built the hut- by herself. forget about AC, the mud hut, or the dining hall has a couple of fans. But the basics are in place. You have a washbasin, clean sitting arrangement, and damn good food. Food is purely organic and cooked by the lady and her helping hand. they even made a refrigerator and an oven with mud and bakes her own Pita Bread there. If this doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will.
The charge is 500/- per head for the entire spread. All the food items were served on clay pots and we were given saal leaf, on earthen plates. And let me start describing them. As a welcome drink, we were served KombuCha and it was a new item for me. It’s basically fermented tea- quite sour and striking in taste- served cold. It’s available at Amazon, but homemade here.
For starters, we had whole wheat pita bread with Hummus and Chicken Laabgai. And I was blown off. With that setup, I didn’t understand, how she could come out with such a perfect bread. And hummus was simply wonderful- super smooth and with a proper sprinkling of good quality olive oil. Chicken Laabgai is a Thai salad. Roasted rice flor is prepared with chicken mince and flavored with Gondhoraj lemon leaves– damn sexy in taste.
The next set was Bata Machh er tok, Sejuno, and mocha paturi. Those sweet water small fish are from the pond inside the farmhouse only and that probably took the tok to another level. I am not really a Tok fan, but honestly, I liked it, paired with some steamed rice. Sejuno is the Santhal version of our own Gota Seddho. Multiple vegetables are boiled along with chhola and the whole thing is hand-mixed with mustard oil and slit green chilly. I may be wrong about the ingredients, but the cook was brilliant in getting the damn mix ready. Mocha Paturi (banana flower steamed wrapped inside banana leaves with ground mustard marination) was good- quite spicy- with the green chilly and definitely enjoyable. Wait, did I mention the Som Tam Salad, served along with?
We preferred pork over small fish and thus two pork main course was served to us, along with steamed rice (as staple side) and some lemon rice. The first one was Pork Sukri Jil and another one was Dohneiiong- popularly known as Pork with Black Sesame seeds. Pork Sukri Jil is the local Santhal style of having pork jhol. Small cubes of local pork was cooked with potato (again from her farm- the red-faced bandor-mukhi aloo) and ginger. On a sultry hot summer, the non-spicy runny curry was heavenly. Dohneiiong- popularly known as Pork with Black Sesame seeds was good. It was more intense and less oily than the version served at Aarhani. Taste-wise, both are good- damn good. Some local Lalte Saag was there, but once I saw the meat, I didn’t disturb them.
Dessert was a plain and simple homely rice kheer. And though it was good, I was stuffed with pork (both the dishes) and chicken laabgai for a proper appreciation of the same.
I won’t say, this is the best meal, that I’ve had in my life- no. But this is a damn good and honest meal by one of the women, who I’ve started respecting by the end of this meal- for her guts. She’s not an activist, but a strong and brave woman- who followed her own inner voice and is an example herself. It’s clearly understood, that she’s not doing it for money, but for her passion for running a community kitchen. She actually thinks that she should feed people for free, but for running a setup, revenue is needed. And thus the meal. Jayashree Singh can be reached at 9433060333 and meals need to be pre-booked well in advance with payment in cash. And Jetvan Peace Farm proudly is there on Google maps.
Do visit and let me know your feedback. I can assure, that this will be a life-changing experience for you. Dear Somek, thanks once again to get me introduced to her.
I am sure, there are many other hidden and not-so-hidden food places in and around Shantiniketan. Do let me know and I’ll visit again. BTW, have you tried the sweet curd and Rabri at Sonajhuri forest? The mystery man sells them on his bicycle, from the local Santhal village. But his story will need another blog post.
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