An inevitable part of any Bengali festival is food and so, during the biggest festival of Durga Puja, the bhog extravaganza is a must,” exclaims Sharmishtha Ganguli, a resident of Koregaon Park. ‘Bhog’ is the quintessential Bengali feast served during the festivities. First offered to the Goddess Durga, who is believed to visit her maternal home on earth during these days, it is then served to devotees as holy food along with ‘prasad’. Although now served from the seventh day onwards, traditionally the bhog is to be served on the eighth day, after the offering of ‘Ashtami Anjali’, the morning puja of the eighth day post the morning fast. The much anticipated bhog is then served at the puja pandals to scores of devotees as afternoon lunch. And, away from Bengal, Pune Bengalis over the past few days have been continuing the tradition with much grandeur. “Bhog is a very important aspect of the ceremony. This is a sharvajanik (public) affair open for all and we serve bhog to whoever comes to visit our pandal for free. For many years we have been following this process and the numbers have been increasing every year,” says Biman Mookerji, president, Nandanik Sanstha, Rohi Villa Palace Duga Puja. This year on the eighth day, this pandal served piping hot khichdi bhog made of rice and lentils served alongside ‘potoler torkari’ (a semi-dry gourd dish); cauliflower fritters; and two desserts consisting of a date chutney and fried paneer-based sweet lengcha. Similarly at Pimpri Banga Bharati, near Masulkar colony, Pimpri-Chinchwad, the bhog is always a grand event. “Ours is the oldest Durga Puja in Pimpri, and hence more than 3,000 people every year come to visit the pandal and participate in the feast. Free for all, this year on ashtami we had over 4,000 people coming to eat bhog, which comprised of the traditional khichdi platter with labra (a semi-dry mixed-veg dish), beguni (brinjal fritters), payesh (Bengali rice pudding), lengcha, chutney and papad,” says Tirtha Prasad Mukherjee, chairman trustee of the committee.At Purbo Poona Sarvajanik Durgotsav, held at Bhosale Garden, Hadapsar, organised by Poona Bango Sammilani, another highlight to the gastronomic treats were the special stalls of sweetmeats brought down from Kolkata. One of them was, A 1 Sweets, which offered mouthwatering varieties of milk based sweets, sandesh and rasagullas (ball shaped dumplings made of Indian cottage cheese). Further, residents of Baner and Aundh this year enjoyed the bhog at Paschim Pune Bangiya Parishad, whereby special arrangements were made for senior citizens and for those who couldn't come,parcel services were also arranged. Another Bengali delicacy in the rasgulla family is the date jaggery rasgulla, being served at a stall Bangiya Swad set up in Baner. Kankana Sen Shukla, a resident of B T Kawde road, along with her mother, travelled to Baner to serve these brown balls of cottage cheese dipped in sweet syrup.