Retroscope - A legacy of tasteby Rinki Roy Bhattacharya May 14 2016, 2:59 pm Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 6 secs
Young couples who elope to marry, remember Romeo Juliet (the poor kids died) Raj Kapoor’s Bobby or the young lovers from a recent Marathi blockbuster Sairat that has taken the box office by storm, travel light. I did. I had
The clothes on my back. Managed to smuggle out two sarees with a secret friend .That was all.
After mother cooled down, she would surprise me with gifts. Some were new clothes for my first born Aditya. A saree for me for example, but once she sent, by mistake, I guess, the steel tiff-in box in which my father’s lunch was sent to the studio. The box proudly bears his name at the top. It is a priceless heirloom for me. Worthy of a museum piece to day! Alas mother is no more, otherwise, that box would go back and forth filled with the choicest yummies! People buying utensil insisted their names being scratched. So I am the very proud owner of a real lunch box in which so many countless times, I had filled my father’s lunch.
By now everyone knows of course that Bengalis have two major vices: Food and siesta. I am prone to both. And of course, our home, I mean my father’s –– was a gourmet home. Even the humble daily dishes were carefully planned and served. My home too, to a lesser degree No wonder then as a writer, my first book turned out to be a Bengali cook book! Out of print now, writing this slim 50/- book was to prove an important lesson. I discovered that it is extremely complicated affair to write a cookery book.
Our generation of women were not taught to cook with spoonfuls for measure. We cook with the measure of our palm, our fingers are the pointers. But I had to mention each recipe with spooning measures. I also discovered many hidden virtues of Bengali cooking that I shall share with readers. By the way, my cook book was praised to sky high. Recently I met Dilip De who flattered me:
“Rinki, what would Shobha and I do without your cook book?”
Dear Dilip. Trust me, I do not know. Go to Oh Calcutta.
By the way, Shobha De, bless her, gave my little book a six star rating and tried many of the recipes- The price of marrying a bong.
Many myths exist about Bengali food. Most of them are rubbish. We do not cook in mustard oil. Any oil is good, but not olive oil.
What people outside Bengal do not realise is the vast treasury of choice we have: in both vegetarian and also in fish preparations. There are two main schools of Bengali cuisine that no one is aware of except us, the east and the West. West would mean from those close to Calcutta city, east, those from former east Bengal we come from that part. East Bengali cooking tends to be sharp, hot and with less sweetening agents. Our preference for Sea food is also notable. There are many amusing stories of how the two sides hate each other’s guts in taste!! Bengalis can wage a world war on cooking. It is a very serious matter.
Bengali food rarely has onions, tomatoes, and garlic was taboo. I never put garlic in my food. Not even in the non veg.
What is most commonly used is fresh ginger, coriander /cumin paste, garam masala – but sparingly: lots of green chillies and on occasions, fresh coriander. Fresh cocoanut grated is used in a few dishes. Desi ghee is almost a must for vegetarian meals and to spice daals.
Note that in pure vegetarian food, especially those prepared to serve during the religious festivals, even turmeric is avoided. Bengali widows practice back breaking austerity. They cannot eat non veg. They eat one meal a day and their food is less spicy, but what divine cooking comes from a simple vegetarian kitchen .
My father loved home food. Once he invited some of his favourite stars to dine at home. Mother gave a huge spread. I think no effort was spared to make the gourmet feast. She had prepared a lamb dish known as Kosha mangsho. This is eaten with fluffly purees fresh from the fire. We call puris “luchi”.
After the lavish meal was over our guest, Dilip Kumar was wah wahing maa’s great cooking talent with a home made paan in his cheek. Suddenly he went up to the lady of the house: our mother, Mrs. Bimal Roy.
Standing almost with folded hands, he said in his chaste style:
“What a feast Boudi( my mother). Oh what food. Truly divine! But tell me how do you fill air in those puris? It beats me”
This was my mother’s favourite short story about culinary feats.