Memories Of A Bengali Kitchen

The cuisine from the eastern state of India is unknown and underrated.  With a wide array of vegetables, fresh fish and delectable sweets, the Bong thala is truly delightful.

7/11/2014 11:47:37 AM
written By : Basabi Banerjee Print

Like most Bengalis, I have always had a passionaterelationship with food which we consider sustenance for both body and soul - menus are planned with much thought and dishes prepared with meticulous care. As a little girl, I used to listen with interest to my mother’s lengthy discussions with the cook about what was to be prepared for the day. By dint of his stellar seasoning skills, even simple dishes like Begun Pora (smoked eggplant bharta) and Chorchori (a dry mixed vegetable dish) turned out lip-smackingly good. 

A _beautiful _benagli _woman _by _dizneykhan -d 5flyay

When I cast my mind back to reflect on my early experiences with food, it comes as no surprise that one of the first poems I learnt was about a little boy who made up a rhyme with the ingredients on a shopping list his mother had given him, all of which are staples in the Bengali kitchen: fresh fish, mustard oil, masoor dal, sweet yoghurt and the famous Bengal Quince or stone apple (Bael) whose pulp is used to make a unique and refreshing drink in the hot summer months. On the way to the shops the little boy makes a detour to watch his friends at play, forgetting in the process the order of the words in his rhyme. He arrives at the market with an uproariously garbled version of his list, much to the amusement of the shopkeepers.

A cherished childhood memory takes me back to an exciting shopping expedition with my father, during which we bought Hilsa (Ilish) not at the market but on the Ganges as fishermen cast their nets into the river. This rich-fleshed, bony fish is caught as it travels upriver from the sea. “Korta, acchey?” (Sir, is anything available?), my father called out, carefully avoiding the words ‘fish’ or ‘Ilish’ which might have brought the fishermen bad luck.

Back in my primary school days, I had a classmate called Tinku whose mother was well-known in the community for her culinary skills. This accomplished lady from East Bengal was up at the crack of dawn to prepare lunch for her daughter. She used to roll out perfect puris, fill them with a delicious, dry vegetable curry, then turn them over and seal up the edges with a lacy pattern, creating a Bengali version of the curry puff so popular in Singapore. These mouth-watering parcels were then deep fried and packed into her tiffin box with a couple of extra ones thrown in for the likes of me and my classmates who used to hover hopefully around Tinku at lunchtime.

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