Last December, AB and I were on a ten-day whirlwind trip to Kolkata. We were primarily there for some visa-related work but since we were home after three years, family, friends, and relatives didn’t stop short of smothering us with an abundance of homemade delicious meals – for breakfast, lunch, tea-time snacks, dinner, and the time that is between! With my camera in tow, I clicked as much as I could, secretly trying to capture the love with which all these were made.
Kolkata and people from Kolkata (including me) associate love and affection with food. This means, your near and dear ones would show you how much they care through food. Especially home-cooked meals. And it is sacrilege to turn down warm and eager invitations to their homes. So AB and I happily obliged. Unfortunately, we turned down a few invites just due to time constraints.
All this food was spread out over a span of two weeks, excluding food from outside.
The picture above is my mother-in-law’s (Ma’s) kettle. The kettle has a history to it. It belonged to her mother-in-law.
After Ma had boiled the water for the morning tea and before it could go back on the stove for a second round, I got hold of it, pat it dry, kept it near a sunny window to photograph it. Ma was beyond amused and could not understand why someone would be tempted to click a picture of an age-old kettle, a very everyday object. I understood her amusement. But the vintage characteristic of the kettle interested me. And the fact that Ma took such good care of it, using it, and never once thinking of replacing it.
Homemade Plain Organic Yogurt – also known as ‘Doi‘ in Bengali or ‘Dahi’ in Hindi – it’s a staple in most Indian homes. In my husband’s home, it’s a must.
Ma is using a teaspoon to peel off the first layer and the seeds off a ripen papaya. Papaya is another staple in AB’s house. It’s papaya and a fruit for my father-in-law (Baba) every morning for breakfast. Ma uses a ‘boti’ (a Bengali chopping/cutting utensil) and a teaspoon to do the job. Never a knife.
Naarkel Naru – Sweet Coconut Balls : Ma makes these and stores them for later. It is one of those things that she actually would store. (She hardly stores any ready-made food items.) Naru can be made with the winter special Nolen Gur.
(Recipe on my blog ~ https://anartsyappetite.com/the-nolen-gur-series-part-ii-naarkel-naru/)
Ma also makes sure to store them with muri. What is muri, you ask? It’s crunchy, puffed rice, rice that is toasted in a sand-filled oven. It is common in Indian homes and every region has a different name for it. It’s a very healthy snack option. Muri helps the naru or coconut balls to stay fresh for longer periods as they can absorb the moisture around them.
Fresh vegetables from the market – Baba shops for fresh vegetables everyday, or at the most, two days. They are all organic and are being washed to be chopped/diced/sliced/cut in a way that suits the lunch menu.
I have a peculiar fondness for spicy food – especially food with green chilies or green peppers, as we call them in the US. Thankfully, AB’s house also likes spicy food. Green chilies are a constant in everyday meals.
Shil Nora – this is a Bengali version of a mortar and pestle. Only that it not only grinds but makes a gloriously smooth paste of anything. Bengali dishes have some unique pastes for certain dishes and the shil nora has faithfully done the job for centuries for mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen.
This particular one, again, belongs to my mother-in-law’s mother-in-law.
Bengalis take their tea very seriously. Tea is ‘Chaa‘ for us, and ‘chai’ for the rest of India. Chaa is usually milk tea and is relished with biscuits (not cookies, mind you) and/or fried snacks.
This was in my friends home where the tea came with far too many biscuits, all set for us to sip it slowly and chat for hours.
Calcutta or Kolkata – the city where limitless ‘adda’ while consuming copious amounts of tea or ‘Chaa’ is the favorite sport. And we love it.
What is ‘adda’, you ask? They are the conversations between two or more Bengalis on a variety of topics, that have little to no purpose. Beyond all, it’s a treasured activity that comes to us instinctively, we indulge in it more often than we should, and no amount of ‘adda’ is ever enough.
Dimer Devil or Egg Devil : This is an English snack which is very popular in Kolkata. It is boiled egg wrapped in spiced and mashed potato, which is dipped in egg, rolled in bread crumbs and then deep fried. Egg devils are loved not only because of eggs (Bengalis love eggs) but also because it’s deep fried! This snack also finds it’s way into lunch and dinner spreads.
(What beats me about this is the name. How can one of the most deliciously deep-fried and ever satisfying dish be called ‘devil’? I mean, why? Whoever kept the name of this dish, was that person joking? If yes, then he must have a terrible sense of humor.
My sister made these for me, in her home, during my stay with her. We, of course, ate them for lunch along with daal and rice. There has to be something fried with rice and daal. The simple alu bhaja or potato fry paved way for the complicated dimer devil.
Alu Posto – Potatoes in thick poppy seed sauce : This along with steamed rice is a recipe for a deep afternoon snooze! Delicious and filling, alu posto is one of those dishes that require pasted poppy seeds. And the shil nora is the tool required for a fine paste for this dish.
A fried dish is necessary with rice and daal. This time it’s Phulkopi Bhaajaor Fried Cauliflower Florets. Cauliflower is available during the winter months only and these seasonal vegetables taste so much better than the ones we get all year round.
My sister’s beautifully done up home.
Begun bhaaja or Fried eggplants – another one that’s a huge hit in a Bengali menu.
This one’s in my Mamoni or Jethima’s home. More pictures of her lunch spread and specific dishes later.
Koraishuti-r kochuri or Fried Indian bread with spiced peas – Peas is another winter vegetable. This Kochuri is popular during the cold months.
Mamoni’s home – the table’s ready for lunch!
Fish Fry – Homemade Bengali-style crusted fish fillets! – Needs no introductions or descriptions. A popular dish for guests, special occasions at home, weddings, or any party!
Moong Dal– This daal is special to my Jethu-Jethi’s house. They make the moong dal with shrimps, cauliflower florets, and peas. It’s warm and delicious!
My Jethu-Jethi’s pretty home.
Kochuri-Alu-r dum and homemade omlette ~ Royal Bengali breakfast. This combination has to be my brother’s favorite and my maternal uncle’s wife or Mami smothers him with all that he wants!
A typical Bengali lunch spread – rice or bhaat, alu bhaaja (potato fries), daal, torkari or a vegetable curry, kosha mangsho or mutton gravy.
Again, this is made by Mami. And she made it a point to cook all of my favorites.
Homemade Chinese-style Chili Chicken : Chinese food has a special place in the hearts of Indians. And we have successfully modified it too fit our Indian palates. Chili Chicken or Chicken with Green Peppers or Thai Chilies is commonly made in Bengali homes.
Masoori Daal – Bengali Red Lentil Soup
Palang Shaak Chingri Diye – Spinach with Shrimps
Mangsho’r jhol – Bengali Mutton Curry
(find the recipe here – https://anartsyappetite.com/sunday-mangsho-r-jhol-a-bengali-mutton-curry/)
Looking at all these photos you must have very well guessed or derived from them that there is nothing known as a ‘light meal’ when you are traveling to your home country in India. Kolkata, my birth city, is notorious for making us intoxicated with its food. Sometimes to the point that you cannot bear all the love, I mean food, that the city bestows you with! But even then, once we are back to our abodes in the US (or anywhere in the world), we remember all those delightful times spend with our loved ones back home and their hospitality. And what we really cannot forget is the food.
I will post some of these recipes on my blog to give you a taste of Bengal.
Until then, Happy New Year! Wish you all a happy and healthy 2018!