Food in Bengal is both deeply hedonistic and spiritual. We offer it to our guests and our gods with undivided devotion. And in turn, we let the flavours feed our soul and emotions – Cooking up Culinary Adventures by Jayabrato Chatterjee.
This is not a cook book. This is not a history book. This is a journey of a cuisine on a long road and getting influenced in turn and assimilating the best of both the worlds. Like any other community, we the Bengalis, take immense pride in our literature, culture, history and food too. As Mr. Harshvardhan Neotia puts in the Introduction –
Ruled by Muslim Governors since the time of the Delhi Sultanate in the early 13th century, culinary practices in Bengal continue to find several inspirations from the Muslim kitchen. The Christian traders and missionaries who initially came here – the Portuguese, the Dutchland and the French also left their particular impact on local tastes. And with the British raj at its Zenith in 19th century, new avenues in food habits were opened up for ethnic plates already familiar with a variety of indigenous items prepared in vegetarian and non vegetarian kitchens.
Just like the Bengali cuisine, which is multi course ritual served course by course, the book has been separated into chapters trying to cover all delicious stops and maintain a balance between the six essential tastes. The chapters are carefully crafted out to cover all the cuisines which have had an impact on the food of Bengal. As the author points out correctly, perhaps one of the main reasons why the Bengali cuisine has inherited so much of influences is its turbulent history and string trade links with different parts of the world.
The essence of a book like this is that all the history and stories of influences which have almost become a folklore today, has been compiled within two covers. Author Jayabrato Chatterjee whose has put in lots of effort in the research work behind this and as often it is seen that, what not to publish in the final print causes more trouble than what to publish when you are dealing with such a huge journey over almost 5 centuries. While the 28 recipes are a bonus, the impressive part is the detailed exhaustive coverage of all the cuisines which play/ played an important role in the foodscape of the state. Yes, ‘state’ as Jayabrato has not confined himself within the periphery of Kolkata but also covered all the places which have been the touch point of new influences like the France in Chandannagore (okay I am from the same city hence that is a comfortable point to start) Portuguese in Chittagong and then later Bandel which they started to use as a port, to the Armenians who it is believed to have come to city as part of Alexander the Great’s army and later a small contingent settled in Chinsurah.
While as a reader, one would probably find the book more interesting had the author shared his personal experiences and memories of the dishes but Jayabrato covers that up with small snippets of still existing relics of the history and the places.
No discussion about Bengali cuisine history is complete without speaking about Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and Metiabruz. The introduction of Awadhi biryani with authentic qormas and assortment of Kababs through the hands of the bawarchis and masaalchis was a watershed moment in Bengali cuisine and hence came the biryani to Bengal. While the influence of foreign invasions have been very strong, the impact of the zamindar houses and royal families have been none less.
Nobody speaks about the very strong Rajasthani influence, especially in the Burrabazar market place area. This book aptly touches upon the history of the arrivals of the marwari community, which has several theories and finally flourishing in today’s Bengal while influencing the culinary scape in a big way. And then there is the Parsi, South Indian, Punjabi and the Tibetan and Burmese factor and how each one of these settlements have created a multifaceted culinary experience. Finally the book ends with the finer nuances of Bengali cuisine including the world of the widows and how some of the great vegetarian cooking came into being and ofcourse, the eternal war between the ‘bangals and the ghotis’ and the difference in the cooking style, which has been very well elaborated by the author.
Did you know?
- It is the Portuguese who introduced the art of cheese making in Bengal and hence came Bandel Cheese which can still be found in some shops in New Market.
- The French introduced the breads in Bengal and the name Paooruti or bread comes from the term ‘Pain’ in French, which means bread.
- The tradition of baking your own Christmas cake and the wine is still a sacred one amongst the Anglo Indian community in Kolkata.
- The Manchurian or Szechwan style of Chinese served in Kolkata has no connection with the original regions; it is just a way of defining the gravy style where the former one is sweet and sour and the later one is a spicy red sauce.
- Potoler dolma which has won many hearts of Bengalis comes from an Armenian dish where grape leaves wrapped in meat is the genuine dolma . Dolma comes from the Turkish verb ‘dolmak’ which means to be stuffed.
This and many more trivia can be found in the book Cooking up Culinary Adventures by Jayabrato Chatterjee which is now available in Landmark in Kolkata
The book has curated a number of recipes in each of the sections. We have taken the recipe of Chicken Jhaalfrezi from the Anglo Indian section and cooked it with a bit of alteration by Madhushree. Here goes the recipe:
|Boneless Chicken||1 kg||Potatoes||2 medium|
|Onions finely sliced||2 large||Green Capsicum||1 sliced|
|Red Bell Pepper||1 sliced||Dry Red Chili||3 nos|
|Garlic Paste||1 tsp||Ginger Paste||1 tsp|
|Tomatoes Chopped||2 large||Garam Masala||1 tsp|
|Turmeric Powder||½ tsp||Cumin Seeds||1 tsp|
|Salt||To taste||Any white Oil||3 tbsp|
|Peppercorn||1 tsp||Coriander Leaves||For garnish|
- Dice the potatoes in to medium size cubes and fry them and keep aside.
- In a wok or a frying pan, heat the oil and add cumin seeds. When they begin to splutter, break the red chilies and add them.
- Then add the onions and the peppercorn. Saute the onions till golden brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic paste and keep frying till the raw smell of the garlic goes away.
- Dice the chicken and add them. Fry them for a couple of minutes and then add the turmeric powder.
- Keep stirring while adding the chopped tomatoes, the bell pepper and the capsicum.
- Finally add the garam masala and season with salt.
- Keep the heat at medium while the chicken gets cooked in the juices from the capsicums and the tomatoes.
- It only takes about 5 – 8 minutes for the chicken to cook since it is boneless and in small pieces.
- Once the raw smell of the tomatoes is gone and the chicken is cooked, garnish with coriander leaves.
- Serve it with some hot rotis or parathas.
This recipe is taken from the book ‘Cooking Up Culinary Adventures’ by Jayabrato Chatterjee from the Anglo Indian Chapter. The only change that I (Madhushree) made to the recipe is adding turmeric powder and 2 tomatoes instead of 3. Well I did that only since the tomatoes used by me were quite large.