Thursday, 24 September 2015


Stirring up a delectable chorchori (mixed curry) with leftover stuff; stuff that would be basically lying at the bottom of the vegetable tray; you know like a lonely radish, or a floret or two of the cauliflower, or half a brinjal, a thin slice of the pumpkin that you got last week; even skins, and peels, and stalks of vegetables; basically stuff, that you cannot figure out what to do with, and finally land up chucking in the garbage bin; yeah cooking with this stuff is thoroughly a specialty with us Bongs. Actually our moms. And grannies. And those really awesome aunts. 

We all hate this stuff, as kids. But as we grow up and out of our nests, we miss them. Miss them so hard, we say stuff like “Thamma’r hathey’r paanch mishali torkari diye aek thala bhaat kheye naewa jaye” (one could devour a whole plate of rice with grandma’s mixed veg curry). We even call it healthy and nutritious stuff. God knows where all this wisdom dawns upon us all of a sudden. 

But the fact is, these curries wherein leftover cuts in particular, like spinach ends or vegetable peel, are transformed, are seriously finger licking good. It is a shame they are not upheld as some of the star attractions of the cuisine. They do deserve a higher place, despite being really humble in their origins. After all creating such delicious, and nutritious stuff, with things which usually land up being discarded, is no simple feat. 

And the cuisine stands obligated to the widows of Bengal, for this amazing perspective, because it was they who evolved this style of cooking with humble ingredients. It is definitely not a news for us about how repressive the society has been in the treatment of Hindu widows. Tradition tied a woman’s identity to her husband; a widow was therefore left without an identity, property rights or social standing. And Bengal was no different in this regard. Widows were either banished or led highly monastic lives within the household, living under rigid dietary restrictions and not allowed any interests but religion and housework. 

While most Bengali castes ate meat and fish, this was barred for widows. Widows also did not use “heating” foods such as onions and garlic. But ginger was allowed, and this found a core place in Bengali curries, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. Expensive spices such as saffron, cinnamon or cloves were used very sparingly, if at all. Nuts, dry fruits, milk and milk products were similarly scarce. In spite of all these restrictions, the food evolved in such a way that its deceptively simple preparations created the unending list of vegetarian options in Bengali cuisine. These dishes were cooked with elaborate precision and served with equal refinement. Multiple courses and an intricate formality about what goes with what and in which sequence, formed an enduring base for a rich and varied cuisine.

All that said, it is now time to take a look at what exactly is it like, to cook with leftovers. Well, given my limited knowledge; and not a very strong memory of all that I used to hate eating as a kid; this will be more of a peek, rather than a look. But the basic idea here, is to bring out the essence of it all. So here it is.

Paanch mishali torkari - Basically a mix of five kind of veggies. Which would usually be radish, spinach ends, climbing spinach, brinjal, potatoes, string beans, carrots, pointed gourd, broad beans, etc. These veggies would be cut in similar sizes, sautéed lightly in very little oil, spiced with some turmeric powder, bengali five spice (paanch phoron), green chillies, seasoned with some salt, and of course a dash of sugar. These would be added to the wok (korai) basis their varied cooking times, so they would be cooked to perfection; not overcooked neither under. 


Lau’er khosa chorchori - A simple yet scrumptious stir fry made with bottle gourd peel. What else goes into it - a tempering of nigella seeds, a dash of turmeric powder, and some seasoning, that’s all. Does amazingly well with some steaming hot fluffy rice. 


Tormuj’er khosa shukto - If one has visited Bong cuisine, one must definitely know shukto. For those who haven’t, it can be described as a bitter-sweet medley of vegetables. But this one, made with watermelon peel (the white remnants actually), is just unique. Yeah, that’s right, a fruit’s peel. Used to make a veg curry (read fantastic veg curry). So what happens in this one is, the white remnants of the watermelon are diced up into small cubes; mustard seeds and bay leaves get tempered in ghee; to which the white cubes are added and sautéed along with some turmeric powder, ginger paste, poppy paste, salt and a pinch of sugar; this is then cooked on a slow fire, and topped with a dollop of ghee, once it is done. Again goes well with steamed rice, almost like they were meant to be together. 

Potol’er khosa bata - This is a simple concoction where peel of pointed gourd (or Parwal) is ground along with green chillies and garlic pods, and is then sautéed in a nigella seed tempered oil along with some coriander powder. Makes a confounding combo with rice. 

Aloo’r khosa chapta - Now this one’s a killer. Take a bite, close your eyes for a moment, and….well that should be left for you to experience. All you would need is some potato peel, wheat flour, poppy seeds (for the crunch), turmeric powder, green chillies, and salt. Not for the faint hearted though, ‘coz this one is deep fried. And guys who are dieting, save it for your cheat meals. So all the ingredients ought to be mixed, and spread out like you would do for a pancake, and deep fry it till it turns that amazing shade of golden. Eat it along with rice, or just like that.

Dal shukno - What do you do with dal that has been lying in the fridge for two days. It is not exactly very little in quantity, has been heated and reheated for a couple of meals, but got no takers. Do you just chuck it out? No. You should rather just heat up some oil; add some tamarind to it, sauté it for a couple of minutes; add the dal to it and some seasoning if required; and let all the water evaporate  from the dal till it turns into a pasty dry consistency. And if you are up for it, just top it off with some mustard oil and chopped onions. It is just unfair, how awesome it tastes when eaten with rice.

Fried seeds - This is normally made with the seeds of ripe jackfruits, and even ripe pumpkins. The seeds are washed (peeled and chopped in case of jackfruit seeds), mixed up with some turmeric powder and salt, and fried till they are nice and crunchy. 

Adding left over cuts of fish to chorchories (or veggie medleys), followed as an inevitable adaptations of this style of cooking.  Of course keeping in mind the fish loving or better said, non-veg addicted Bong palate. This was however limited to using leftover cuts of expensive fish varieties, with the obvious intention of making use of every edible inch of the delectable fish. For example, the bones of the bhetki (or Bekti) would be slow cooked along with potatoes, onions, and ginger-garlic paste to create a Kaanta Chorchori. Heads of jumbo prawns would be ground and made into cutlets, and then cooked in a light yet flavourful onions-and-potato gravy. Fish fat, normally found in their abdominal cavity, would be fried as cutlets, or would be cooked along with potatoes, onions, turmeric powder and green chillies to yield a spicy treat. 

Yum! yum! yum!

It seriously is a pity and a shame, that we don't get to have this stuff more often. Our busy lives keep us from being reminded of this stuff, let alone cooking them. And thanks to our cosmo lives in metro cities, most of us happen to be living away from our mothers, and get to see our grannies and aunts far too less. This is actually yet another reason why we should be grateful to have these wonderful women in lour lives. Coz if it was not for them, we would have stayed oblivious to these finer tastes in life. 

So. Bon appetite. Till we meet again. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The forgotten spring-summer hero

Summers in India is pretty much synonymous to mangoes - eating them just like that, pulping them, shaking them with milk, moussing them, et al. In fact, it is quite rare to find an individual who does not love mangoes. No wonder it enjoys the royalty status, in the country. While, the maximum production of mangoes in the country come from its southern states, Bengal has its own snooty taste for the produce within the state. And for us Bongs, it does not matter much if the Alphonso is considered king of the clan. We will always, and forever, hold the Langra, at a higher pedestal. Because it is ! (you might want to differ with me but then everyone has a right to have an opinion)

But this post is not about the mango. At least not the ripe yellow ones. It is rather about the one that comes before the yellow one. The green mango. The younger one. 

While ripe mangoes is more of a summer symbolism, the green ones represent the advent of spring. The onset of spring is marked by the yellowish-white mango blossoms adorning the dark green trees. And just when you start noticing them, they mature into tender green mangoes. 

And with their advent, also arrive a plethora of dishes, where the hero of the dish is the humble kaancha aam. Well thanks to cold storages, they are now available all the year round in some parts of the country. But the piquant sharp taste, and the delicious sour aroma of the ones which we find in the ones during the season, is something else totally. 

As far as my knowledge goes, Bengalis make the most use of kaancha aam, than any other Indian community does. While in most parts of the country, it is used mainly for pickles (sweet or sour or sweet-sour-spicy), bengali cuisine makes use of this ingredient in various other ways for various delicacies (of which I know well, only a few). 

Kaancha Aamer Chatni
Chatni (or chutney) is one such variant. We have many chatni recipes, but we insist on having kaancha aamer chatni throughout the summers. While rest of India enjoys chutney as condiments or as a relish, it holds a pre-dessert slot in a full course Bengali menu. Bengalis love to have it after the meal and before popping in few rosogollas. It is almost always prepared fresh and is eaten to accent the meal. Normally simmered in jaggery and tempered with paanch phoron, it is one of the topmost things that come to the head when talking about tender mangoes.

Next in line would definitely be the Aamer Tok Daal (red lentils cooked with green mango). This tok daal defies the golden rule of having lentils the Indian style, which is, having it garam-garam. We rather insist on having it at room temperature, owing to the soaring temperature conditions. And would normally accompany it with some rice and bhaja. In certain households, this daal is actually eaten right at the end of the meal, to ensure that the sweet-n-sour taste lingers on after the fish or meat part of the meal is done with.

Maacher dimer ombol (fish roe/fish eggs in a sweet n sour gravy) is yet another dish where the commonplace fish roe cutlets are taken to a oh-so heavenly level, because of the sweet sourness of the kaancha aam. This ombol is also made using some small fish varieties like chuno puti or mourola

Sliced unripe mangoes sprinkled with red chilli powder
Kaancha aam makha (the closest translation would be a mango salad) comes next in the line. in this dish the mango is not cooked at all. Instead, it is grated and marinated in salt, sugar, red chilli powder, and is punched with some mustard oil, just till the juices of the mango are married to the sweet, salty, spicy and pungency of the other ingredients. And is served along with the meals and sometimes eaten out of small bowls while the family chats up after the meals. 

Aam porar shorbot (drink made of roasted green mangoes) is another gem which, one can never have enough of. Known to be a saviour during the hot summer months, it is quite close to the popularly known aam panna, but is still very different and distinct in taste. The roasted green mangoes in the aam porar shorbot, give it a unique smoky taste, which when mixed with the tastes of sugar, black salt and cumin, yields a concoction that, like i mentioned before, one can never have enough of. 
Aam Porar Shorbot

The goodness of the green mango is quite a known thing (if not, it is just a google search away). But while we, the urban-ers of today, have known its goodness and its taste alike, are starting to look away. The reason - will be best answered by yourself. This sour-yet-sweet taste can comfortably be called something that has been a part of our growing up. Something that we should not give up so casually. 

So here’s a toast to this humble ingredient, which has given us some of our most memorable spring-summer memories.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Bhetki Maacher Kaanta Chorchori (curry made with fish head and bones)

As a kid, I never liked this chorchori. And I could never understand why my mum loved it so. I used to wonder, what is the fun in eating parts of the fish which do not have any flesh. It was only much later in life, when I learned, it is the fish head and its bones that are packed with flavour and make the fish taste the way it does. And the way this (slightly more spicy) chorchori is prepared, using only a few ingredients, only intensifies all that flavour, a hundred times more. Just imagine !

Just so you know, Bhetki or Bekti (Asian Sea Bass) is quite popular in many regions of the country. Apart from Bengal, it is also quite well loved in the southern states and is called Koduva, Kalaanji or Pandugappa. This fish is also very popular in Thai cuisine. 

Bengalis love the Bhetki and make a lot of things out of it. Besides curries, some of the most popular delicacies that the Bhetki yields are - fish fingers, fish cutlets, fish chops, bhetki paturi and the most loved of all, fish fry. The fish is normally filleted for these dishes; and the head and bones are used for making this amazing chorchori. This is one of the treasures (in my mum’s and my opinion) of the bengali cuisine which can be found only in the bengali households. And sometimes even in staff meals of bengali fine dine restaurants. 

So here’s the recipe (my mum’s version) of this finger-licking-good-fish-dish. Have it for lunch with some steamed rice. Make sure that you don’t cook too many things along with it. You might land up overeating. Big time. 


  • Head and bones of 1 medium sized fish
  • Onion (sliced) - 1 large
  • Potatoes (cut into big chunks) - 2 medium sized
  • Ginger-garlic paste - 1tsp
  • Bay leaves - 2 small ones
  • Green cardamom (tear open the pods) - 2 small ones
  • Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
  • Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
  • Coriander powder - 1 1/2 tsp
  • Green chillies (slit) - 2 nos
  • Salt
  • Sugar - 1/2 tsp
  • Mustard Oil


Add some turmeric powder and salt to the fish, mix well, leave aside for approx. 5 minutes, fry lightly and keep aside. Fry the potato chunks also, till they are golden in colour and keep aside.

Now temper bay leaves and green cardamom. Add onions and fry till they turn golden brown. Then add ginger-garlic paste and green chilies and sauté for a couple of minutes more. 

At this point add sugar. Let the sugar caramelise and then add turmeric, red chilli and coriander powder. Add salt too, and sauté this masala till oil starts surfacing.

Now add fried potato chunks and fried fish. Toss them in the masala for 2-3 minutes. Then add some water. Let it come to a boil, cover the dish and let it simmer on a low flame. The idea is to let the potatoes get cooked in the flavour of the fish, onions and the spices. 

Once the potatoes are cooked, turn off the flame and let the dish stand for sometime. Serve it with some hot steamed rice.

The king of good limes - Gondhoraj

Literally translated, “King of flavours”, the Gondhoraj Lebu holds a special place in all bengali households. And lends its unique fragrance to some celebrated dishes. In fact, it is deemed that without a few drops of the its juice, the Bhapa Ilish (hilsa) might end up losing a lot of its VIP status in the Bengali meal. To a Bengali, Gondhoraj captures the essence of Bengal. 

Quite oblong and with a thick green rind, it is quite hard to nonchalantly squish the Gondhoraj by hands. Unlike its modest cousin the Pati Lebu or nimboo or lime, neither does it offer a lot of juice, nor does it add any sourness to the dish. It’s sole purpose on earth, seems to be enhancing flavours of whatever it is squeezed in, by yielding the most fantastic heady aroma which is absolutely unmatched and unparalleled. 

The celebrity status of the Gondhoraj becomes apparent when we take into account that even its leaves are used to add flavour to the most characteristic Bengali food. It is simply mashed with rice and some ghee (clarified butter) to make lebu ghee bhat that has for ages been fondly relished by the rich and the famous in Bengal. Or mixed in fermented rice and enjoyed as a staple in the more humble households. 

This characteristic use of its leaf, for flavouring, makes the Gondhoraj quite similar to the Thai Kaffir lime. Their similarity is further extended by how these two resemble each other quite a bit, though the Gondhoraj not always possessing the same textured skin as the Kaffir lime. But that is only the first dissimilarity. Because, it is primarily the leaves of the kaffir lime that is stewed widely in delicious Thai curries. The actual lime is rarely used in cooking and is summarily trimmed off the tree to encourage a lush crop of scented leaves. The scent of the kaffir is indeed beautiful and even in India, many nostalgic Bengalis settle for the Kaffir as the Gondhoraj. 

This in fact brings us to a very curious place. Why is the Gondhoraj, so less known? Why is it, that despite being such a unique ingredient (it has indeed been found to have no parallel), it has not been explored much by the culinary world. Is it because the Bengalis have kept this wondrous citrus under wraps so that it does not get hijacked? Hardly, so. 

The Gondhoraj, it seems does not take to the soil of any other part in India, except in Bengal. Hence the challenge in procuring it, even within the country. It has a very close cousin in southern India, which is called the Naarthangai (aka Citron) and is used mainly in pickles. It is quite intriguing that all the citrus fruits in the world trace their roots back to the fertile land between the Himalayan foothills and Burmese plains. And that is where the Gondhoraj seems locked in too. 

Restauranteur Anjan Chatterjee, has traced origin of the Gondhoraj in Rangpur, a city in the alluvial plains of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Bengal). It grows in abundance there, in the golden yellow soil of Rangpur, from where it draws its scientific name - Rangpur Lime or Citrus Limona. It is a rare blend between a lime and a mandarin, and grows in various avatars. According to Chatterjee, the Gondhoraj has scattered followers across the world - it is known and loved as the Canton Lemon in South China, as Hime in Japan; and goes in the making of marmalades and an old brand of gin in London. 

Curiously, limes are not intrinsic parts of any dish in India, except for pickles of course. Bengali restauranteurs, however, have sniffed a star in the Gondhoraj and have started featuring it liberally in their menus as innovative dishes. But considering that India is among the world’s largest producers of limes and lemons, the existing anonymity of the Gondhoraj is quite baffling. And unfair. 

Like the Thai Kaffir, Carribean Key and Chinese Canton, it will only be fair if the Gondhoraj, with its uniqueness, is named, accepted and promoted as the wondrous citrus of India.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Recipe Styles - a whopping 24 nos.

Bengali cuisine, with many uniques, has also got the uniqueness of having quite a few recipe styles. Styles which yield food that is nothing short of being heavenly (at least for the millions of Bengalis out there in the world). These styles, or better called success formulas, whether applied on the most expensive fish or more humble vegetables, or even the lowly peels, skins and scales of the expensive produce, always and always end up resulting in something delicious. Agreeably not always the most appealing to look at, but always definitely and certainly finger-licking-good. 

Talking about peels & skins of vegetables and scales & bones of fish, these were once the humble household special. But owing to their immense flavour-fulness they gradually became favourites across strata in society, though always more favoured by women of the homes. Talking about classes again, brings forward yet another unique fact about the bengali culture - there is a remarkable similarity in the eating styles across social strata; meaning as long as they can afford it everyone in Bengal eats fish and meat, irrespective of their caste. 

Coming back to recipe styles, there are some 24 (that I know of), that I am listing below. Each entry  is a different class of recipe and produces different dishes basis the ingredients chosen. So here they are, in order of their probable appearance in a typical bengali meal:-

Bhate or Sheddho - Means steamed with rice. It is typically any vegetable, such as potatoes, beans, pumpkins, bitter gourd, okra or even dal, first boiled whole and then mashed and seasoned with mustard oil or ghee, salt and green chillies (and sometimes even some chopped onions). Traditionally the vegetables are placed on top of the rice when it is being cooked. And get steamed as the rice cooks. The rice here is typically cooked in a pot. Quite a clever thing to do; saves a lot of fuel. And the sugars of the rice make the veggies taste even better.

Pora - The word literally means charred. Vegetables are wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over a wood, charcoal or coal fire, and more often now over a gas flame. Some vegetables with skin such as brinjals, are put directly on the flame or coals. The roasted vegetable is then mixed with onions, oil and spices. 

Bhaja - Anything fried, by itself. Is normally eaten with dal.

Begun Bhaja
Kumro Phooler Bora
Bora - These are croquettes made of veggies, fish roe, and sometimes even spices like Poppy seeds. These are normally mixed up with gram flour, or all purpose flour, or sometimes wheat flour along with onions, green chillies, chopped ginger and sometimes a sprinkling of nigella seeds. Kumro phool and pata (pumpkin blossoms and leaves) make for very unique and loved variants of this recipe style. 

Shukto - It is a mix of vegetables with an emphasis to the bitterness, a preparation where instead of hiding the bitterness , it is the taste around which the dish evolves. The bitter taste is said to be good for cleansing the palate and also for letting the digestive juices flow. 

Chorchori - Usually a vegetable dish with one or more varieties of vegetables cut into longish strips, sometimes with the stalks of leafy greens added, all lightly seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds and flavoured with a phoron (tempering spice). The head and bone of large fish like bhetki or chitol can be made into a chochchori called kata chochchori.

Chechki - Tiny pieces of one or more vegetable or, sometimes even the peels (of potatoes, bottle gourd, pumpkin or pointed gourd/parwal for example), usually flavoured with paanch-phoron (a special mix of fenugreek, fennel, mustard, nigella and celery seeds) or whole mustard seeds or black cumin. Chopped onion and garlic are sometimes used, but hardly any ground spices.

Chanchra - A combination dish made with different vegetables, portions of fish head and fish oil or its entrails.

Ghonto - Different complementary vegetables (like cabbage, green peas, potatoes or banana blossom, coconut, chickpeas) are chopped or finely grated and cooked with both a phoron and ground spices. Boris (or dried pellets of ground dal) are often added to the ghonto. Ghee is commonly added at the end. Non-vegetarian ghontos are also made, with fish or fish heads added to vegetables. The famous muri-ghonto is made with fish heads cooked in a fine variety of rice.
Mochar Ghonto

Torkari - A general term often used in Bengal the way ‘curry’ is used in English or ‘sabzi’ in Hindi. The word actually means uncooked garden vegetables. From this it was a natural extension to mean cooked vegetables or even fish and vegetables cooked together.

Paturi - Typically fish, seasoned with a mix of mustard, coconut, green chillies and turmeric, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed or roasted over a charcoal fire. This style has now been adapted to create mouth-watering variations with minced chicken, meat and cottage cheese. 
Ilish Paturi

Dalna - Mixed vegetables (especially pointed gourd and cauliflower along with potatoes) or eggs, cooked in medium thick gravy seasoned with ground spices, especially gorom moshla and a touch of ghee. Dhokar Dalna (made with Chana Dal cakes) is a specialty that sits in a soft corner in almost every bengali heart, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. 

Jhol - A light fish or vegetable stew seasoned with ground spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, chili, and turmeric with pieces of fish and longitudinal slices of vegetables floating in it. The gravy is thin yet extremely flavourful. Whole green chillies are usually added at the end and green coriander leaves are used to season for extra taste. This term is also used to refer to any type of stew in meat, fish or vegetable dishes.

Jhal - Literally meaning, 'hot'. A great favourite in primarily West Bengali households (even today bengalis divide themselves food-wise into ‘Ghotis’ from West Bengal and ‘Bangals’ from East Bengal, which is now Bangladesh). This is made with fish or shrimp or crab, first lightly fried and then cooked in a light sauce of ground red chilli or ground mustard and a flavouring of paanch-phoron, or black cumin. Being dry, it is often eaten with a little bit of dal poured over the rice.

Kalia - A very rich preparation of fish, meat or vegetables using a lot of oil and ghee with a sauce usually based on ground ginger and onion paste and gorom moshla.
Maacher Kaalia

Kosha - Usually a slow cooking method that gives the most velvety gravy. Is an onion, ginger-garlic, yoghurt, ground spices and gorom moshla based dish made primarily with animal proteins, sometimes boiled eggs and even vegetables like potatoes, cauliflower, unripened jackfruit, etc. However, the first thing that comes to mind is the ‘Kosha Mangsho’ (the bengali special rich mutton gravy), a specialty for all occasions and festivities. 
Kosha Mangsho 

Bhuna - A term of Urdu origin, and applies to meat cooked in spices for a long time without water. The spices are slow-cooked in oil (bhunno). The spices first absorb the oil, and when fully cooked release the oil again.

Bhapa - Fish or vegetables steamed with oil and spices. A classic steaming technique is to pour it all in a tightly closed box and cook it in a double boiler method.
Bhapa Chingri

Korma - Another term of Urdu origin literally meaning braised with onions. In this style meat or chicken cooked in a mild onion and yogurt sauce with ghee.

Khichudi - Rice mixed with moong dal or masoor dal and vegetables, and in some cases, boiled or fried eggs. Usually cooked with minimal use of spices and turmeric powder. It is a specialty that is loved whenever there is a pujo happening. Also on very rainy days bengalis do tend to favour eating khichudi with some bhaja preferably Ilish maach bhaja

Polau - Or pulao. Fragrant dish of rice with ghee, spices and small pieces of vegetables. While long grained basmati is more often used now, some aromatic short grained varieties, especially the Gobindobhog, were traditionally used and make the most delectable polaus.
Mishti Polau

Biriyani - The Awadhi variant that comes with a special addition of large chunks of potatoes and boiled eggs. While mainly cooked with lamb, chicken and beef (in Bangladesh and Muslim homes), new adaptations with various fishes are also done and loved. 

Ombol/Tok - A sour dish made either with several vegetables or with fish, the sourness being produced by the addition of tamarind pulp or lime juice. 

Chatni - Usually saved for the last, just before the Misti Doi and sweets are served. Bengali Chatnis are usually more sweet in taste and are served with papad. They are normally tempered with mustard seeds or paanch phoron and would normally be made of tomatoes, mangoes (both green and the ripe ones), dates, pineapples, aam papad, raisins, etc, sometimes individually and at times with a few of these ingredients together. The 'plastic chatni' made of unripened papaya is an all time party special.
Kaancha Aamer Chatni

The clan of sweets is obviously not covered here. Because that is a different realm altogether and requires a lot of information collection again. So saving it for a later post, some other time. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Biryani - food of the gods

Being an Indian and not loving Biryani is, umm..well let’s say, unheard of. Its grandeur, taste, subtlety and refinement remain unmatched since it first came to India. The origin of biryani in India is uncertain. But one cannot deny the deep debt we owe to the Muslim community; for it is they who introduced the gamut of biryanis and pulaos to us. And since then the dish has spread across the four corners of the country and has taken many forms to suit the local tastes.

Just so you know, biryani is also quite popular in several countries, other than India and those predominantly Islamic. Owing to various reasons, and primarily migration, this dish has slowly merged into the local cuisines in these countries, and feature with some interesting localised adaptations. In South Africa, for example, it features fried potatoes and black lentils, while in Britain it retains its original form except for being toned down on the spice levels. In Burma, it is eaten as danbauk; in Thailand as khan mok; in Malaysia and Singapore as biryani bokhara; in Phillipines as nasing biringyi; and in Indonesia as nesi kebuli.

Biryani’s origin in Indian might be hazy, but its advent and history in Bengal is quite the opposite. It came to Bengal along with Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in 1856, when he was exiled from Awadh. He came to live in Metiabruz, then a suburb of Kolkata, and spent the rest of his life there. While in exile, he tried to keep the sweet memories of his Lucknow era alive, be it music, dance or food. He had brought along with him, his personal chef, and from this kitchen came the first biryani for Bengal. 

This dish gained popularity, to an extent where poorer households which could not afford meat, used potatoes instead. And this, went on to become a specialty of the Calcutta biryani, where every plate of this lightly spiced biryani is adorned with a piece of meat, the bong favourite potato and sometimes even a boiled egg. 

The Kolkata special mutton biryani is, however, not the only one that happened to Bengal. The royal families shared their loved biryanis and pulaos with the populace and in due course they underwent Bengali orientation and acquired their own special flavour with the use of fish and mustard. 

The  aloo bokhra diye maacher biryani (fish biryani with plums), for example, has an unusual blend of fish, dried plums and mustard seeds. Then there is this apricot biryani, which is made with boneless chicken unusually flavoured with apricot puree and is cooked in chicken stock. There is a more uncomplicated yet very delectable fish variant, for the more reluctant cooks, that is gently spiced with garam masala and shahjeera only; perfect when you are on a short notice and do not want to run around searching for ingredients. There is also the Ramzan Biryani of erstwhile East Bengal (now Bangladesh), that is specially made during the holy month of Ramzan. Use of green tomatoes and mint leaves, sets it apart from many others of its siblings. 

Plums and fish, or potato and egg. Apricot and chicken or tomatoes and mint. But one thing that has not changed in the much loved biryani, is this magical way the rice transforms into something ambrosial - absorbing all the rich flavours of meant and spices and scented with the dizzying aromas of saffron and rose and kewra. It is true, if there is such a thing as the food of the gods, it is undoubtedly the biryani.