There's more to Bengali food than curry
PUBLISHED: 15:43 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 16:29 21 July 2014
Anna Rose discusses the diversity of Indo-Asian cuisine, and the local opportunity to become an expert in traditional Bengali cooking
Indo-Asian food often gets enveloped under one umbrella and encompassed into an overall banner of ‘curry’ or the generic label of ‘Indian food’. Not very often is the cuisine recognised by its respective nuances, often defined by country, region or even by cultural or religious traditions.
One such cuisine type is Bengali, comparable to Indian food but which yet has standalone characteristics. As well as the much loved curry which has been adopted by Brits with gusto, there are other dishes which fly the flag for the Bengal in Western India, supported by a passion for food which has become a way of life.
I was introduced recently to Moushumi Moran, who is of Bengali parentage, who runs The Cardamom Pod, a Bengali/Indian cookery school in Solihull and Warwickshire and who has appeared as a demonstrator at the Stratford Food Festival. She described how intrinsic food is in Bengali life not only from a necessity perspective but also how it works as a catalyst for community bonding.
For example, in Kolkata (more commonly known as Calcutta), the time between dawn and dusk revolves around the preparation (including the cutting, grinding, rolling) of food, ending in families gathering in the evening to enjoy the meal that has been prepared during the course of the day. These family meals or even larger social gatherings, are an essential part of community life in the Bengal, with food being the focal point of the event complemented by the opportunity for ‘adda’ which means ‘gossip time’.
Bengali food itself is more about going back to basics concentrating on the flavours of the fresh produce rather than using a myriad of spices to enhance it, thus dispelling the myth that Indian/Asian food has to be smothered in seasonings to be authentic. As well as fish playing an enormous part in a Bengali diet (both culturally and for festivities), vegetarian dishes are abundant, again the focus on flavour versus spices is evident with simple dishes such as Begain Pora (smoked aubergine in oil and salt), being a meal time favourite.
The international tradition of bringing wine to your host’s house is replaced in the Bengal by guests bringing a ‘Hari of Mishti’ (translated: pot of sweets - ‘Hari’ meaning earthenware clay pot and ‘Mishti’ being the Bengali word for sweets), which is purchased from the many sweet purveyors in the region. The pot not only keeps the sweets together in their syrup but also forms a gift package for the host. A typical sweet which can be purchased is ‘Roshogolla’ which is made from fresh unripened curd cheese, shaped into spherical balls and dipped into syrup.
With the desire to replicate this in an Anglo environment and intent on preserving her ancestral traditions, Moushumi set up The Cardamom Pod to teach the basics of Bengali cooking in group sessions at external venues or via private dinner party tutorials at clients’ houses. Each session/dinner party runs through how to cook a full Bengali menu comprising of 6 dishes and encourages everyone to participate in the preparation and also learn the skills involved in cooking each dish.
The tutorials emphasise that dishes from a Bengali kitchen can range from the elaborate, the technical and time consuming to simplicity itself, as well as highlighting the nuances that separate the Bengal from its neighbouring regions. Thus proving that there is more to Bengali food than just the sweeping generalisation of ‘curry’.
For more details about classes and tutorial dinner parties visit: www.thecardamompod.com
This article is by Anna Rose of Word In Veg Ways: www.wordinvegways.blogspot.com
For more from Anna, follow her on Twitter: @wordinvegways