Rimi lives mainly online, and is devoted to mysteries, food and public health. Find her on Facebook for daily tit-bits of her life: facebook.com/rimiofsauce.
The Delta Dreams of Soul Food
This piece was written when I was in a graduate programme in the United States, living by myself for the first time in my life. Through crisp autumn, chilly spring and the unfamiliar snow, I dreamt of home-food and Kolkata’s delicious platter. This piece is about my first home-coming during summer.
While still in Boston–which, despite all my pretend upturned noses, I have deep affection for–I made a list of things I would devour once I was back home, with preferred methods of cooking specified wherever applicable (I’m obsessive that way). Predictably, and aided by the subzero temps, my list began with biryani, and traversed kormas, koshas, rezalas, kalias, chNaaps, pulaos, and malaicurrys to reach the ultimate dessert: a rich, scrumptious, home-made pulir payesh–the pulis crisp with an outer layer of grated coconut and flour, but softened within by the gur (alas, no nolen gur this beastly time of the year) and a small amount of khoa kheer, garnished with slivered almonds and a few strands of saffron, so delicate they’d distintegrate around the neighbouring kishmish, plumped by the thin sweet milk under the thick kheer.
Plus I’d actually have proper Sunday breakfasts. Luchis, which I prefer soft and a golden-white as opposed to crispier and just turning golden-brown, and a basic but delcious alurdom, flavoured with tomatoes and garnished with dhone pata (which Americans call cilantro–quite a pleasing, if strange, name). Aluparathas without onions in the potato filling, and moglai parathas (my talent for killing a dish with words manifested itself once again when I called a moglai paratha “crisply fried thick parathas folded on itself in a triangle or a square to hold in a batter of eggs, salt, chopped onions and chopped chillies”. My audience, who failed to realise frying the paratha cooks the batter too, went “Ewww! Gross!” in unison). And the deliciously deceptive koraishutir, hinger, or daaler kochuri–bloody time consuming to make and gobbled in a flash. I remember trying to describe the difference between hinger and daaler kochuri to someone on the local train once. “One is puri–the small puffs you get Indian restaurants?–with a filling of daal and asafoetida pasted together. The other is a puri filled with a different kind of daal paste cooked with slightly different spices”. The lady kindly nodded her head, clearly not seeing the difference, and I feel like the sort of idiot whose head should be banged against a wall. Any wall. And then I did further damage by stating koraishutir kochuri’s filling is made of a paste of “green peas and hot green chillies”. I think I have put her off Bengali breakfasts forever.
Once I am done with that, I thought, I shall delve into the more mundane but no less heavenly alu-jhinga-posto, which I used to also inadequately translate as “potatoes and gourd in poppy-seed paste”. And moog daal with aloo and begun bhaja. And I’d have prawns and diced pieces of chicken (marinated in garlic, a tiny bit of chopped ginger, salt, and lime juice) tossed and then simmered in chopped onions, chopped green chillies, and a few grated halves of tomatoes. Simple, but delicious. Then maybe a brief detour of Indian Chinese (chillie chicken, bless the US with thy presence!) before hitting the phuchkas, jhalmuris, egg-rolls, egg-chicken rolls, and mutton sami rolls (I really feel for this lady, the poor dear). And every time my sweet-tooth tickled, I could whip up a batch of malpoas in matter of minutes (give or take thirty).
However, what I’ve actually eaten in the last dizzyingly hot three days–bypassing the fragrant biryani and the payesh, awaiting my pleasure–is parboiled rice, mushur daal cooked the Bengali way (NO onions), pNuier dNata chochhori*, a light phulkopir daalna (no ghee, no tomatoes, and careful amounts of gorom moshla wonly), and the predictably Bengali machher jhol made with freshly-caught sweetwater (river) rui, and not aNshte bloody seafish, thank goodness! Breakfast, I’ve slept through, and have had chilled mangoes, lichu and jamrul for dessert and general sustenance throughout the day.
And bigods, I’ve never felt this well-fed in a long, long time. Bless homecoming.