AACHAAR-O-AAHAAR: A Survey of the Bengali Kitchen

AACHAAR-O-AAHAAR: A Survey of the Bengali Kitchen

Author: DEBASREE BASU Write To Author

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AACHAAR-O-AAHAAR: A Survey of the Bengali Kitchen - eBook by Debasree Basu

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AACHAAR-O-AAHAAR

A Survey of the Bengali Kitchen

 

eBook by

Debasree Basu

 

EBOOK FOR DOWNLOAD

EBOOK SIZE: 200 KB; 24 pages;

US$ 2

Also available as Kindle eBook

 

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This eBook is a morsel from the deliciously infinite world that is food. It is a paper that one might open with the anticipation of an attack on imagination- of flavors, tastes and smells. I would like to point out that my objective is to project a representation of the Bengali tradition as reflected in food, cuisine, rituals and lifestyle. Though one cannot expect a comprehensive portrayal of Bengali cuisine from a few pages, what I have tried to do, is to capture a little bit of the elusive taste of Bengal as it registers in my mind and my senses. In my endeavor, I hereby serve a distinctive cuisine which embraces the simple and the complex with equal ease and whose dimensions have touched every facet of life in Bengal. I must admit that this taste of Bengal though simple to remember with nostalgic enthusiasm, is hard otherwise to quantify and define.

FOOD - that entices, inspires, mystifies and sustains. When I began to gather gastronomical tit-bits for this eBook, I was struck by the range of what can be expressed through food and the delightfully unique way one has of using food to voice one’s joy and yearnings. Food becomes a metaphor for life’s priorities. As a locus of woman’s existence, food becomes the metaphor of spirit.

Food symbolizes what we desire and what by imagination we transform, giving meaning to what we consume- our own purgatory. Appetite reveals who we are by what we are hungry for; it is deeper than transitory desire, more essential. This offers us insights that can that can guide us, feelings that can express us, evocations that illuminate our lives, sustaining our mind heart and stomach.

Food is very much a part of the popular culture, and the beliefs, practices and trends in a culture, affect its eating habits. Food is such an intrinsic part of culture because it reflects the geographic and historic co-ordinates of the people. That coconut should be used extensively in the cooking of the coastal areas and that fish should form the staple diet of a riverine delta region are self-evident facts. Desert cuisine manages to produce tasty items with dry ingredients like besan and varieties of gram without depending much on leafy greens or fresh vegetables. Probably this explains the range of chatpata namkeen prepared in Rajasthan, now made popular all over the country by Haldiram. The famous biryanis and kababs of Hyderabad and Luckhnow are legacies of history. Tandoor cooking originates in areas where winter is severe, where the oven serves the purpose of warming the house while it cooks the food.

Food also serves as an identity marker. Which Hyderabadi does not take pride in baghara baigan or mirchi ki bhajji? One can have a debate in any gathering about the right way to put tadka (also known as baghar or chhaunk) in dal. There are very few countries in the world which have such a wide ecological variety- hence such a sumptuous range of gastronomical delights.

Culture is like a flowing stream. Remaining frozen at any point of time is a sure indication of rot. In food too, habits are bound to change, become eclectic and inclusive. Hence getting agitated over the opening of yet another McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken joint in our cities seems rather futile. City people are now more aware of cuisine from different parts of the world- not only Chinese- which has been a favorite for decades- but also Mexican, Italian and Thai food are available.

While these fancy options are welcome, these are never going to rule out food that is indigenous and traditional. Even people who are settled abroad cannot abandon the culinary habits of home.

The final few statements prompt to raise, I think, certain questions for us to think about and respond to:When certain foods become transferred out of their “original” contexts- such as food that is prepared during a specific festival- does something happen in terms of cultural change?

The culture that surrounds the reparation and consumption of food- ways of serving, decorating, sharing, and the like, are also peculiar to regions. What cultural beliefs are transmitted through such practices, which then get tied into the foods themselves?

With these questions in mind, I would like to embark upon this journey in the hope to gratify for purely selfish reasons, my gastronomical desires.
           
There is more to Bengali cuisine than roshogollas, (the white spongy balls dipped in syrup) mishti doi (sweet curd flavored with caramelized sugar) and machher jhol (sparsely spiced fish curry) …The art of eating and cooking in Bengal is a lifestyle, sustenance, an identity. In other words, a revelation in itself. It is a fusion of textures and a tactile feat of picking one's way through the mouth to get at spicy, delicious bits.

 

DEBASREE BASU is currently a Ph.D Scholar at the Center For English Studies, School Of Languages, Literature And Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She also works as a Counsellor for B.A. students in English Studies, at Akshaya Pratishthan, a study centre of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Debasree completed her M.A. at the University of Calcutta.

 

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