Recipes evoking a sense of nostalgiaArchive
PEOPLE wait years a good cookbook to come along and if the same is found to be brimming with informative and enjoyable stories and fables related to cuisines it then becomes even more interesting and absorbing. Cooking up Culinary Adventures has resulted in one of the finest works of its kind, offering an extensive overview of what makes Bengal’s culinary account so special.
Bengali food has had several influences and the Bengali fondness for good fare is well known — the central reason being this state admired its ancient culinary traditions and customs. The gastronomy here is distinctive, with the fundamentals of cooking, the ingredients and general method of preparation setting the guidelines.
The essence of the book is best reflected in American travel and food show presenter Anthony Bourdain’s words, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
The book features a collection of vibrant recipes and fascinating anecdotes from the three-century Mughal era that left behind an enduring legacy of culinary art to the Portuguese, then the French, Dutch and British leaving their indelible imprint on local dishes. The volume also captures the culinary spirit of many other prominent countries and regions through stunning photographs and atmospheric text.
The book is at its best exploring a culinary evolution and eating habits from ancient Bengal to the present, offering surprising insights of dishes that have been adapted over time with lifestyle changes. For instance, how Prince’s at Grand Hotel and Maxim’s at The Great Eastern Hotel rose to be legendary hotpots and how Kolkata’s Park Street evolved as a platform for the “good life”.
In this context, what Ishita Banerjee-Dube has stated in her book about “cooking cultures, convergent histories of food and feeling” seems significant. She writes that “change in attitude and taste enable a convergent history of the globe kneaded by food and cooking that tells us about being and belonging, pride, identity, hospitality, sociability, class, power, nation and culture that are ever ready to be cast in different moulds”.
Cooking up Culinary Adventures presented by Harshavardhan Neotia with research input and text from Jayabrato Chatterjee treads close to the subject of Bengal’s glorious tradition of culture and cuisine. For Bengalis who believe wellness doesn’t come at the expense of deliciousness, savour the Christmas cakes prepared by Anglo-Indians from their neighbourhoods like Dharamtala, Ripon Street, Eliott Road and Free School Street. They also relish an Indian concoction of Chilli Chicken and Chicken Manchurian of China Town, Armenian cuisine comprising the likes of bland curries and kebabs and dolmas to their hearts’ content.
The book presents a tantalising array of authentic Zamindari recipes like Prawn Curry with Bamboo shoots, Shikaar Sagas and Game for Fowl Play that has been influenced by the British Raj, Islamic cuisine and the effects of partition. The volume consisting of Awadhi, Marwari, Parsi cooking traditions and practices will help readers appreciate culinary innovation and cultural diversity, also how food has been the single great unifier across cultures.
Chatterjee’s effort to document time-honoured recipes, retrieving them from the annals of time, deserves appreciation. Having said that, let me also say that the book could have included stories about a few Bengali desserts like the rasogolla, sandesh and mishti doi so as to make the volume all-encompassing as also encyclopaedic. More so, since Bengal is famous for its plethora of desserts involving sweetmeat makers such as KC Das, Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick and Bhim Chandra Nag.
Simply put, Cooking up Culinary Adventures positively overflows with reminiscences that bring about a sense of nostalgia. The sweeping storytelling, lucidity and presentation of Chatterjee’s book will surely appeal to all regardless of age, including food lovers of microwave generation.
The book comes at a time when global violence has reached its highest level in the last 25 years. It reminds me of what English writer JRR Tolkien once said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
—The Statesman / India
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2016