A Mumbai-based home chef, with origins in Dhaka, recreates her grandmother's East Bengali recipes for a pop-up at Versova
Mumbai-based TISS alumnus and home chef Priyadarshini Gupta’s grandmother, Khirod-Bashini Gupta or amma as she calls her, passed away before she could get a chance to cook with her. However, she vividly remembers watching her whip up delicacies in the kitchen at their Dover Lane home in Kolkata, in the mid-70s. “She would make different kinds of sweets for us on an unon (stove). Food has been my passion since I was a child. All the recipes that I learnt were my amma’s, handed down to me by my ma (mother) and boroma (my aunt). She’s my inspiration,” confides Gupta. Originally from Dhaka, Bikrampur, Gupta grew up on East Bengali culture and cuisine, which she would refer to as ‘O par Bangla’ (Bengal on the other side).
This Sunday, she will recreate the recipes for a lunch pop-up at her Versova home. Curated by The Gourmet Food Company as part of their Kitchen Dining series, the pop-up is titled Secrets from the Kitchens of 38, Gandaria, Dhaka, referring to Gupta’s ancestral home, Haimanti in old Dhaka. “My father was born in that house but left at the age of 11 due to the Partition. Though I haven’t visited the house, I have grown up hearing stories from my father and relatives, who tried to keep the memories alive by replicating family customs and of course, the food. Cooking up secrets from my Amma’s kitchen is keeping the memories alive in my mind and heart,” says Gupta.
A family photograph taken at Priyadarshini Gupta’s ancestral home, Haimanti at 38 Gandaria in old Dhaka
East vs West
From Aam Porar Shorbot, a Bengali raw mango cooler to Begun Bhaja (pan-fried aubergine), Chicken Rejala (marinated and slow-cooked chicken dish) and Narkal Shorshe Macch (coconut steamed fish), the home-style menu features over 10 items, all of which have a family connect for Gupta. “Our meals did not include the Muslim influence on the East Bengali cuisine, so we do not have Dhakai Porota or other such popular street foods associated with contemporary Dhaka cuisine,” she informs.
However, East Bengali fare is distinct from its western counterpart. “Our cuisine uses fish in all the dishes. For instance, Labra is a vegetable medley with fish’s head while Muri Ghonto is fish pulao with poha (flattened rice). Sometimes, even the dal (bhaja mug or fried moong) is made with fish’s head. Hilsa finds a special place is the East Bengali cuisine whereas the Golda Chingri (lobster prawn) is found in West Bengali versions. Our spice index is higher, so is the use of shutki (fried fish), which is a no-no in the cuisine on the western bank of the Hooghly. We use little onion and garlic and extensively add coriander and green chillies in our dishes,” she says.
While kalo jeera (black cumin) and paanch phoron (five spice mix) is common to both the cuisines, East Bengalis include more vegetarian dishes, generously using daler bora (freshly-made vadis from soaked lentils). “Our food was originally cooked in mustard oil and till date, we extensively use mustard and coconut. Shedo bhat (par boiled rice) is our staple diet. Luchi (deep-fried flatbread) and gobindo bhog (short grain of sticky rice) are more popular in West Bengali cuisine,” she informs.
ON: May 22, 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm
AT: A7, Bhaskar Niwas, Yari Road, Versova, Andheri (W).
LOG ON TO: www.tgfc.co.in
COST: Rs '999 (non-veg), Rs 850 (veg)
Chicken Rejala: A family recipe cooked during get-togethers, the dish features chicken marinated overnight in curd, with whole garam masala and dried red chillies. It is slow-cooked in a paste of cashew and khus khus (poppy seeds).
Narkal Shorshe Macch: The delicately steamed fish in a paste of mustard, coconut, green chillies and mustard oil was a Sunday lunch regular at Gupta’s home, different from the fish made on other days.
Labra or Pui Saager Chochori:
A mixed vegetable dish, Gupta recalls tucking into it with chingri (prawns) and shorshe (mustard) during summer vacations at her father’s house. She adds, “My cousins and I would spend hours chatting over it, on the warm red floors of the house.”
Alu Pyaj Koli Checki: It’s a Bengali stir-fry of potatoes and spring onions seasoned with black cumin seeds. “It was a must-have with Patla Moosorer Dal (red lentils tempered with coriander and black cumin) and a welcome taste after the daily dose of something bitter,” recalls Gupta.
Chanar Payesh: It’s a kheer with fresh chunks of cottage cheese thickened with saffron and pistachio. “It was made on festivals like Pohela Boishakh or Bijoya Dashami. As kids, we would try to steal it from the ‘midsafe’ where food was stored,” she says.