Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bengali Cooking

I mentioned in this post the importance of understanding the regionality of South Asian food. What if you, a non-desi, or perhaps a desi from a totally different background from your man, marry a guy from a certain place and you have no clue where to begin learning to cook homefoods from his region....which you obviously want to learn becuzzz you lurve your man and want to impress him with your cooking? Girls, you know what I am talking about. Authentic regional South Asian English language cookbooks can be hard to find. There are loads of websites nowadays, but they are not often written for the neophyte desi cook, and contain lines like: Here is a totka, add a chutki of such and such thing, bhunofy, onions turn pink (this is a really weird one for people who have never seen a desi onion)...then put on dam for 30 minutes. Huh? I have learned a lot from cooking websites. I often search through them to compare and prepare recipes to try out for myself. But I really love a good cookbook right there in my hands. I wanted to take some time to highlight books which I have come across which I really liked, and which really helped me learn about the food of a region. I am very interested in regional South Asian cooking, and I have over the years managed to peruse and acquire some English language regional desi cookbooks. I have Kashmiri pandit and waaza books. I have a great Maharashtrian book. I have an Indian Hyderabadi Muslim book, and so forth. Let me start with Bengali cuisine:

There are two books from which I gained a lot of information about Bengali cooking, as well as good recipes.

The first is the excellent tome, Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals by Chitrita Banerji. This is written for any reader, not just a Bengali Indian or Bangladeshi who is already familiar with Bengali cooking terms and ingredients. Banerji writes a narrative about her childhood in West Bengal and then her adult life in Bangladesh. She is originally a West Bengali, but she married a Bangladeshi, so she knows the cuisines of both sides of the border well. Her narratives focus on, as discernable from the title, seasons and festivals, and are interwoven with very good recipes for special foods of those times. Loaded with information, anyone who reads this book will gain very in depth knowledge about the cuisine of the Bengalis, as well as on Bengali culture. The book is well written, informative, gives a beautiful and romantic picture of Bengali culture and foods, and has great recipes.

The second book is Rannaghor by Roopa Sharma. This book, like many Indian cookbooks written for Indians, is not as easily navigable for people who are not very familiar with Indian food terms. So if you are a non-Bengali, especially non-Indian bahu of a Bengali family, you'll have to get a Bengali friend to help you with any unfamiliar terminology or show you some of the special South Asian ingredients until you have learned them all. The author says she wrote the book for the busy, working woman and offers cooking tips and simple recipes to a cook with little time to spare. I don't know about all of that, but I can simply assure you that the recipes are excellent samples of West Bengali homecooked fare. I have made many of the recipes in this book, and I liked all of them. The book can help you set your table with delicious West Bengali fare.


The Gori Wife said...

Wait - desi onions? I thought that was just a translation thing, and when my MIL tells me to fry onions until they are "pink" or "red" I just figure that means half-brown or full-brown. Are you telling me that they really do get pink?

luckyfatima said...

Yes! They do indeed turn pink. I think it is at the stage when our American giant yellow onions would be translucent and not quite fully sauteed.