11 November, 2017
My Grandma’s Kitchen
As they say it is always good to begin at the beginning. I have always believed that our food actually defines who we are, where we come from, what is our history and our experiences. A culinary heritage so to speak actually is not just about our food habits and preferences, as it is about the kind of person you are or have become due to the influences that have formed you. So, I have decided to share a little bit about my life, my influences and my heritage with you. I was born in Assam, in the far North Eastern corner of India. My earliest food memories revolve around my maternal grandmother, a formidable matriarch and definitely the greatest chef ( she would have looked askance) I have ever known. As a young child, I remember sitting on a tool in my grandma’s vast kitchen fascinated by all the goings on. The shiny brass and bell metal utensils, the smoke blackened cast iron pots and pans , the roaring fire in her old fashioned cast iron stove, the delicious aromas wafting out of her bubbling saucepans were things almost magical. Strangely enough, I was a finicky eater. I remember my mother and grandma would leave me with my grandfather and a plate of steaming Khichudi ( Rice and Lentil preparation) full of garden fresh vegetables and a dollop of homemade ghee, as they went visiting. My grandfather would spin endless tales as he tried to coax me to swallow a spoonful. I hardly did, but that plate of rice and lentils still remains fresh in my memory.
Regarding cooking practices, the food that was cooked in my grandma’s kitchen was as much Bengali as it was Assamese. She would cook Fish tenga( Sour Fish Curry) and Khar( an Alkaline preparation of vegetables/lentils) one day and the next day it would be Cholar Dal(Bengal gram dal) Maccher Kalia( Rich and spicy Fish curry) and Shukto( bitter-sweet vegetable stew). The Bengali legacy was very strong in the household. I remember all the delicious Pantuas, Rossogollas, Sandesh she prepared with the abundant supply of fresh cow milk. For the uninitiated, these are traditional Bengali sweetmeats. Her specialty was of course Patishapta, thin crepes made with rice flour and filled with grated coconut, sugar and milk solids. Well I could just go on, the list is endless. I wonder today, how and where did grandma hone her culinary skills, where did she source her recipes from. With no TV, very few magazines, no recipe books whatsoever, how did she make things like her Beetroot and Carrot Fudge, her marvelous Zafrani Pulao or her Dahi Gosht(Lamb cooked with Yogurt). It is a mystery which has forever eluded me. Suffice to say she remains my earliest and greatest food inspiration. I have tried to carry on her legacy, but I guess I have just managed to scratch the surface.
This is my first blog post and I dedicate it to my grandmother. She passed on 17 years back, but is there with me every time I enter my kitchen. There will be time for me to share my grandma’s recipes with you. But for today, I would just like to leave it at this. Hope this food journey enriches and delights us all. Good day.