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Foodways of west bengal

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This is what the Tirupati priests need to be careful about when they wake up the Deity at odd hours, way early, like 3 a.m. or midnight for special pujas so that they can get extra large donations. This is totally wrong and sinful.

Gautam da, I entirely agree with that. There has been discussion, even controversy about the way things are being handled in Tirumala. Many rituals etc are being done going against the 'Aagama Sahstra'(sp?? )

The Tirumala Tirupati laddu remains a favorite though. The Hindu Temple in Riverdale, Atlanta comes pretty close.   ;)

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I've tasted Bengali cuisine back in 1979 in Calcutta. I'd posted elsewhere about my stay in Barrackpore and the the fish kofta curry I had back then.

I wish there was an authentic Bengali restaurant I could try in Atlanta. Doubt it.   ;)  

I've not heard of any Bengalis living around here too, we could have done a cuisine exchange, something like that.

Atlanta seems to have a pretty big Bangla population though.

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Krishna, as opposed to tradition, makes his wishes quite clear in the Srimadbhagavadgita of what HE wants to be offered:

Patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchasi.. [please note the numbers carefully]

A leaf or a flower,(or) a fruit or a bit of water, whoever offers this to Me with devotion...

I belive Sudhaama (sp? again) offerd him some parched rice (atukulu in Telugu or poha) and HE was quite happy.... ;)

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For a simple Kolkata recipe you may try this:

Chicken: 8 pieces  

Whole black cardamom: 5 gm

Small cardamom: 2 gm  

Cinnamon: 5 gm  

Whole coriander: 10 gm  

Whole pepper: 5 gm  

Whole fennel: 2 gm  

Whole red chilly: 5-6 pieces  

Ghee: 100 gm  

onion paste: 150 gm  

Ginger paste: 40 gm  





 Heat ghee in a pan and add the whole spices. As the spices begin to splutter add the onion paste and stir till it turns a lovely golden brown. Add the ginger paste and stir till the ginger is cooked. This is when you add the chicken pieces one by one. Make sure you cook on a low heat adding a little water from time to time. You must take care so the chicken does not burn. Season with salt and cook till the chicken is tender.

Serve with luchi, paratha or pulao.

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Sudama was His playmate in Vraja, and very, very poor. He got married, children and famine arrived and his fortunes declined until his wife said, your friend is a king in distant Gujarat, why don't you go and tell him of your problems, he will find a way to help.

Sudama was extremely reluctant to use this bond of affection to extract any material advantage, but at one time matters became grave enough that he was forced to agree. But what could a poor person like him take as a gift? We Indians don't go empty-handed. So all he could manage was some puffed rice, as you mention, that his wife packed in a thaila [bTW, ancient IE etymology, survives in greek as well, thylakoid, bundle, in plant chloroplasts; imagine, thaila survived as a word all these years! Bhaji too!].

He arrived at the court and was greeted very warmly by Krishna and Queen Rukmini, as if no years had ever passed,  Both personally washed his feet, as was done to honored guests. Then he was hugged and sat beside Krishna and food was brought out.

Sudama was ashamed and kept his thaila hidden behind his back. Krishna, either by expert observation or clairvoyance, playfully added to his friend's predicament, and asked, Did you bring anything for me? like children say to each other. And so he demanded and ate the rice with delight. Sudama was in tears and all had such a happy time that Sudama never even thought of asking anything for himself until he was on the road back to his home.

Arriving back, he found his home miraculously transformed, his wants removed. He, on the other hand, became even more conscious of the element of devotion, that he had asked for nothing, really had wanted nothing deep down except Krishna's love while he was there. So from then on, he lived an renunciant's life,  amidst but separate from all that new-found wealth of his family, immersed in whatever he daily was discovering in his heart.

So this aspect of prasada is very important, the food being merely symbolic. The food becomes the recipient of grace, becomes transformed into non-food, just as in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the actual Body of Christ.

Preparing the prasada is a very solemn ritual.  At Puri Jagannath, all the cooks must eat their fill, have a paan, take a nap, then a bath, before beginning to cook. The idea is, they will not hunger in the slightest for the food they are preparing, not even salivate at the smell, so satiated they must be.

Each temple must cook and serve according to the mood of the Deity installed. In Mayapur's the main temple, not Prabhupada's offshoot, the Deity, Radha Ramana, is barely 13, not quite 14 years old, an enormously mischievous teenager! You have to arrange service in keeping with that Being's essential nature, likes and dislikes. You cannot torment Him and Her with endless hours of puja! Thus we have 5 offerings of meals, plenty of snacks, mid-morning and a "cooling midafteroon". These People need time off, time to play, to sleep, rest after meals, need to be fanned when hot and so on. The whole idea is putting yourself, the cohorts of devotees, into this frame of attentive, loving, amused, delighted service, not the other way around! Krishna's Lila is about Play with devotees! As to what the deeper meanings are only each person can realize individually.

So this Form of Krishna loves fresh butter from sweet cream,  as opposed to cultured butter from yogurt [although that too]. That determines the type of prasada. Then sugar from rock candy. Then green coconut when hot in summer. So all three together, as a small snack, cooling drink good for health, and a naughty treat of candy, not so good, but craved by this Person! See the balance and thought that must be applied when deciding the prsada, say for the shitala bhoga?

Like you Sekhara, you don't like avocadoes; one day, when you become a Deity, as you will for your sons, they will not offer avocadoes, but pesarattu as the major tiffin bhog! Wherever the Unknowable is invoked, becomes a source of liberation: sAdhakAnAm hitArthAya BrahmaNo rUpakalpanA.  So your children can gain much benefit by invoking the divine in their father's form.

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Driving by, I  couldnt resist dropping in at the husband-wife team of Moiras near my old place.

I asked her about winter foods and she said that she was going to make some in the next few days. Apparently she is waiting for a consignment of some special ingredient from Kolkata. When I probed deeper she said I wouldnt understand these things. With all the knowledge gleaned from the two dadas here, I took a chance and asked if it was going to be Poyra, Nolen or Patali.

She gasped.

After an unsuccessful attempt at describing the Internet I ate a Samosa, a rossogulla( non spongy) and promised to back in a few days to pick up her winter speciality.

She calls it Joynagar Moa

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The other thing I forgot to tell you about were the different types of moas and pithas. The latter take some cooking, but the former are available for sale during the winter, always from specialists.

Essentially, these are various forms of puffed or proceesed rice rolled up witha sweetener like gur.

Muri-r moa: very common and cheapest: muri, puffed con verted rice rolled up into balls with cne jaggery heated to one-thread consistency.

Chire-r moa: flattened rice, or rather a broken form called kshood wrapped into smaller, crunchy, hard balls with cane jaggery.

Joy nagarer moa: khoi, whole unhusked paddy, soaked in date palm gur, and other things, rolled into small balls. Specialty of Joynagar area of Haora/Howrah district. Very sweet, soggy. Usually crumbled into a phalaar, or into a basket of plain muri and eaten with kanthali bananas [plus a few dry roasted peanuts].

Naroo/nadoos aka laddos of N. India but their Bengali version used to be made at home: small round balls

1. Narikel :a) grated coconut and cane jaggery; ;) roshkorA: grated coconut, white sugar, sometimes a bit of kheer, camphor and/or green cardamom

2. Til: pounded sesame, sugar/jaggery

3. Ananda: pounded sesame, roasted grains like rice, dals etc.

These are all home-type snacks, meant for young teeth, the hard crunchy moas, I mean! Who knows how long they will remain.

I don't know if Suresh's moira couple in Bangalore will be able to supply him with samples of the above?

Call it prescience, dadagiri, or better yet, as phakkad street boys in CCU are wont to remark in this classic style: "Guru, jaa dilo re" i.e. too-cool flourish of gurugiri ;)

Joy nagarer moa: a soft voluptuous thing, studded with raisins, like a Rubens painting of Juno, or one one of the sculpted yakshis of Khajuraho, too much of a good thing by itself.

So, need to cut it with something plainer, more masculine, austere: high quality Bengali murmura, absolutely fresh: ask Shrimatiji if she makes her own and if not, why not. Badger her, shame her to tears about this, not a problem. Say a moira's shop is Angahina without fresh muri, yes, use that word, and say in a distant land, a moira must be able to provide all the elements for a sattvic repast.

Also, must have Kanthali banana, not Champa, kanthali. A few dry roasted peanuts. Crumble moa into a large portion of muri, Break off chunks of well ripened banana. Scatter a few peanuts. Eat with hands, with characteristic cupping and throwing-in-the mouth motion. Ask her to demonstrate. A few tiny chunks, here and there, of khejur patli gur, hiding amidst all this, would not be amiss!

Now, ACTII: Phalaar with Joynagarer moa: chiwda soaked in water, drained, squeezed dry, red doi, CANE gur crystalline golden high quality,  mash in careful manner, K. banana,  remash very carefully leaving chunks, sandesh, remash even more carefully, a few roshogolla bits and pieces for grand excess! let sit for a bit. Enjoy.

Oh yes, there is J. Moa, crumbled in quarters  in there somewhere, experience (and in its absence, pure erotic instinct)will guide you, where. [mash means mix in and break in just enough as you do a filly of the equine and ...... species]!!!!! Now I shall get plastered by all! Talk about mashing!!

Suresh, its all your fault, you brought up this subject on a day I feel like throwing all caution to the winds!

BTW, some day, if you feel socially comfortable, just as Rathnaji invited her friends for a meal, why don't you invite the Moira couple over for dinner? They will be thrilled, so will Rathnaji, being able to showcase her skills, and then you can show them what the Internet is? This form of social mingling and mobility may be very beneficial in the long run. You will have gained a very lasting friend: Bengalis are very powerfully moved by symbolic gestures. None from your strata ever does that, and coming as a gesture of comradeship, not hierarchical, superior to inferior, will mean more to them than I can ever express to you. Even just a high tea will do.

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A shukto is a bitter and slightly sweet melange of particular vegetables opening a meal and is meant to do something to your gall bladder and bile duct, your pitta, the  efflux of bile into the liver. This is to prepare that organ for the meal to come, which in any case should not be heavy, but mustard  paste gravy and oil with their high erucic acid/glucosinolates are toxic, the liver detoxifies them, as it does everything other toxin.

So the basic premise of the shukto is a very light, supple, jhol, tasting of the vegetables themselves, spiked with these: paste of whole coriander,  somewhat less cumin, and a little black peppercorn, with a hint of mustard seed for thickening. Richer people from the city add a bit of poppyseed, raw or slightly toasted, ground. Plus some urad dal vadis/boris redolent with asafetida. Fried lightly, thrown in water, then in the stew.

I know CCU people add milk etc. which does nothing at all for shukto except muddy the keen edge of the bitter-sweet contrast, and dull the "black" masala pastes--- the  pitta invigorating qualities. Shukto is not meant to be a rajasik dish, which it becomes when one adds flour, milk, all such bells and whistles. It needs to be lean, mean, supple.

One needs clearly to taste the cassia leaf, clearly the phoron, clearly the bitter cucurbitacin of the karela, or rather ucche [Get the bitter melon cultivar ANT from Kitazawa Seeds, San Francisco, Oakland], clearly the black pepper masala.

None of this will happen if there is milk or flour!!!!!!!!

Moreover, bittering agents are varied, and each have their particular taste that they contribute to shukto: ucche, Nyctanthes leaves, thankuni/Centella (?), Patal/Trichosanthes dioica leaves etc. The list is long. All will be covered up by the citified style of milk/flour.

One more thing: NO ANISE. There is no such animal in Bengali cooking. Fennel, yes, ANISE, NO.

There is a saying in Bengali:Many sages, many opinions.

I am not a sage, merely a toroidal muscular terminus (not the orbicularis and oris). Just my two cents.

I come from where the sun don't shine, so my motto for shukto is, thin, dark, supple. Distinctly bitter, with a distinct undertone of cane jaggery.

Ask also JD for his version.

And Jim, note well: do you see chilies or turmeric anywhere? So please do not improvise. There are  a PREPONDERANCE of dishes in this cuisine where their absence is essential.

Second, you must resist the urge to finish with mustard oil. That does not go here. Otherwise we become like restaurants and Alford and Duguid in their recent book, who create imaginary combinations using some basic spicing of Bengal, combinations that do not work for West Bengal.  Everything in everything---no, no, a thousand times, no.

Then, what is the use of trying to convey the nuances of this cuisine?

I started upon a project with Arnab, to create a graded series of etudes, teaching exercises, a logical progression of preparations that would explain simultaneously the Rarh  methods as well the flavor palette. Ill health prevented its completion and I still owe him that set.

This way of grasshopper cooking is not a good way to study--like painting, bad technique and tastes learned will have to be unlearned.

I have a great respect for the effort and everything Chitrita Devi has put into her work--please never think that I am detracting from it, or from her. I always praise her in the strongest possible terms. however, for certain West Bengal dsihes, like prawn malai kari, posto etc. I do believe that the execution and final taste of the dishes could be improved considerably. That is not her problem. She learnt at her mother's knee. it is just possible that there might be more expert cooks than her mother.

Never ever boil a prawn, especially not a golda, Macrobrachium rosenbergii. That alone set off alarm bells in my mind. Boil and discard water. Wowsa!!!  Methinks the lady [mother] doth not understand texture of the golda, and what is lost in that water.

Several more such areas that can be open to debate. Again, cooking is a personal thing. The more recipes, the more variations are recorded, the richer the tradition preserved.

I am just being such a jerk nowadays! Yay!

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I agree with bhai Gautam, no thickening agent like maida and milk should be added. The gravy should be thin and the spicing should be very moderate. Each vegetable must retain its taste & flavour. The balance of bitter & sweet is the most important part. The vegetables that I use are:





Green banana

The Urad dal bori is also added.

If available I don't mind adding Sajne Danta too

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You will also have to forgive me for my sources, which are varied to say the least!  

I'm moderate enough that before I added turmeric I found a precedent in Minakshie DasGupta.  She includes turmeric paste in her Bangla Ranna shukto recipe, so I added a smidgen, too.  (Though mostly because I was recently happy with the way it interacted with mustard oil in a recent stab at a kosha mangsho.)  Turmeric was never present in what I ate in Calcutta.  

Lots of milk was, so leaving it out was further fiat.  In this instance, I'm glad my instinct was a little sharper.

I fried my korela in salad oil, adding just a dash of mustard oil (not my good stuff) with the veggies.  The precedent here was simply a youtube video, which counseled *all* mustard oil.  You'll find that video easily, but the results didn't get anywhere near what I hoped.  Chitrita Banerji did (though she adds flour)!

The problem isn't simpleminded improvisation on my part, you see, but an accrual of varied recipes.  At present, many of these sources are still my most convenient teachers.  Though, hmmm, perhaps 'convenience' isn't such a worthy standard!!!  

So many Indians use the term 'aniseed' that I have used it, too.  I know this is just my impression, but isn't it a legitimate Indian word?  Albeit confusing to outsiders and the new globality?  One variant I rather liked was 'anni seeds.'  

After the holidays, I'm going to have to a) make some boris or ;)  drive 45 minutes across town and see if I can buy some.  


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