This post is my tribute to the Schindlers of the early 1970s, in Bapi's case, a childhood friend and his mother who risked their lives to ensure Bapi and Grandma got across the border safely.Bapi would talk of Chachi's Chingrir Roshbora for decades after having left Sylhet.A recipe that Chachi had been proud of, one she had learnt from her mother and her mother from her grandmother, a recipe redolent of the rivers and coconut plantations of the pristine Barisal where her family hailed from.Whenever Bapi brought home shrimps from the local market, Chachi's delectable Chingrir Roshbora would inevitably be mentioned.
The discussion steers invariably to food. No story about Chittagong would ever be complete without a glowing tribute to her delectable cuisine - the delightful smorgasbord of dried fish ranging from the fiery loitya shutki to the sinfully addictive chhuri shutki, the decadent mezban feasts where everyone was welcome and the finger licking languorously cooked kala bhuna. What a hedonistic offering this was !!It took me multiple attempts to get my kala bhuna perfect (and I took the liberty to use mutton instead of the customary beef), but what a pleasure it was when finally the flavour profile was just as I had desired it to be.Creators pride, I blushed.
The only period though that Bapi would happily regale us with stories about was the years he spent as a young medical intern traveling across Bangladesh.
His carefree days in Dhaka. The chaos that defined Sadarghat. The peace and tranquil of the Armenian Church. The awe-inspiring Tara Masjid.
Time-stops-still languorous hours, whiling about with friends in Bell’s Park in Barishal, dreamy-eyed discussions on what the future had in store in a post-colonial country, intent on scripting its own destiny. (Alas !!)
Those were the days. He would recollect.
And of course there was delectable food that Bapi could not stop raving about.
Dhakai chicken roast. Or the Kachchi mutton Biryani.
Rangpuri fish fry.
Pabnar Hansher Kalia.
Or kachagollas from Natore.
However it was decades later, only after I had started active blogging, did I return to check on the food Bapi would so eloquently praise.
And it’s quite by chance that I got to relish Pabnar Hansher Kalia.
Do you know my Princess what fritters you just savoured ? Grandma asks me once we are done with lunch.
No, but I adored them. They were delicious. I respond, flicking through the pages of the new Anandamela that has arrived by this morning's post all the way from Calcutta.
Shojne Phooler Bora, Grandma announces. You couldn’t guess that, could you ?
That can't be true, I hear myself say, refusing to believe what I just heard.
Winter has taken a bow.
The Palash has set the backyard afire, the radhachura and krishnachura are a riot of colours and blossoms have started to adorn the ancient mango trees.
The plaintive cry of the cuckoo pining for his lover reverberates across. The bees and butterflies are back too.
And then chicken pox breaks out.
A girl in our class falls ill and by end of the week at least ten other students are out sick.
You had chicken pox as a child, Maa comforts me, once you have had it once, you typically develop immunity against it.
Believers congregate at the Shitola temple in the village, only her blessings can protect their loved ones, they are confident, from the scourge of chicken pox.
And the kitchen starts whipping up shojne phool delicacies. Natures antidote against chicken pox, Grandma explains as I try her shojne phooler posto. And is delicious too, isn’t it ?
Has it ever happened, you are in the midst of cooking, when to utter dismay and indescribable frustration, you have discovered that your pantry doesn’t have one of the key ingredients or just not enough of it?
You scour the pantry in agony, feverishly pull down bottles and jars from the disciplined shelves, ransack the refrigerator, feel an irresistible desire to curse yourself, all the while praying for a miracle.
What’s gota sheddho? I ask S when we are alone that evening. All the cousins were speaking of this lip-smacking dish that they wait a whole year for. I was too shy to ask, I confess.
We are in Kolkata, it’s just a month or so post our marriage, and we are in Ss ancestral house to celebrate Saraswati Pujo.
S looks at me, a kind of stunned look that translates to you sure must be joking M.
I reiterate that I’ve never heard of, leave alone savoured, gota sheddho.
Seriously ? S retorts, still unwilling to believe I am serious. If that’s indeed the case, let’s hurry, Thakur might just be starting the process. Gota sheddho is always prepared the night before and had cold. It’s Shitol Shoshti tomorrow and aunts shall only have dishes cooked the day before. Nothing hot or freshly prepared.
I have been on a pithe-puli spree all week, treating friends and family, this morning though I crave for something savoury after all the sweets I have gorged on.
That’s when the idea of the Koraishutir Patishapta dawns on me. Savoury crepes with a delectable filling of green peas. A hint of cumin, a touch of asafoetida and the earthy warmth of ginger.
And what’s that happening ?
A help has just brought at least a dozen earthen hnaaris (handis), he soaks them in water, gives them a vigorous scrub and leaves them to idle under the mellow sun.
Stoked by curiosity, I get off the tree and go looking for Maa.
What are these for ? I quiz.
Aha, that’s a secret, Maa curtly responds.
Not one to yield without a feisty fight, I keep pestering.
We are making hnaaribondho, Shoilo Aunty finally relents.
Hnaaribondho ? I echo back almost instantaneously.
Yes, Aunty explains, Mutton cooked in dum with whole spices, loads of onions and a glug of mustard oil. A delicacy from Dinajpur.