Book Review : Cooking Up Culinary Adventures by Jayabrato Chatterjee


“The quintessential bhadralok is, indeed, fussy about his food. And why not? Bengali cuisine remains the only developed multi-course ritual from the Indian subcontinent that is similar in structure to the à la russe style of French cuisine, with food served course by course.”
– Jayabrato Chatterjee

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Bengal and Food are terms synonymous to each other. A Bangali’s palate appreciates culinary styles in the most vivid forms perfected in its own way. “Cooking Up Culinary Adventures”, authored by Jayabrato Chatterjee and presented by Harshvardhan Neotia, is not just another coffee table book. It will take you to a virtual tour across ages, narrating stories that has helped shaped the varied cuisines of Bengal. The author, Jayabrato Chatterjee manages to take us though the lanes of Metiaburz and Burrabazaar to the Bengali household’s kitchen with the lady of the house sitting squarely on the floor with her Bonti-knife. The book is an experience in itself and does not necessarily have to be a start-to-end read. Beside the beautiful illustrations, it covers untold stories and recipes that virtually transport one to a different space and time. It also gives an insight to the cultural and political influence to certain iconic food streets and cuisines of Bengal.

Favourite Excerpts from the Book :

Tibetan food became popular in Calcutta after the 14th Dalai Lama and more than 150,000 Tibetan refugees fled to India. The Tibetan diaspora were initially annual winter visitors to the city, vending woollens. Post 1959, Calcutta became home to quite a few who used the porous Sikkim-Tibet border to get here. Soon they also contributed to a large number of restaurants serving ethnic Tibetan cuisine that is known for its use of noodles, goat and yak meat, mutton dumplings, cheese, butter and soups. Balep, a flat Tibetan bread is cooked over a skillet rather than baked, and is eaten at breakfast and lunch. Thukpa, a dinner staple, consists of vegetables, meat and noodles of various shapes in broth. Chang, a beer usually made from barley, along with tea taken with salt, is extremely popular as is a type of cheese called churul, with a flavour said to resemble the Belgian Limburger. And the ubiquitous momo – a steamed or fried dumpling with pork or chicken filling – can be found in almost all street corner eateries in Calcutta today.”

“The Tamilians also found safe haven in Calcutta and Komala Vilas, their much-preferred lodge, welcomed them with open arms since it unlocked its doors in the 1930s. A part of Rashbehari Avenue is like mini Chennai today. Udupi restaurants dish out dosas, idlis, sambar, curd-rice and filter coffee, women shop with fragrant gajra-garlands in their hair and men chat in groups with the traditional tika smeared on their foreheads. Stores like Raja Paan Shop have everything to make South Indians feel at home, from Andhra fish masala to banana chips, oils and agarbattis, and DVDs of South Indian films.”

“The ritual of tea was introduced by the British and is now central to Bengali identity and its tradition of snacks. With cha you also have to satisfy your need for what is colloquially known as ta! Baking, pretty much unknown till the British came along, became widespread.”

The book narrates more of such stories and has kept me engrossed ever since I got my own copy. Even if one does not read it, browsing through the illustrations is a pleasure in itself. Do let me know your thoughts on this book and the culinary journey of Bengal in the comments below.

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