I guess the place to start would be to ask, “What do Bengalis (really) eat?” Sandeepa tells us that Bongs (slang for Bengalis) will eat apparently “anything and everything, as long as it is followed by Gelusil, Pudin Hara, Jowaner Aarak or Nux Vom 30!”
She also tells us, “Bengalis don’t eat breakfast: they eat a complete meal in the morning, or else they eat luchi (deep fried bread)”. It’s obvious that the Bengalis like their counterparts in the other states of India have a great love for their food! The book started on that note and just went on getting more enjoyable to read as I turned page after page. And if you’re thinking of asking, “Why would you read a cookbook?” here’s the answer. Sandeepa’s book is more than just a cookbook. S
ure, there is a lot of traditional authentic Bengali food that has been cooked by the older generation of women in her family, and Sandeepa’s recipes make them easy to cook in a modern kitchen. She also weaves stories of her childhood which are invariably connected to food to gives us glimpses of a lifestyle where people had time to cook and savour the simple pleasures of everyday life.
Every chapter is redolent with the aromas of spices used in a Bengali kitchen interwoven with her memories of life in Bengal as a child, from her grandmother’s Calcutta kitchen, all the way to through her life to her kitchen in the US where she now lives. Married and a mother of two young girls, she also shares her attempts to keep India alive and real for her daughters and her trials to connect them to their Indian roots through the Bengali food she cooks.
I can relate to large parts of her book. I have grown up seeing grandmothers, aunts and other elderly ladies in the house spend a large part of their lives cooking up a storm almost every day, and belong to a community where food is so important that there are even prescribed dishes, ingredients, combinations and menus for each occasion (small or big). So I’m not surprised that her mother would be appalled to think that milk and cereal or something similar could be considered any sort of a meal, let alone breakfast!
To get back to the BongMom Cookbook, it a book dedicated entirely to recipes and narratives related to Bengali food. Sandeepa’s has a way with words and descriptive phrases, and her style of narrative makes for interesting reading and her recipes are easy enough to follow. Where specific ingredients are needed, that are commonly unavailable outside Bengal, she provided easy alternatives.
The chapters in this book have quaint titled and some examples are The Great Bong Breakfast, The long Lost Lunch, By God! Bongs Also Eat Veggies, Every Bong Girl Needs Her Tiffin and Love In The Time Of Dessert! Each recipe in preceded by a short narrative about the dish and its place in her family saga and the book is interspersed with further factual details either about Bengali meal-time or food traditions and the masalas (spice mixes) used in their cooking.
One masala/ spice mix that I always associate with Bengali cooking is the Paanch-phoron which is frequently used in their recipes.
Paanch-phoron is a mix of 5 (Paanch) spices - Fenugreek (methi), Nigella seeds (kalonji, Mustard seeds or (rai/ shorshe), Fennel seeds (saunf/ mouri), and Cumin seeds (jeera/ jira).
To make Paanch-phoron, grind equal quantities of these 5 spices into a powder and store in an airtight bottle. This spice mix is usually added to a hot oil to release the flavours, while cooking.
Good photography is always a bonus in a cookbook, but this is one cookbook that really doesn’t need the photographs.
However, I would have been happy to see some more sketches illustrating the book beyond those that adorn the first page of every chapter.
I would have definitely liked to see a recipe index in the book, as it took me time to trace down the recipes I wanted to cook from the book since there was no way to do that except search.
While there is a list of spices used in the book, translated to English, I also feel a glossary of some of the Bengali terms used throughout the book would be helpful as a ready reference for the non-Bengali reading public.
Beyond this, I have only good to say about the book and it will have a happy resting place on my cookbook shelf even though most of the recipes in the book are of no use to a vegetarian like me.
About the author:
Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta loves food, is a food blogger and mother of two who is dedicated to connect them to their Bengali roots mainly through food. Her cookbook showcases this attempt along with sharing the mysteries of the BongMom’s kitchen with the rest of us through heart-warming stories and easy to cook recipes.
I have marked a few recipes to try from the BongMom Cookbook and Sandeepa’s mother-in-law’s Dim Kosha or Spicy Egg Curry caught my eye first. Egg curry is something that’s cooked in quite a few variations in Kerala and the Egg Moilee is our favourite. While we are not egg lovers, the occasional good egg curry is always welcome at our table. I did over salt my Egg Curry a wee bit (my fault, not the recipe’s) but otherwise we liked the curry very much. Be warned this is a bit on the richer side as it involves frying boiled eggs and the potatoes, but that’s what adds a lot of flavour. This is my somewhat adapted version of Sandeepa’s recipe.
Two days after I received my review copy of the BongMom’s Cookbook, I received another copy of the same book for the publishers, Harper Collins. I think the 2nd copy was probably sent to me for reviewing through Indiblogger . All I know is that 2 copies of the book arrived from the publishers, both addressed “Urgent”! The good thing about this is that I have a copy of Sandeepa’s book to give away to my readers. It’s easy enough to try your luck at winning this book.
All you have to do is leave a comment at this post telling me if you have ever cooked or eaten Bengali food, and if so, what your favourite dish is.
This giveaway is open only to readers residing in India or those who have Indian shipping addresses.