This and that

June 25, 2010

I am often tempted to spark anarchy on the table by reversing the order of dishes — starting off with desserts, progressing to, say, grilled fish and wrapping things up with a minestrone soup. Or serving roshomalai, mutton-rice, dal and skukto, yes, in that order.

Though i stay clear of even uttering this mischievous design in front of unsuspecting guests, i subject myself to such an experiment during many a weekday lunch. I open the fridge and drink off a bowl of kacha aamer jhol (a cooling mango chutney) before attacking the rice, curries and fish.

Pour this rohu curry in rice, add masur dal and sqeeze in a lemon. (Pic: bengalicuisine.files.wordpress.com)

More often than not i take the jumbling up of dishes to a different level. I pour dal and fish curry into a plate of rice and let the juices of the pulses and gravy mix together, squeeze in a bit of lemon and polish it off with a large slab of fish, preferably carved out from the fatty belly of a hapless fish. This mix-and-match tastes good only with a rui machher patla jhol (thin curry of rohu with potato slices and topped with coriander) and masur ki dal (radhuni or paach phoron as tadka).

More than a decade ago, I was introduced to another hybrid dish with dal as the base. Bored with the sameness of the rajma chawal-chana grind at a shack we used to frequent when the Hindu Hostel’s canteen remained closed during vacations, i saw a burly man pour what appeared a litre of dal and half the amount of curd into a deep well drilled into a hillock of rice. The resultant pale yellow liquid was about to trickle out of the banana-leaf plate, when the man, to our collective admiration, employed a deft flick of his hairy paw to neatly transfer a fistful of it into his mouth.

I tried the winsome combo the next day, and though I was and am and will always remain a true blue Bengali, I am in love with the audacious simplicity of dal-curd-rice which is an afternoon staple for many of my colleagues who come from the southern half of the country.

Another mish-mash dish I was initiated to quite early in life requires steaming hot rice, one or two boiled potatoes, a couple of half-boiled egg and a generous dollop of butter or ghee. Mash everything together with slivers of raw onions, green chillies and coriander, and there you have koni alu pitika, as they call it in Assam.

Its Bengali cousin, the iconic alu sheddho bhaat, though, doesn’t require the eggs to be mashed into the rice, but are boiled and generally eaten along with the rice. An Assamese friend of mine replaces the butter with a spoon of mustard oil to wonderful effect, something the Bengalis also do.

An outrageously jumbled-up dish i am familiar with requires puffed rice (muri), vegetable pakoras (telebhaja in Bengali), a drop or two of mustard oil and a bit of water. In my hostel days, i used to marvel at the speed at which a roommate used to dismember alu chop, beguni (brinjal fry in batter) and peyaji (fried onions), all at a time, and scatter their remains into a big bowl of muri, add the water, a pinch of salt, a dribble of oil and give it a mix with his hand, top it up with chopped coriander and choose a handsome green chilli before pouncing on the bowl.

Neither do i know the name of the resultant hotchpotch nor am i particularly fond of it — why on earth would one add water and dampen the pakoras or tear them into shreds when you can have them whole with a fistful of well-oiled muri — but i vividly recall the reverential glow on his face while he used to close his eyes and chew and contemplate on things substantial that make heaven and earth!

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12 Responses to “This and that”

  1. Sharmi said

    I can almost taste the dishes you have mentioned here. So flavoursome is the writeup. You aught to have been a food writer. For, you can put to words every aroma and taste connected to food. Lovely lovely absolutely… 🙂

  2. Tareq said

    good good. i could smell all the foods while reading this. take it forward and we’ll have a culinary writer in our midst

  3. netdhaba said

    @Sharmi: Thank you so much. Wish i could get a full-time job as a food writer… Am waiting…

  4. netdhaba said

    @Tareq: Don’t stop at smelling, please come to Delhi and you will have all these dishes and more at your service…
    Thanks a ton for the comment and please continue visiting the blog 🙂

  5. Sumit said

    Argh!!! the dal-curd-rice man. I still remember the pale yellow liquid trickling thinly down his dark,hairy, fat arm. And the slurp…slurp…slurp cutting through the Sunday afternoon quiet of Phears Lane(can’t say if i got the eatery right)!! May be that was the day since when I hated fusion food.

    I could try the koni alu pitika though!!

    (Aside): I like the finesse of the ‘roommate’ bit. You bloody snob!!!;-)

  6. netdhaba said

    @Sumit: You also remember the meal! And the hairy man! Must be 12-13 years ago.
    You also got the dingy eatery right. It was off Central Avenue.
    Koni alu pitika is easy, wholesome and shushwadu.
    (Aside): As for the ‘snob’ bit in your comment, you are, my friend, on the dot! You know, I loved all my roomies, irrespective of their habits and places of origin!
    Thanks a ton and please keep commenting
    🙂

  7. Alcazar said

    I’m afraid Feluda would have been thoroughly confused if he ever shared a meal with you. Remember how Satyajit Ray’s much-loved private investigator ‘uncovered’ who Rabin Chowdhury really was in Tintorettor Jishu? All thanks to his culinary habits (finishing off the meal with shukto).
    And here you are — presumably born and brought up and working in India — and yet polishing off a Bangla meal with shukto!!!

  8. netdhaba said

    @Alcazar: Ha ha ha!
    Thanks for your interesting observation on Feluda.
    Not presumably, but i am actually born in Calcutta and brought up in Durgapur.
    My penchant for jumbling up dishes can be traced to the early eighties when i used to eat shukto only after dousing it in sweet chutney!
    It now, though, amounts to sacrilege.

  9. Abhi said

    You are a fishy guy Mr D! All your posts are stinking of fish I see:D. I will stop coming to your blog if you don’t write about chagol one of these days:)
    But talking about hybrid dishes I am reminded of my college days when me and my roommate invented Sa-dal! A tasty combo of dal and all available subzis except for korolla!
    It included sauteying alu, gajar, tomato, shimla mirch, beans, onions and roshun (etar ingreji ki?) and of course dal with a spoon of sabzi masala then add water and after a couple of pressure cooker sitis sa-dal (sabzi & dal) is ready and then a ghee ka tadka!
    This concoction gave us dal & subzi protein since we couldn’t afford animal protein:)
    But I remember it went well with rotis laced with homemade desi ghee that my roomie used to get from home!

  10. netdhaba said

    @Abhi: You are right. People say everything about me is fishy 🙂
    Your Sa-dal appears to be a rich man’s jumbled dish. For, which poor student can buy all these subzis and ghee that go into the dish? 🙂
    I will whip it up one day with pork fat as tadka and invite you over 😀
    Roshun/lasun is called garlic in English 🙂
    Chhagol, i will surely write about very soon. I, though, have touched on the best butter chicken dish i ever had in a earlier blog https://netdhaba.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/fowl-play/
    You can, for now, satiate your hunger with it!
    Thanks for ambling in 🙂

  11. Abhi said

    Mr D, a poor student is one who cannot afford chagol:) and I am talking about a time when buying subzis did not leave a blackhole in our meagre pockets:) And the homemade ghee my roomie got from his village so no money spent there!
    I shall wait for your invite:)

    In anticipation, your’s truly!

  12. netdhaba said

    @Abhi: Hmm… me thinks you aren’t wrong, sire…
    Any day at our house you and mr walker walk in and i will present a handsome chhagol at your altar 🙂

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