SUMMER SAVOURIES: Trip Down A Gastronomic Memory Lane

Summer vacation commences and off to to Kolkata on the dusty Howrah Mail; hungrily waiting at the Igatpuri station  for the “Thali” from the train kitchen, and eating it with gusto while seating cross legged on the swaying bunk bed.1

Lazy days in May, which never seemed to end, windows and doors shuttered from afternoon heat by fragrant wet “khus” blinds, and pillow-talk with cousins while eating “jhal-moori”.2

Lunch on banana leaf consisting of “neem-begun”, “fried teto ”, “shukto”, “potoler dhorma”, “pabda maach” and occasionally the dreaded “moori-ghanto” – all with generous squeezes of “batabi lebu”.3

Diving into a K.C. Das shop and gazing with endless wonder at the array of sweets, and Baba letting me select “sita bhog” and “mishti dahi” served in little cold earthenware pots – two of my favorites.4

Climbing up with Thama (grandmother) to the attic where she kept her stores of “moa” and “khoi”.5

Going to the street corner to eat “moghlai paratha” and “egg chop”, served in newspaper boats.6

Visit to the fashionable New Market in the tram, where my mother would buy me a new frock, invariably pink in color, and beat the heat with tutti-frutti ice-cream and chicken patties.

Stopping to eat “langchas” en route to Shantiniketan. There would always be a distracted back bencher in the class under the trees staring at the road rather than the teacher’s blackboard.7

The incredible College Street with rows of book stores, more packed with customers than jewelry shops in Bombay. My mother asking for a rare volume and the helper kid producing it in a trice from a dusty back shelf – and drinking tea in the Coffee House ­ –  the mecca of Bengali “adda”.

Teaching Bhaktadas, the parrot, to sing a new tune, while feeding it green chillies and guava, which he would gently pluck from our fingers with his red curved beak. Trying to make him unlearn the shrill whistle of the pressure cooker.

Reading Dadumoni’s (grandfather) collection of 1001 best short stories from the glass cabinet in the drawing room, poring over old Bartholomew’s atlas, as the mustard oil infused smells from the coal fired kitchen wafted in, whetting our appetite.

Obligatory trips to Victoria Memorial and the magnificent natural history section of the Calcutta Museum and drinking fresh “daab” coconut water under the shade of the majestic flowering GulMohur.

Visiting relatives and being served “kophi shingara”, “nimki” and mishti, mishti and more mishti.8

Trip back to Bombay, when Dida (maternal grandmother) would pack up bundles of “aam-shatta” and jars of “naroo” for the journey back home.9

  1. Thali – compartmentalized platter with variety of food items
  2. Khus – a type of straw matting; Jhaal-moori – spicy beaten rice
  3. Neem-begun – bitter leaves considered medicinal with egg plant; teto – fried bitter gourd; shukto – a mellow combination of vegetables in poppy seed paste and milk; potoler dhorma- a curry of small gourds; pabda maach – variety of fish found in eastern waters; moori-ghonto a concoction of fish heads and other parts-an acquired taste; batabi-lebu – a very fragrant lime.
  4. Sita-bhog a fine shredded dessert made of milk casein; mishti dahi – the ubiquitous sweet yoghurt
  5. Moa – ball made of beaten rice and jaggery – can be stored over long periods; khoi – puffed rice eaten almost like cereal with milk
  6. Moghlai paratha – paratha coated in egg and other fillings
  7. Langcha – brown elongated sweet in syrup somewhat similar to gulab jamun
  8. Kophi-shingara – a large samosa with spiced cauliflower filling; nimki – crisp fried munchies
  9. Aam-shatta – dried pressed sheet of mango extracts; naroo – small rum ball like treat made of coconut and jaggery both can be preserved without refrigeration
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