A culinary debt of gratitude to the women in my life


Luchis cooked by Didu for me on an earlier visit to Kolkata


I first came to India on a vacation when I was about three years old.

Part of our stay was in Delhi with my mother's parents. That's when I met my didu or maternal grandmother for the first time. I was her first grandson. I was a very fussy eater and would only eat what my mom would cook for me in that trip. Or so I am told.

One night didu made pantuas. The Bengali version of gulan jamuns. I had never seen anything like that. Was suspicious of the black colour of the sugar soaked cottage cheese balls. I refused to have them.

Then someone managed to convince me to have one. I liked them so much that I finished the whole vessel of pantuas and my didu had to make me a fresh lot the next day. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

We moved into India for good a couple of years later. I was still a fussy eater. I still am. I would refuse to eat Indian food then as that was not what my parents fed me when we were in the UK and then in Iran before coming to India.

There was one exception. The luchi and chholar dal that my Didu made. The Bengali version of puri or fried flat bread made with all purpose flour and a Bangal gram dal. I couldn't get enough of this. No wonder she became my favourite cook.

Meanwhile my mother soldiered on and made fish and chips, chicken and chips, chilli chicken and noodles, fried rice and Spanish omelettes and meatball and chelo kebabs and Iranian pulao so that little me would eat.

She then took up a full time job and raised us by herself after my father passed away. Her travel to work with take upwards of 3 hours in a rickety, sweaty bus from Kolkata to Howrah. She would outsource the cooking to cooks but when we didn't have one, she would come home after a dreary day and cook for us. As she did till recently when we visited her in Kolkata and when I went alone she would cook and send prawn curry and fried beans for K.

K, my wife, is a working woman too. She is not fond of cooking. She had led a sheltered childhood as an only child and didn't have to lift her finger to do anything, I am told, before she got married.

Post our marriage, when we were setting up house, she would dutifully print recipes from the internet or get her grandma's pressure cooker recipe book and would meticulously follow their instructions and make me Hungarian chicken, chicken Adobe (her then boss's recipe), pork and potato curry, ginger garlic chicken and tomato fish and even Kolkata's chicken rezala and do piyaza. She would have happily spent her time outside of the kitchen but she knew I love to eat. She even made some attempts to make dessert but I have been sworn to secrecy to not talk about them.

My mom in law was a working woman too. We would visit my in laws once a week after we got married. My mom in law, again not too fond of cooking, would get back from work on those days and make us our favourite Khara chicken, khara potatoes and white chicken (Parsi dishes) and fry giant pomfrets.

Now she has retired and my father in law has passed away. She comes to visit us on weekends. Every Monday morning she makes poro (spicy Parsi omelettes) and toast for me before I leave for work. She wakes up and keeps everything ready. Starts making the dish as soon as K tells her that I am out of the shower. My breakfast is on the table and ready by the time I dress up and come out to book my Uber/ Ola. Since I have egg white omelettes she makes an omelettes for herself with the eggs yolks. 

Indian mothers don't believe in wasting anything.

I am in Kolkata today to visit Didu, my granny, coincidentally on Woman's Day. The lady who brought up 4 children and 7 grandchildren will possibly not even be aware of the fact that it's Women's Day. Hopefully our going over will brighten up her day. The least one can do.

I realised that K, my mom and my mom in law have all eaten my cooking. I have not been able to cook for Didu though as far I remember.

I need to fix that.

Happy woman's day folks.

And here's the result of an interesting twitter poll that I did. Please follow me on @finelychopped to take part in such discussions


Update: On public demand here's a bit on Banu, also known as Bunkin Banu or Breakin Banu. Banu has been working at our place since 13 years now and has moved with us across three houses. We choose places where she would come to work. She started as a househeld help and them my mom and my mom in law got her to start making rotis at our place. I didn't want to have a cook at home for a while but finally gave in and w gave Banu the duties. She would call me every day and I would give instructions on the phone on what to cook. On some days she would do the prep work and I would cook. Sometimes she is a good student and sometimes we are baffled by what she makes. Over the years she had now introduced some of her own dishes such parathas, kebabs, kheema and she makes quite a nice dhansak as taught by mom in law and her kebabs are a hit in our parties and our friends can't get enough of them. When she comes to work she holds the house together
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