An Englishman in New York

The Bengali community is famous for many things. Their love for food, for travel, for idle chats (adda), for their siesta, for the arts, for protesting, for watching cricket and football, for literature...the list goes on.

I have spent the largest part of my life (about 20 yrs) in Calcutta in West Bengal. This was sandwiched between my early years in the UK and Iran and the last nine odd years at Bombay. I often wonder about how strong my Bengali roots are. I don't read Bengali books, I don't watch Bengali movies (though I do catch the odd Uttam Suchitra flick on telly), I don't follow Bengali music, I can't wear the dhoti, I have not married a Bengali girl and I think more in English than in Bengali.
I do love to travel though, despite difficulties I support Bengal's only sportsperson of repute, Saurav Ganguly, I speak in Bengali to Bengalis, I write about Bengal in my blog, and I have recently developed a taste for Bengali writers who write in English, especially Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitrita Banerjee and Amitav Ghose.

My biggest link with Bengal is its food. Which is a bit strange. I remember not eating Bengali food when I first came to India. My mother would have to make macaroni, Spanish omelets, noodles, fish and chips, chicken and chips and so on. I remember that my grandfather and my aunt were trying to convince me to have daal as late as when I was 14. I gradually began to eat Bengali food but did not experiment much and was bored by the sheer monotony of rui curry, chicken curry, daal and rice which is all that I would eat.

I began to miss and appreciate Bengali food after I shifted to Bombay. That's when I would make trips to 'Hotel New Bengal' to have the Bengali thalis and occasionally to Oh Calcutta which was too expensive for me in those days. I used to really look forward to my trips back to Calcutta and my mother's alu posto (potatoes in poppy seeds) and macher mudo diye daal (lentils with fish head) and my grandmother's luchi and chholar daal.

I first began to feel at home when we rented our first house in Bombay, discovered the local fish market and I began to cook. There was no looking back since then.
My Sunday, today was a typical example of how I come in touch with my Bengali roots.
I went to the Khar fish market and bought the fresh water fish that Bengalis are fond of. This is the funny part. I am not too fond of eating fish. However, I like buying fish as it reminds me of my growing up days in Calcutta when I would help my mother with the household work. And I love cooking. The best part is Kainaz loves eating fish. So we all live happily ever after.

Except the fish of course.

The following pictures might be disturbing to the faint hearted. They are of three types of fresh water fish that Bengalis adore. They are my catch from the market today.
Eelish or Hilsa

Rui/ Rohu or river carp

Parshe or Boi (in Gujarati)

For those interested in the fish prices in Bombay. The prices are:
  • Hilsa: 250 Rs (USD 6) a kilo which I brought down to rs 200 after bargaining
  • Rui - portions: Rs 140 (USD 3.5) a kilo
  • Parshe: Rs 100 ( USD 2.5) a kilo which I got ar Rs 80
At the fish market, I bumped into Mr Poltu of Pratap Caterers. They serve Bengali food in weddings and send a daily lunch too. I first had their food in a friend's wedding. I used to order from them quite frequently at one point. They used to charge Rs 60 (1.5 USD) for a meal - daal, vegetable, fish, rice and roti. The taste was quite authentic though a trifle oily. I have called from them for office parties and dinners at home. I would strongly recommend them if you live within Bandra to Andheri. Poltu was getting his fish cleaned up in the market.

I then went to Sweet Bengal to pick some Bengali sweets for lunch. Calcuttans or those fresh from Calcutta would baulk at the average price of ten Rs (25 cents US) per sweets. i feel that's fine as they are the only folks who provide authentic Bengali sweets in Bombay. I picked up a mishti doi, dorbesh and ice cream sandesh for me and the North Indian kaju katli for Kainaz.


k said…
Humble suggestion from a copywriter - rechristen this entry as An Englishman in NewYork
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@K: done master...with a planner's two bits to get the logic right