'We are family' ... Didu's recipes & Dadu's Cafe Mocha rush

Dadu passed away on 28th April, 2011. About seven months after I wrote this post.

I realised that I returned from Kolkata without eating rolls or phuchkas. Possibly because I don't miss them so much thanks to Hanglas at Bandra. Plus I spent most of my meals with family as it happens on short trips. And met a couple of good friends. I came back feeling satiated.

As my mom said the day I left, I'd managed to have all my favourites from her repertoire in a short span - pulao, chicken curry and hilsa fry that I gorged on before I left for my flight. She spent all morning cooking these. And ruier matha diye daal (fish head with daal), alu bhaaja (fried potatoes) and rui kaalia too. There was a satisfied look on her face which crept through the melancholy of farewells.

We went to our grandparent's house the previous day for lunch. My grandmom, or Didu as we call her, cooked for me! She is considered to be THE cook in the family. Chicken curry, fish curry, payesh ... all this after a fairly complex eye surgery which she had recently, piercing knee aches and frequent stone problems. I tried to get a hang of how old she is. She gave a wan smile and said that no one recorded her age, 'like the trees and the leaves'. Common consensus with my mom pegged Didu's age at around eighty two.

What was on offer was 'thor'er chochchori' made with the stem of banana trees. She supervised her cook for this. She made the rui curry and chicken curry herself as she has as much faith in her cook as I have in Banu. And then made payesh (rice pudding) for me too.

She was a bit nonplussed and giggled when I asked her for the recipes. "I cook it the way you guys do". These are what I finally managed to get out of her. Any errors are entirely mine.

Rui Kaalia:

  • Fry the rohu in salt and haldi. Keep aside. Fry potol or parwal
  • Heat oil in a saucepan
  • Fry white jeera (cumin seeds) in the pan
  • Add cubed potatoes, green chillies, paste of turmeric powder, salt, coriander and cumin seeds ("you can use ready made too')
  • Keep stirring till the potato cooks.
  • Add water and let the gravy form
  • Add the fish and potols and let it cook

Chicken curry:

  • Marinate the chicken in curd, salt, turmeric and red chilly powder and put it in the deep fridge and keep it overnight
  • Thaw it the next morning
  • Heat some oil in a pressure pan
  • Fry some ground onion in it
  • Add some ground ginger and garlic. Stir till brown
  • Add the chicken and halved potatoes and keep stirring till the skin browns. My mom observed that Didu uses a lot of potatoes in her chicken curries. I wonder if that came from her having to feed a large family with a limited budget. That's why potatoes were introduced in biriyanis after all when they Nawabs of Oudh were banished to Calcutta
  • Add water. Transfer to a pressure cooker. Wait for three whistles. Let it cook on a low flame for some more time

Look, I know that these recipes are not very precise. But do keep in mind that they were not used to thinking in terms of recipes those days. Learning was through observation. Cooking was taught directly to the daughter by the mother. Today my mom had her point of view on the recipes - lemon versus curd - and was shushed by both of us.

I resisted the temptation to tamper with what Didu told me. You don't mess with a winning act after all. I could have probed more. But I suddenly became the chubby, spoilt three year old that I was when I first met Didu and fell in love with her cooking. I didn't want to share my  Didu or her cooking with others.

Through lunch I saw my Dadu (grandpa), who has entered his nineties, watching a cookery show on TV. It was a very badly produced show on a Bengali channel. The camera focused on an elderly lady in a bright yellow sari and thick glasses. There was an enthusiastic anchor in a white salwar suit asking her questions I guess. The lady who was cooking was quite stiff and static and they didn't focus the camera on the food. They did so when the dish was ready. Some sort of a rich curry.

Dadu broke into a grin, turned to Didu and said 'dekhhechho?" (have you seen?).

Didu told me that Dadu has suddenly developed an interest in good food and often asks her to make 'Chou en Lai'. Noodles! A reference to the Chinese premier, Zhou En Lai, from Nehru's Hindi Chindi Bhai Bhai days of the 1960s.

I woke from a nice snooze when my mom suggested that I take Dadu and Didu out for a drive in my brother's car. They hardly go out these days and it would be a change of scene for them. We managed to convince them and drove off. I had to drive on second gear given suburban South Calcutta's heavy traffic, honking rickshaws, shrieking autos, bullying trucks, ambling pedestrians, sharp bends, steep speed breakers and the delicate health of my passengers. But then I have learnt my driving on the battle grounds of Tulsi Pipe Road, Mumbai. We survived.

Felt really good to see my Dadu strapped up beside me in the front seat. I remembered how he would choose the front seat of taxis when he would take me out. And how I was told that the taxis of Delhi were 'Dadu's cars' when I came to India from England as a kid and asked where his car was.

We went to the Cafe Coffee Day at Bijoygarh at the beginning of Golf Green after I drove up and down the empty stretch. I must say that the staff at the CCD there was very warm and effecient. It was my grandparents fist visit to a coffee shop. I introduced Didu to peach ice tea. Dadu to Cafe Mocha. Dadu's eyes lit up when I gave him the menu card and he pointed his fingers at the fancy sandwiches which looked liked the ones he saw on TV shows. The chicken garlic sandwich and chicken garlic sandwich at CCD, Bijoygorh, were really fresh and met Dadu's approval. Mom in the meanwhile mopped up the froth of her very well made cappuccino. A passion she shares with her daughter in law.

I drove Dadu and Didu back feeling really happy. Remembering the million times that they had taken me out. No wonder even Tony Bourdain goes a bit weak in his knees when he talks of grandmas *

The day they didn't end there. Mom and I headed back to my Mesho and Mashi (uncle and aunt's) house for dinner. They are really big hosts. Food is always abundant at their place and the sort you would dream to eat of. We returned home after a very ethereal mustard and shojne daata (gourd drumsticks) chochchori, fish kaalia with a touch of curd, a very Nawabi Bengali mutton curry, rice, oodles of my favourite mishti doi and lots of adda (chatting). I drove my mom back after midnight. Well after my curfew time during college.

*"I often talk about the "Grandma rule" for travellers. You may not like Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey. It may be overcooked and dry - and her stuffing salty and studded with rubbery pellets of giblets you find unpalatable in the extreme. You may not even like turkey at all. But it is 'Grandma's Turkey'. And you are in Grandma's house. So shut the eff up and eat it. And afterwards say, "Thank you, Grandma, why, yes, yes of course I'd love seconds"  Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw.


Ushnish Ghosh said…
I am greatly moved , kalyan
Ushnish Ghosh said…
I am greatly moved , kalyan
Anonymous said…
This is such a heart warming and a very very endearing post!!!

Loved your grandparents!!!

Rhea said…
I loved the pictures!! Wish I could've done the same with my Grandparents too. They're the absolute best! :-)

Something tells me that even if the measurements are down pat with the two recipes posted here, the taste will never be the same.
Unknown said…
Tomar Didu'r smile ta ki shundor. No wonder Dadu fell for her. Khub shundor post, Kalyan. Its the family stories with food that move me. Bless you and your family.
Gobri said…
This post is a masterpiece with just the personal touch it deserves.
For once I did not focus on the recipes :)
sharmila said…
home cooked food by our older generation is always special ... and notice they used to be very simple recipes too. a pinch of jeera here and a dash of mustard there and they'll come up with somehting heavenly. always love them.
your desc and snaps of dadu and didu made me smile throughout the post.
Amazing post! Felt as if you were talking about my grandma too! Glad you could go and have fun with grandma, grandpa. Cherished memories for all...
Sassy Fork said…
That is so sweet!!!
Your grandma looks younger than her age and your grandpa's picture in the coffee shop is absolutely adorable!!
The Bride said…
Your grandparents looked so cute in CCD. Did Dadu approve of the Cafe Mocha too? It's my fave, second only to iced tea.
Anonymous said…
Your Didu's chicken curry looks ethereal! Had me salivating at the word 'go'. Brought all the happy 'murgi'r jhhol' memories back at home. Planning to make it for Sunday lunch. This is sure to guarantee a good old 'dupurer ghoom' soon after. :)

tomar post porte porte aj chokhe jal ese gelo Kalyan. tumi khub lucky je aaj odea nie baire jete parcho jamon kore akdin onara tomake haat dhore ghuriechen. Amar Dida Dadu hatat kore 3 maser moddhe chole jan. ami takhan soddo job join korechilam. kato iche chilo onader nie ghurbo, je restaurant e khete bhalobasten sekhane nie jabo. kintu amar se sujog hayni. khub mishti tomar Dida'r hasi amar didao amra gele thik amon korei anek ranna korten (chokhe pray dekhten na takhon, tao). May God bless all of you and may you get many more wondeful memories with them.
its one the best post of your so gripping,with pictures and everything!
Scarlett said…
Dude, I'm so making this chicken curry w/ pulao once my wretched diet gets over. Sunday afternoon lunch is screaming out to me already!
Unknown said…
Im catching up on reading your blog. I cant believe I would have missed this one.. It such a heartwarming post. Lucky fellow you.
kaniska said…
superbly written. i often wish i had the opportunity to thank all my lovex ones who i have lost - my grandparents, my father, my uncle, my aunt, a family friend who was my most regular babysitter. glad you have had the opportunity.
Bong Mom said…
That was a really lovely post and you know that.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks Ghosh Kaku, it was a mgcial evening

Thanks kaus

Rhea, completely agree

Thanks Pree, I did want to marry her when i was about five years or so

Thanks Gobri

Sharmila, that's what happens when you cook for people you love I guess
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks Somoo
True, Sassy Fork, they make quite a cute couple
@The Bride, he did love his cafe mocha
@Rupa. murgir jhol followed by ghoom sounds great
@thanks so much Sayantani
@Harman, glad you like it
@Scarlett, i still look behind me when someone calls me 'dude'
@Curry Spice, true, I know that :)
@Kaniska, as long as we wake up in time. Difficult though
@Bong Mom thanks :)
k said…
The question is, what next? dadu Didu at a Lounge Bar? :)
Anjali Koli said…
How you must be counting your blessing to have your grandparents around. Simply super post.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks. Sad to see them suffer such ill health
Anonymous said…
I weas close to my maternal grand parents too. My didu would fry prawns for me secretly and put the whole lot in my mouth so that her other grand children do not see it.If i cried she too would start crying. She could never see any of her grand children suffer. it is a blessing to have your grandparents around when you are growing up.The food they cooked were simple and delicious. My favourite is Shorsheyer tel diye alu sheddo and bhat accompinied with mushurir dal and tetto bhaja or tetto sheddo. I would get to hear storoes from the Ramayana and mahabharta while she would be feeding me and my cousins.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Anon: thanks for sharing your memories...grandparents are indeed special
deepika sahu said…
very heart-warming piece... i miss my father who was a great foodie and a superb cook so much after reading this...lovely priceless picture too..
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks for writing in a reminding me of that wonderful day Deepika. Seven months later Dadu passed away. Your comment reminded me of that lovely day
Unknown said…
What a beautiful tribute to your grandparents - this post . Food is such an evocative medium , isnt it ? My mother in law is 85 and when she enters the kitchen - wow ! We skip breakfast on those days so that we can gorge on the wonderful food she produces and mind you - all the measurements are based on "andaaj moton niyo "!
evolvingtastes said…
I started reading your blog very recently, and came here thanks to the Alur Jhol post. So beautifully captured!
rita roy said…
So nice to see baba sipping cold coffee....as if he is right there,.he loved his eating outs....even if it meant having stomach upsets later.....station puri aloo, Campa, samosas, and what not.....thanks for the post...