Much ado about alu posto

 alu posto

This post first appeared on The Chopping Board, my space on The Times Of India blogs

I have added some of the facebook discussion which led to this post at the end

Hot Potato… The search for authenticity in recipes

The other day I sat down for lunch at Bijoli Grill at Mumbai and heard folks order an ‘alu posto’ at the next table.

I called the waiter as he went past me and asked if the cooks put holud (turmeric) in their alu posto.

The waiter went to the kitchen, checked, came back, smiled and told me ‘hya, ektu dai’ (Yes, a bit).

Now, asking your waiter about what the folks at the next table have ordered is not part of the necessary etiquette for a Bengali meal. There was a reason behind my question.

A few days back I had shared my alu posto recipe on facebook and mentioned that I had used turmeric when I cooked it this time.

This led to some pretty strong Bong-rage …the common refrain was ‘How could you use holud in alu posto? What were you smoking?’

The point of view being that alu posto should be cooked ideally just with posto (crushed poppy seeds) with very little seasoning…as virginal as possible.

I quickly retracted my stand and made the following statement on my facebook blog page:

“Since some buses have been burnt because I have used turmeric in alu posto I must stress once again that most of my recipes are built on instinct, inspired by what I see around me and my taste preferences. They are NOT text book versions of dishes.
To clarify I use cumin or occasionally even onions in alu posto because I like the flavours of both. I didn't use turmeric earlier but started doing so after seeing yellow alu postos served in Mumbai Bengali restaurants.
No one has taught me this version, it is my version of alu posto and not the quintessential alu posto and it works for me.
So follow the recipe at your own risk.”

That was the end of the story I thought. Except comments then began to pour in.

“Even I add a pinch of holud…looks better”, “I add turmeric too”, “I vote for holud” and so on.

The discussion continued, some said they didn’t add turmeric but they added paanch phoron (Bengali five spice), one said she added neither but hesitatingly admitted that she added garlic (shocked silence) to the posto, most said ‘skip the cumin and onion’, the verdict on kalo jeere (Nigella seeds) was hung …it was much ado about posto after all.

Which set me thinking… can there ever be an authentic Bengali recipe? The ultimate way of cooking things? The Netaji, Tagore, Ray and Suchitra Sen approved way?

I mean there are doi maachh’s with onions and without, prawn malai curries with tomatoes and without and then there are those folks at Opar Bangla or Bangladesh who fox those of us here by making ilish gravies with onions and garlic in them.

Kurush, a Parsi married to a Bengali, a caterer and an archeologist, once told me that though he can make it (‘eating is believing,’ Kurush), he will never prepare kosha mangsho for a Bengali client.

“They will say this is not the way my mother used to make it”

Well this is not just a Bengali problem.

I have come across Parsi dhansaks which are of different hues of brown depending on whose house or which restaurant you are having it at. Dosas that range from the razor sharp plasticky Frisbees of Mumbai’s Shetty restaurants to soft cuddly security blanket-like dosas that I have had cooked by folks’ moms. As someone pointed out recently the Gujarati, Sindhi and Maharashtrian kaadis are different. And the only thing that I remember from Pankaj Mishra’s ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana’, a book I read in high school, is the claim that no two butter chickens are the same.

We don’t really have a formal culinary tradition in India do we?

Like the Vedas, the Indian cooking tradition is more oral than literary…handed down across generations…adapted by each new recipient. There is a certain laissez fare to our kitchens with measures being approximate, cooking times amorphous, methods as well.

It is probably now with the explosion of cooking content in media, and blogs where folks are documenting and sharing recipes, that one’s getting some method to the madness. The danger of course is that the gay abandon that characterizes the Indian cooking idiom could turn monochromatic and dull.

But that’s a long long way ahead. Till then one can not but feel for folks who set up Indian restaurants and have to feed folks like us with our calipers of food memories and point of view on how things should be cooked.

Or is culinary absolutism only a Bengali thing?

Maybe I will just skip the holud next time I make alu posto.

The Facebook discussion that led to this

  • Gargi Raychakraborty Even I add a pinch of 'holud'..makes it look better to me somehow:)

    30 July at 13:43 · LikeUnlike

  • Raunak Kundu I add turmeric as well....nothing wrong in it

    30 July at 13:45 · LikeUnlike

  • Raja Sinha vote for holud/vs non holud aloo posto :), a pinch of holud actually is gud.

    30 July at 13:47 · LikeUnlike

  • Debasmita Majumder Everybody's recipe has a bit of a tweak, to suit their taste... whats the hungama about then!?

    30 July at 13:47 · LikeUnlike

  • Kurush F Dalal ek chutki bhar holud ka tatste tum kya jaano ....

    30 July at 13:52 · LikeUnlike · 1

  • Antara Ray isn't it actually great to have so many versions of the same dish? you get bored with one, you can always try another. lol @the burnt buses

    30 July at 13:53 · UnlikeLike · 1

  • Chandrima Sarkar Dada normally edeshi people cook aloo posto without turmeric & bangal people use turmeric in posto recipes. I tamper with onion seeds and onion while cooking aloo tastes gr8 :-)

    30 July at 13:54 via Mobile · UnlikeLike · 1

  • Priyanka Mitra My God....u are a true celebrity now....u even have to write these explanations. and I agree with Debasmita everyone adds their own tweak... thats what makes eating at the neighbours so interesting ;)

    30 July at 13:55 · UnlikeLike · 2

  • Chandrima Sarkar ‎& I also add turmeric...

    30 July at 13:55 via Mobile · LikeUnlike

  • Finely Chopped Actually my earlier blog layout did have a disclaimer to this effect but the new one doesn't allow it. I don't have a problem with 'you don't put holud in Alu posto' comments actually. My version is self taught and I like it :) that's all

    30 July at 13:55 via Mobile · LikeUnlike

  • Kurush F Dalal ‎^^^ LOL :D

    30 July at 13:56 · LikeUnlike

  • Finely ChoppedChandrima Sarkar tahole I have inadvertantly stumbled upon my Bangal roots :)

    30 July at 14:26 · LikeUnlike

  • Finely Chopped ‎@priyanka well for all times i have riled against folks who make Thai wihtout fish sauce

    30 July at 14:27 · LikeUnlike

  • Finely Chopped Kurush, well now I know why you refuse to make kosha mangsho for Bengali clients :P

    30 July at 14:28 · LikeUnlike · 2

  • ISingCakes & more ‎@Kalyan..this is such a good explanation. I have had experiances where people did not like my tweaking their recipes as per my taste..:)) I am just a Wee Blogger in proper English terms..could only back out and delete my tweaks:(

    30 July at 14:31 · UnlikeLike · 1

  • Anuradha Roy Will send in curry recipe - can be made at home easily...

    30 July at 14:35 · LikeUnlike

  • Monidipa Dey arre kalyan, chill. ....even my family uses turmeric in alu posto:-D

    30 July at 14:40 · Edited · UnlikeLike · 1

  • Monidipa Dey and we use onions n paanch foron :-D

    30 July at 14:41 · Edited · LikeUnlike

  • Chandrima Sarkar ‎@ kalyan da a whole hearted bangal this side too :-)

    30 July at 14:44 via Mobile · UnlikeLike · 1

  • Parna Halder In alo posto i donot use turmeric.but occasionally use onions and pach phoron

    30 July at 14:44 · LikeUnlike

  • Rini Simon Khanna ‎....oh you so disappoint me....a thinking bangali...damn......its just aloo poshto.....why don't you add some garam masala too would get them to burn the cars too next time !!

    30 July at 14:51 · LikeUnlike · 1

  • Finely Chopped At parna I do use paanch phoron occasionally. Rini I occasionally put tej paata and elaich and say hundred hail didis in the confession box

    30 July at 14:59 via Mobile · LikeUnlike · 3

  • Smita Mukerji Among pravasi's (I mean the propah ones, for generations) haldi is quite frequently used not only in aaloo posto, but also widely in the accompanying "biuli'r" dal (better known among 'em as kolaer dal). I am aware though that some of them don't. But it is far from "blasphemy"!

    30 July at 15:17 via Mobile · LikeUnlike · 1

  • Subhasree Basu Kalyan, tere mooh mein ghee holud :-)

    30 July at 15:21 · LikeUnlike · 1

  • Finely Chopped Could we say 'the turmeric knight rises'?

    30 July at 15:27 via Mobile · LikeUnlike · 1

  • Smita Mukerji ‎ it needed defending(?)

    30 July at 15:34 via Mobile · UnlikeLike · 1

  • Nikhil Merchant ‎*looks for link* feels yellow that he cant find it :(

    30 July at 16:29 · UnlikeLike · 1

  • BongMom CookBook I HAVE to have Turmeric in alu posto. Most people use it except for some region

    30 July at 22:50 · LikeUnlike

  • BongMom CookBook Yeah, why are you even defending ? Cumin, paanch Phoron, Kalonji -- one or the other is uses anyway.

    30 July at 22:51 · UnlikeLike · 2

  • Finely Chopped according to K the only person she has seen not put haldi in alu posto is my mom! This after I told the camera in the shoot that my alu posto is modeled on my mom's! but actually the haldi was more a restaurant oh cal influence

    31 July at 00:24 · LikeUnlike

  • Finely Chopped here's the link Nikhil Merchant

    That Seventies Show: Alu Posto | Finely Chopped

    Intrigued by the 'Seventies Show' tag? Well alu posto means potatoes (alu) cooked in poppy seeds (posto). The Flower Child of the food world.

    31 July at 00:25 · LikeUnlike · 1 ·

  • Finely Chopped Well while I inadvertently have sparked off the yellow revolution with people coming out of their caves I must say that I am more fixated about alu posto being dry than it being holud and like I said it can't be like hospital food

  • Comments

    Lazy Pineapple said…
    You had a tough time there with so many different opinions about a single dish. Indians truly are passionate about their food.

    I have had Aloo Posto without the turmeric. I guess even with turmeric it would taste nice :)
    Tampha said…
    Hear hear for the intrepid foodie :) I was actually searching for aloo posto recipe online when i chanced upon your blog. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it & completely relate to the whole 'version' discussion :-D
    Kalyan Karmakar said…
    Thanks Lazy Pienapple & Tampha...well this is the idea of fun for us bengalis :)