Three half Bengalis. Two non Bengalis married to half Bengalis. One non Bengali married to a full Bengal. One full Bengali.
Yes, it was a rather algebraic Diwali evening at our place this year.
But then, as I wrote sometime back, as a Bengali for me it’s more about Kali Pujo, fire crackers (politically incorrect now) and mangsho or meat, rather than Diwali. Most of which happened this Kali Pujo evening except that we were too tired after the adda to go to the Bandra Kali Pujo where dinner was served at midnight. The fire crackers were burst outside our building by folks way into midnight.
This evening in a way started way back in 2009 when I picked up a book called by someone called Simon Majumdar. A name my mom recently said she found lyrical.
The book was titled ‘Eat My Globe’.
I was flying to Kolkata that day and opened the book to read. I normally read a couple of pages of a book in a flight and then fall asleep. Not this time. I kept reading page after page of the story of this half Bengali half Welsh, one time white collar worker and food blogger who one day decided to get out of the time sheet, start afresh, see the world, and eat while he was at it.
A regular guy. One of us. Not a chef. Not an author. Just a blogger.
The honest, no holds barred, style of writing had me in its grips and I finished the book before I headed back from Kolkata after a short work trip.
You might probably know the rest of the story of how I wrote to Simon and how he became a sounding board for me if you have read this post of mine.
I had ended the post saying ‘So come over Simon, we will hopefully Eat My India together.”
Well, Simon and his lovely wife, Sybil, did come over and we did Eat My India, or Eat My Mumbai actually, together.
Simon’s first words to me, “you are much taller than I thought”.
The first night was at Bohri Mohalla where I went with the jet lagged and sneezing Majumdar couple. Gurda (kidney) which they loved and bheja masala at The Indian Hotel. Then to Haji Tikka or Bar- B- Que…kaleji or liver kebabs, luscious beef koftas and then the kheeri (cow’s udder) which was the show stopper like it always is to anyone I introduce it to. The ‘mother meat’ as I call it. Both the Bara handi shops, Valibhai & Surti, were shut unfortunately and we headed to Taj Ice Creams. Sitafal and then the strawberry which floored the couple. We got to see the process which they have followed for 120 years at Taj for making ice creams before we headed to the Vivanta and some pretty impressive cocktails at Wink.
Some of the folks following my twitter and facebook feeds got very excited when they saw me upload Simon’s pics. It was a celeb sighting happening out there. For me this was a bit strange. Simon was this celeb for me four years back when he was just a name on a book cover. Since then he has grown immensely in his chosen career but he has also become a friend and mentor to me. When he told me he was coming to Mumbai and wanted to catch up with me it was like a friend coming over. Someone one was really looking forward to meeting.
And that’s how our first evening went. A regular evening that I spent with two wonderful folks with disarming smiles. Except when the camera comes out, Simon snarls on principle. No hang ups or fuss as we navigated the parts of Mumbai one sails above on the J J Flyover normally. My favourite eating spot. At no place did Simon even mention that he was a food writer or a TV show host when he spoke to the people at Bohri. Most of the evening was spent with Simon telling me about his life, his travels, his point of view on food, his Bengaliness, of how chefs take themselves so seriously that they forget about the customer, about how people take food so seriously that they forget that every house has it’s own version of daal, of how one prefers to look for and give ideas rather than recipes, of how attending PR organised restaurant reviews compromises the integrity of bloggers and makes al food blogs look the same with multiple people attending…that cooking is all bout creativity, choice and likes. Simon sounded exactly the way he read in his book and his blog…and he had lots of advice to me and ideas on things to do…like he has given so many times before when I have sought it.
Next evening was Diwali/ Kali Pujo and I had invited Simon and Sybil over for a Bengali dinner. They came all the way from Cuffe Parade despite being under the weather and sipping endless cups of green tea.
I had a called a few of our other friends including Sue and Nathan to whom I have long promised to cook a Bengali meal. They got some sparkling over and were thoughtful enough to get glasses for it too. Their wedding gift in fact and even a non alcoholic sparkling for K who’s not fond of wines. Really thoughtful guests.
Banu’s kebabs to start and nimkis from Calcutta which evoked childhood memories for Simon.
Then there was alu posto that I cooked – ginger, panchphoron, chillies tempered in mustard oil, cubed potatoes salt and hint of turmeric added to this and then crushed posto soaked in water added to it, laced with mustard oil at the end. Chingri malai curry, this time with mustard oil which gave it a golden hue. The prawns quite juicy at the end. I hate it when restaurants over-cook prawns. The other dish was kosha mangsho which I cooked in ghee rather than mustard oil. About two hours of cooking in the afternoon in total.
Desserts were mishti doi from Sweet Bengal which everyone just loved and rasgullas and gulab jamuns which our other guest brought for us along with many gifts.
The verdict from the judge of Iron Chef and The Next Iron Chef?
Well, this is what Simon had to say on his facebook page on the food:
“A lovely Bengali meal prepared for us at the home of my chum Kalyan Karmakar (@finelychopped) last night, and so good to finally meet another online friend, Manisha (@sassyfork). Lots of great food, but I think my favourite dish was the Aloo posto, a dish made with potatoes and poppy seeds”
I must admit that I was a tad nervous when I cooked and was over the moon to see our guests make 2,3 and even 4 trips to where the food was served to refill their plates. This is why one cooks after all.
Like all true stars Simon is very honest, very self deprecatory, no chips on his shoulder, in fact he makes you feel like a hero though it is the other way round.
Indulge me a bit, I know this will sound vain, but I just have to share what Simon put on his facebook page after our Bohri Mohalla walk.
“Terrifically pleased to finally meet with India's foremost food blogger, Kalyan Karmakar (@finelychopped) tonight as he showed us around the Muslim Bohri Mohalla area of Mumbai. Top dishes were char grilled Khiri (cow udder) and strawberry ice cream from Taj, a place that has been making it the same way for 120 years. A truly enjoyable evening”
Somebody pinch me and pinch me really hard.
Thanks Simon. You are the man.
And I am still celebrating.
This Bohri Mohalla walk got me thinking, do you think there would be folks interested in walks like these? Internationally, city walks are big and they are slowly coming up in Mumbai too. Would be fun to do food walks in places I love eating …Bohri Mohalla, Fort, Colaba…wonder if people would be excited…winter would be a good time to explore these trails of food…do write in…would a Finely Chopped Walk be of interest? Maybe for once I should see an idea through?