I was quite excited when I received a review copy of ‘Bong Mom’s Cookbook’ written by Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta recently.
Her blog of the same name is one of the earliest blogs that I began to follow and have continued to do so since. We’d been interacting with each other through our blogs for about 3 to 4 years now, if not more, and I was quite happy to know that she was writing a book. I was looking forward to getting hold of her book and pounced on it the moment I received it.
I was a bit apprehensive to be honest after the last time a publisher had sent me a cook book where I couldn’t progress beyond half as the writing was very very mediocre.Sandeepa’s book, however, I finished over two successive evenings.
Her book is everything that one expects while reading a blog. Relatable, engaging, personal.
In the book Sandeepa makes no bones about the fact that she is neither a chef nor an ‘expert’. That she has learnt her cooking over the years after she had to fend for herself when she left home for Mumbai with no mommy to look after her in her new city. And then after she became a mom herself in the US and had to take on the role her mother played, in a foreign land, in a different age, juggling her life as she looked after her husband and her daughters.
In her book Sandeepa writes about recipes she has tried, those that worked for her, and occasionally those that didn’t. She doesn’t claim to be the final word in Bengali. This book is not what you should buy if you are looking for the ‘Ultimate Bengali Cook Book’ or an ultimate guide to Bengali customs and traditions. What is ‘ultimate Bengali’ is questionable of course as Ritu Dalmia points out in her recent book on veg cooking. Ritu talks about how she tried to get the recipe of Bengali begun bhaaja and how her Bengali friends gave her a ‘definitive’ recipe of Begun Bhaaja each from their end. None of which matched.
So what you get in the book are Bengali recipes which Sandeepa has tried and has worked for her. Recipes that would give you a canvas to create your own ones. In a real world. A world where you could be living far away from the rice fields of Bordhoman or the eelish laden water of the Podda. A world where Sandeepa’s pragmatic enough to say that the conventional breakfast for many Bengalis today is (ugh) muesli.
She does give the recipe of luchi and kosha mangsho though.
Sandeepa is a blogger and realises that what makes a blog endearing and enduring are the stories in them. Her book reflects this and is a collection of her recipes stuffed in between her stories in the best traditions of patishaptas or Bengali crepes.
This could often be a recipe for disaster as holding the attention for a paying reader over a book is very different from than writing a blog post. It’s the same as the difference between 20 20 cricket and test cricket. It’s the reason why a Ravindra Jadeja will never be a Kapil Dev. I had once read a book by a blogger whose blog I like. The book was disastrous.
For a first time writer, Sandeepa manages to smartly carry her personalised, light, irony smacked style of writing competently through the book. It is possible for such books to become too culturally referenced and specific and for the humour to become stale after a while. Sandeepa adeptly avoids that leaving us with quite a pleasant read.
Chances are that if you are Bengali you would find something to relate with in her book.
For me there was lots. Using packaged parathas for egg rolls, converting stale bread into savoury French toast, the search for fish in an alien land, adding turmeric to alu posto, getting bugged by snarky Bengali comments on the blog ‘let me teach you the ‘correct’ way types and, most of all, standing outside STD (!) booths in Mumbai to make twice a week calls home.
Good show Sandeepa, proud of you.
This book is currently available on online sites such as Flipkart from what I understand and will be in stores in India soon.