Is beginning to enjoy one's native cuisine what they call 'growing up'?


Pabda machher jhol in the big bowl, shukto in the small one and rice
Didn't like any of these while growing up!
 

I thought of writing this post after I sat down for lunch yesterday.

The menu was the remnant of a bevy of Bengali dishes that I had called in from Bhojohori Manna, Oshiwara, the previous night.

I looked down at my plate, saw the contents, and smiled wryly. There was shukto, a sort of a Bengali vegetarian stew, pabda machher jhol or a fish curry with river fish and rice.

I smiled because these were the very dishes that my mother would fret to make me eat as a kid. I was brought up on a western diet in my formative years. I was introduced to Bengali food only after we moved into Kolkata. I didn't take to it in the beginning and would kick up a fuss at meal times if given Bengali food. 

I was not fond of plain rice with curries or fries or daals. I would want a Chinese fried rice or a Farsi Pulao instead. I would prefer chicken and chips or fish and chips to Bengali fish curries. Dishes my mom would cook for me when we lived in the UK and then Iran. She continued cooking these specially just for me in Kolkata too.

I stopped fussing and began to eat Bengali food in my pre- teens, when the fortunes of our family changed after my father's death, and I was not given an option to do otherwise. I never really enjoyed Bengali food much though. Eating shukto was still out of the question.

I began to appreciate Bengali food only after I left home and moved into Mumbai for my first job. I would go to the mess at the Hotel New Bengal terrace and have the Bengali thalis there. After I got married and rented a place, I taught myself how to cook in our tiny makeshift kitchen. I would look up the Internet, occasionally ask my grandmom and mom for directions and at times just follow my instincts. I taught myself how to cook Bengali dishes ,or my 'version' of them as many traditionalists say. I started to enjoy eating them too. As did my wife, a Parsi. 

Then Bengali restaurants began to open in Mumbai and we loved digging into the Bengali fare at the Oh Calcuttas and the Calcutta Clubs and Bhojohori Manna and Peetuk.

I stuck true to my Bengali genes and became a 'bhaater poka' or a rice lover. Though I am fond of Basmati which most Bengalis don't usually have on a day to day basis.

I ate shukto at Bijoli Grill and then Bhojohori Manna and really enjoyed the restaurant version. It was creamier and sweeter than the more watery and savoury shukto made in my house in Kolkata. While eating in Bengalis restaurants and in the houses of friends, and when I made my own innovations too, I realised that there could be many interpretations of the same dish across Bengalis houses. I even opened up to Bengali vegetarian dishes (there are many) which I would scorn while growing up when chicken and meat were considered special and coveted a lot more.

I was never a big fan of fish though. Within fish I would prefer rohu and kaatla which are 'kaata maach' (big fish cut into pieces' and are less bony. My mother would get that for me everyday while I was growing up.

I was not that fond of 'chhoto maachh' or small fish like pabda, parshe or tangra which my mother liked. My wife took to them though when she tasted them for the first time in Kolkata. So I would get them for her from the markets of Mumbai and cook these for her.

Now I don't mind the odd pabda in a meal.

In other words, I noticed that as I grow older, I have began to appreciate my native Bengali cuisine more and have began to love dishes that I wouldn't even touch as a kid today.

When I did a Facebook Live Video on this topic, people joined in saying they felt the same too. That they had begun to appreciate the food they had grown up on a lot more as they grew older. 

And not just Bengalis, people from other communities said so too. I know that my wife looks forward to Parsi food more than when we had started dating years back.

The only thing we were not sure of in the discussion was whether this applied only to people who had migrated and moved out on home. Or whether even those who have stayed at home feel the same increase in affection to their native food.


Makes me wonder what lies at the root of this. Is it cultural memories that drive us? Something physiological which makes are genes crave for the food our forefathers ate? 

What has been your experience? Have you begun to enjoy your native food more as you grow older? Are there dishes that you would hate as a child that you love now?

Please leave a comment and tell me what your point of view on this is and don't forget to mention if you are someone who has moved out of home.

Comments

jjs said…
Its always pleasure to read your column. I started cooking in my late teens and I really enjoyed it, but my cooking was limited to stylish cooking, according to my mother as I would cook chinese, punjabi, south indian etc. By the time we shifted to Delhi, i was more into cooking thai, italian etc. In the last five years, my love for bangali khabar has increased. I started making shukto, labda, choto maach, muita everything at home. My ma, my biggest critic says I make the best shukto, mothers love.
Anonymous said…
Yup...Same here While growing up, I'd like to eat everything, except my native TamBram food (sambar, rasam, kootu, aviyal, etc.). Now though, I find myself appreciating TamBram food a lot more, although I still wouldn't go to a restaurant to eat it...But some people do grow up liking their community's food too, though here in the US, anything Indian qualifies as "native" -- my 7 year old niece loves Idli, Dosa, Rasam, etc. and would eat it anyday over other American food options.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
hey thanks, JJs. For people who start as hobby cooks, cooking fancy food is exciting. The test is to do what our mothers and grandmothers did. Cook to feed people every day. I would love to have a shukto made by you
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey anon, do you think this could be a function of your ( I assume) moving out of home. I was in Chennai recently where I was told that people still like traditional breakfasts over western ones. I found that very interesting
Aparna J said…
I am completely to your viewpoint! As we grow older we tend to develop a fondness for our native cusine.. I feel it binds me closer to my roots even though we may stay so far away.. I try and learn all that my mother ever made for us in my growing up years!
Cheers to u! I am a fan of ur articles!
usha pratap said…
As I teenager I would hate the smell and taste of coconut oil(was a Mallu in MP). Probably cause all my peers did. ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT NOW.
Zareen said…
I tottaly agree with what you say about our native food growing on us, iam a parsee born and bought up in ahmedabad, Gujarat.I am now married and settled here , my husbands a telegu, and we both miss and try to recreate a lot of recipes that our grandmothers have fed us as kids. A sense of nostalgia with images, fragrances and stories from each ones childhood becomes conversation at most dinner times.
We both being restauranteurs enjoy sharing our tips from.our grand moms and moms kitchens. Its a culinary delight. He is more advrntourous in his meats than me, while I love my fish and seafood...I would conclude its your love and nostalgia which creates craving, its the happiness of those childhood days and sharing above all that makes us crave our authentic cultural food...
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks so much for your comment Aparna. That would inspire me to write more. Yes, I agree that I am learning to appreciate my roots more as I grow older
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Same with mustard oil. We never used it in our house. I would hate it if something was fried or cooked in mustard oil. Refuse to eat it. I do cook with it now
rimpi mukherjee said…
So true...I remember the days of my childhood when my aunt(pishi) would run behind me...to feed me Chorchori. Something I despised throughout my childhood and now some 15 years later it's one of those dishes which comfort me most. Same for so many other dishes like shukto or tomato chutney. Looking at my platter today..I feel I have grown up....with a Bong taste. :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
That's lovely to hear zareen, Where is your restaurant? have you been able to re-create some of your childhood memories there? My mom in law has a neighbour called Zareen aunty> She sends us lovely tarela bumla and ravo. You are not here are you? ;)
jjs said…
Thanks Kalyan, I have been inspired by cooking. One of my favorite is "pomfret in a sleepy coastal coconut milky sauce". Whenever I have Pomfret at home, I will cook the same.
anindya said…
Have been in Pune and Mumbai for 4 years and thats the time when realised the missing of simple Ma cooked delicious food. Over the years which used to look dull and not enticing enough have changed to interesting and exciting. Nice one Kalyan
Kalyan Karmakar said…
pomfret in coconut milk is a perfect pre-cursor to an afternoon nap
Kalyan Karmakar said…
thanks. but now that you are in Calcutta and have access to bengali food do you feel the same?
Kalyan Karmakar said…
I had always liked chutney but never shukto and chorchori. Now i do.
Unknown said…
I am a first generation NRB ( Non-Resident "Bangali"). The growing up years spent in Mumbai and Gujarat fuelled my love for all things non-bengali,food being number one. I could not eat the plain maccher jhol or the patla mangsho which was a staple everyday meal.My eating habits were inclined towards the vegetarian deliciousness of Gujarati food. And now, I hunt down the lanes of Gariahata market for that Masuri daler bori or ready to eat Dhoka mixture packets and argue with my Mom on the advantages of hiner kochuri vs koriarshuti kochuri.
My trips to Kolkata (both personal & offcial) are not complete without all the items I mentioned above. I have a loving Mother-in law who sided with me when I was of the opinion that we might need to take the Duronto express from Kolkata due to the excess baggage I am carrying( it was a Shil-Nora)instead of a quickie flight.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
In a way I was a first gen non-resident Bangali, albeit only till I was 8. So I know exactly what you mean. My habits too were oriented towards western food as we lived in the UK. I shop for chanachur when I got to Kolkata.....once lugged a massive mortar and pestle from Chiang Mai and had to pay lot of excess baggage
Zareen said…
Hi kalyan I am based from ahmedabad, work for a chain called Tomatos and Mirch masala, we surely have lovely Parsi inspired dish's on our menu, have always enjoyed your Instagram feed. I wish we would get those bumlas here so often as u get them back in Mumbai we all just love Bombay ducks always....
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Oh, that's lovely to know. I am yet to go to Gujarat though I almost went when I got admission to Mica. My wife's mom's side of the family is from Surat. Zarin aunty lives in Dadar. All the best with your restaurant
Zarin said…
Thanks do get in touch whenever u come to Gujarat, my email is zarinmirza@gmail.com