|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.
Here's the link to the chat: https://www.facebook.com/FinelyChopped/videos/1332273973457290/
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.