The chips are never down in grandma's kitchen. Finely Chopped Covid-19 Lockdown Journal 19

Alu chips, bhaat and dal. The moong dal was made in the microwave a couple of nights back.

Alu chips for the win

Chances are that if you are someone who has grown up in Kolkata in the 80s, then you would know what I mean by 'alur chips.' Thinly sliced potatoes. Circular in shape. Smeared with turmeric and salt. A dash of red chilli perhaps. Deep fried. The edges would be crunchy. The inner circle, soft and plump like Gonsha's bhuri (the belly of Lord Ganesha).

Unless this is something that only my grandmother made. I doubt that though.

My bother, mother and I lived for a year at my grandparents' house after my father passed away before my mother bought an apartment close by and we moved out. My brother and I were very young then and my grandparents continued to look after us after school every day. My aunts and uncle, my mother's siblings, helped too and thanks to that eco-system, my mother could travel two hours each way everyday to teach at the college she was a professor at and thereby raise us.

Meals at my grandmother's kitchen were simple Bengali ones. The sort I was not used to eating till then as I was born abroad. Getting used to the new diet was as tough as getting used to the new life. Children adopt faster though and my brother and I were surrounded by love.

The one thing that really cheered me up was when didu, as I call my grandmother, would make alu chips. They would liven up what I would then consider the dreariest of meals. Meals which the passage of years have now taught me to appreciate.

It has been years since I have had those alu chips. Bengali restaurants usually serve jhur jhuri alu bhaaja, so thinly sliced that it barely leaves a memory with you. One does not even get the thicker cut alu bhaaja (fried potatoes), that my mother would make, in restaurants. At times bejewelled with kalo jeere (nigella seeds). That is the difference between home and restaurant food. One talks to your heart. The other to your intellect. And bank balance.

Cut to Mumbai

Grilled alu chips experiment 1

I remembered the chips a couple of nights back. Possibly twenty five years after I last had them. This is when I grilled thinly sliced potatoes in the sandwich griller at home. I had smeared them with turmeric, salt and pepper. The griller greased with ghee.

I realised that day that thicker slices work better in the griller. Gives better traction. I tried that when I made alu chips again today.

This time I used a bit of mustard oil instead of ghee. The plan was to have it with the leftover dal and rice and Jharna ghee. Worked beautifully and took me back to didu's kitchen where everything seemed so right with the world no matter happens. Thanks to my grandparents, my mother, my two aunts and my uncle, cocooning my brother and me.

Grandma style recipe narration

Alu chips in the griller. Just half a teaspoon of mustard oil went into this.

I thought I will share the recipe with you.

Peel and slice potatoes into circles. Smear them with turmeric, black pepper and salt. Add a bit of mustard oil and mix. Put in pre-heated griller. Keep for around 30 min in medium plus heat levels and crank up to hight at the end. The timing will differ according to the power of your griller.

The advantage of the thicker cut ones is that it becomes a bit like the Sindhi alu tuk that Kainaz and I love. Crisp at the edges but soft inside. I guess you could parboil it to save on grilling time.

No country for old people?

Telling Baby Loaf about didu

For those of you who want to know about didu, well she was unfortunately not well at the start of the lockdown and her night attendant and day attendant both said they would not be able the come. The house that was once filled with the voices of her children and grandchildren and husband, now lies empty with all of us moving out, and my dadu is no more.

My mesho, maternal uncle in law, is a doctor who admitted her at the hospital where he works and stayed on till she recovered. Right now she is at their house. Relieved to be not alone and yet craving to go back to her house and kitchen I am sure.

I was feeling very low when this happened. My mother, aunt and her husband are all senior citizens themselves and it is not easy for them at all. There is nothing one could do from here and one felt helpless. Rukshana, a dear friend from Kolkata was in touch offering support and that meant a lot but what could people do at the time of the lockdown?

Then I told didu on the phone, "once you are fine and all of this is ok, I will go to Kolkata and you can teach me how to make luchis."

"My arms are weak," said the 92 year old. "I cannot mix the dough."

"No worries. You direct me and I will do it myself."

I repeated this when she was in the hospital. And again, once she came home. Taking immense hope from this promise we made to each other.

This post is dedicated to all the elderly people out there, starting with my mother and mother in law, who are by themselves during the lockdown and are getting along with life with tremendous fortitude despite all the difficulties that they face.

A happy note to end with. Our young neighbour, Gia, rung the bell just as I finished writing this post. She was carrying to sponge cakes for us. She says that she is bored with college being shut and hence bakes. She loves to play with Baby Loaf and he loves him. Her heart is as pure as her lovely hand writing and she does bake very well.

You will find the alu chips recipe in my Instagram highlights
Here is the dal
Do read my mother, Rekha Karmakar's blog post on senior citizens during the lockdown


Shaswati said…

Am sure Didu would be soon teaching you how to make luchis. Please tell her that am waiting for that to happen, so that I can get to taste Didu's luchi through you, here in Mumbai.
This piece also reminded of the french fries that Ma used make for me as evening snack when I was little. Ever since I love them and even when am on strict diet, french fires make me go really weak in the knees.Recently I have figured out the air fryer version.
Loved this simple yet heart warming piece.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@sshaswati thanks so much and amen to that