Bengali – Japanese Indulgence Dinner

By Indranil Halder 

To celebrate 2021 Durga Pujo, we at Halder Bari in Sydney,  are delighted to organise  a  quintessential dinner. It was our  first ever curated three course Bengali -Japanese fusion culinary celebration. It was superbly prepared by the very talented Australian born Ronald Sathio of Indonesian heritage and attended by guest Deirdre O’Loghlin(CEO,The Queen of Spin).  A special video was also documented by Navneet Anand. ( CEO, Voice Aajkal) of Indian Punjabi heritage and was filmed  by his crew Arvind Singh and Tarun Kaku.

Australia and Bengal’s Japanese Culinary Connection: 

In Australia, food historians credited first Japanese eatery  to the Sukiyaki Room pop-up (1957) at Martin Place, Sydney. According to an article titled ‘How Australia fell in love with Japanese food’( Gourmet Traveller) some of the early known Japanese restaurants are Little Tokyo in Brisbane (1966), Sukiyaki Licensed Restaurant in Melbourne (1970) and Sukiyaki in Perth (1972). Tetsuya’s Restaurant in Sydney(1989) is amongst The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. It’s traditional Japanese-inspired cuisine blended with classic French technique, remains my favourite. At the same time, I also love Bengali curry which has a strong heritage influence on Japanese food.

In 1915, Mr Rash Behari Bose sailed from Bengal, India to Japan and is credited with introducing authentic Indian curry to the Japanese diet. Bose escaped to Shinjuku, Tokyo’s commercial district from Bengal  as a freedom fighter. He created the famous Nakamuraya’s curry. It  is identical to the simple Murgir Patla Jhol ( or chicken curry) of Bengal. Japanese food writer Makiko Itoh said in her article entitled “Curry.  It’s more Japanese than you think,” published in Japan Times(August,2011):

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“The quintessential spicy dish in Japan is curry, which is so popular that it’s regarded, with ramen, as one of the top two national dishes – ahead of sushi and miso soup.”

Chef and Food Artist : 

Ronald is a talented chef and food photographer with over 20,000 Instagram followers, who has a passion for Japanese cuisine. In Sydney, he works with his father Paul Sathio( the billionaire property tycoon and co-founder of Crown Group Holdings Australia) and loves experimenting with the art of Japanese style food presentations.

For him, the multicultural celebration of fusion food is very important. Ronald’s use of knowledge from his Indonesian heritage, helped him to blend the popular Bengali ‘Garam  Masala’ spice with mushroom and lotus roots superbly to create a modern fusion Bengali -Japanese curry. He used his own improvisation which resulted in delicious three course dinner. He says, “Bengali cuisine, in particular its wonderful use of spices has created new ground in the Japanese culinary landscape, one that I tread with great interest and enthusiasm”

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Three Course Dinner: 

For 250 million Bengalis , Durga Puja is one of the biggest festivals in the world and food is an integral part of that celebration. Across  the globe, Durga Puja festival is celebrated with non vegetarian , vegetarian and sweet dishes.

Halder Bari 2021 Durga Pujo dinner menu included: 

Entree: 

“Tempura prawn”, curried aioli, prawn mousse, shiso, prawn oil, prawn paste, toasted white sesame seeds, nori cone

Main:

“Mushroom curry with Lotus root”, rice, miso soup, lemon balm salad with onion dressing, rice, pickled Ginger

Desert: 

“Almond Tofu rasgulla” cherry blossom  glaze” 

The use of tempura prawn highlighted the simplistic Japanese dish with Bengalis’ favourite ‘Chingri’ or prawn. Bengalis usually  love to have their smaller fresh water river prawns or  jambo Bay of Bengal prawns in West Bengal for Durga pujo celebration.

The “Mushroom curry with lotus root”  highlighted the use of  Japanese curry tradition with a hint of Bengali ‘garam masala’ flavour. For thousands of years, lotus plays a significant part in Hindu mythology as a divine flower with significant cultural heritage. Lotus is reflected on works by  Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges and  English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold.

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Sir Arnold in his  book titled ‘Light of Asia’(published in 1879), where he  stated: ‘The dew is on the lotus / Rise, great sun!’. Lotus stems or Kamal Kakdi is used heavily  in Indian subcontinent by Sindhis as ‘Kamal Kakdi ki Sabzi’ or lotus stem vegetable.

In Australia, Ronald’s  use of  lotus root again highlighted its significance  in Hindu tradition and also introduced the idea of using lotus root with jam-packed nutrients and minerals as vegetable for Durga pujo cooking.

As for the dessert,  it is said that spoiled milk should not be offered to any Hindu goddess, Ronald used Tofu to make  Bengali’s favourite rasgulla with touch of red cherry blossom glaze (representing  red as the colour of significance during Durga pujo). The desert was served in a plate made by Sydney based Japanese ceramicist Emi Tanaka.

For us, 2021 Durga pujo  celebration with Bengali Japanese fusion dinner truely transcended the development of Australian society as multicultural one over the last 25 years, our love for Japanese food in Land DownUnder and the influence of Bengali curry in Japanese culinary culture. And we Aussies wouldn’t have it any other way.