On a fine Melbourne autumn afternoon, an old lady came and sat beside me, as we waited for the same train. We started talking about Indian food and I quickly learnt how much she loves Indian food. During any conversation, whenever I mentioned my love for eating out and cooking, people from Australian multicultural society, often express their love for Indian food such as butter chicken, dosa and samosa, served in many Indian restaurants.
Indian food, a concept born out of India
My understanding is people generalised Indian food with food served in any Indian restaurants in Australia. But Indian food is more than that. For example, flavourful Bengali curry called papor- er Jhal served on steamed rice.
Later on, whenever I got a chance to talk to anyone about Indian food, I asked them if they ever tasted or heard about dishes such as Shorshe Bhapa Mach ( baked mustard fish), Kosha Mangsho( Goat or Lamb curry), Chingrir Malaikari ( Prawn in coconut curry) or Sai- Bhaji(Sindhi vegetarian curry, consisting of dal, palak and other vegetables)?
The answer always remained, ‘No’.
My goal is to educate people with much-needed awareness about “Indian food”. To me, the very concept of ‘ Indian food’ was born out of India. According to food writer Collen Sen Taylor “ India has no national cuisine or no national dish”! That is true. India is a federation of states with their uniqueness which includes food.
Just like there cannot be one single European cuisine, there cannot be one Indian cuisine. Indian cooking and food are influenced by regions, seasons, and religions. And Bengal is one such region.
I hail from West Bengal, India. It is land of rice, fish, milk, seasonal fresh fruits and veggies. A common saying in West Bengal is that Bengal has thirteen festivals in twelve months.
A common ritual observed by Bengali moms is fasting for Hindu goddess Ma Shasthi to protect their children. Neel Shasti, a Vrat or fast observed in Bengal in Chaitra month(during March), celebrates Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati’s marriage and seeks blessing for child or children. Devotees offer the seasonal fruit bael (Aegle marmelos), and it’s believed that bael is Lord Shiva’s favourite fruit. The other favourite Bengali fruit is mango which is India’s gift to the world.
In the Mango season, in mid-June, we Bengali celebrate Jamai Shashti Vrat or Son-in-Law day. A day they are dedicated to welcome and pampered for their married daughter and her husband with a grand feast. Son-in-Law day is yet to be popular in Australia but in West Bengal, India, restaurants run food events and food festivals to celebrate the occasion. Great for Mom-in-law who can spend quality time with daughter and son-in-law instead of being busy with cooking and household activities. It is like grand lunch brunch at the iconic Raffels Hotel in Singapore. 6 Ballygunge Place in Kolkata city, Rajbari Bawali in 24 Parganas and Bari Koti in Murshidabad with grand opulence and royal feasts help celebrate sons-in-law day with vegetarian, non-vegetarian and sweet dishes. Bengali dishes remain an integral part of festivals throughout the year.
There was a time when I utilised my time for something I love. Cooking. I had an urge to demonstrate my regional food to the world. So on a weekend, I shared my thought with my husband. With his encouragement, within a week we filmed our first cooking video. I highlighted the idea of using local produce and learning the traditional cooking process. It’s been almost eight years; I started documenting Bengali recipes with local Australian produces. I am excited to present our first-ever Food Event, “Kobji Dubiye Petpujo”, in collaboration with Utsav Melbourne Association in Melbourne. A great way to pamper foodies with delicious Bengali dishes cooked with local ingredients. My intention is to encourage food lovers in Australia and across the globe to explore Indian regional food and Indian home-cooking especially Bengali cuisines. I am sure they will come back for more.
Shyamali Sinha is Melbourne based Food Blogger who loves to cook Bengali dishes. According to Feedspot Blog Reader , her blog www.foodieshutrecipes.com