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Interview with Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta a.k.a the Bong Mom, noted Indian food blogger, about her new book on Bengali cuisine, Bong Mom’s Cookbook.
When Sandeepa first started blogging about Bengali food, she did not expect to publish a book on it one day. But her book, aptly titled, Bong Mom’s Cookbook has been released recently. Here she talks about her journey from being a food blogger to a food writer and about creating memories and traditions with food.
From blog to book – what was the journey like? Was the writing needed in both cases very different? What did you have to unlearn/learn?
The journey was very exciting to say the least. I would say that it was a little difficult but much fun. Writing a blog is very different from a book and though I have tried to carry the same essence across both, to do it in the book was much harder. For one, when I blog, it is instant. I write what I am thinking today and the gratification is also immediate. Not so in a book.
For the book, I had to think ahead, plan the chapters and also since this is a book interspersed with recipes I had to make sure that it was not abrupt and there was fluidity within the chapters. But I had so much close-to-my-heart stuff to write that I would actually look forward to 9:30 PM every night when I could sit down with my writing.
If there is one single “star” recipe and dish you had to pick out from Bong Mom’s Cookbook, which one would it be? And why?
It would be unfair, if I pick a single recipe from the book, for the simple reason that each of them comes with their own tales and each of them has touched my life in a certain way. For me, food is beyond what you taste on your tongue, it is also the memory you associate with it. So while some like the mutton rezala is a “star” in taste, the others like the simple bati charchari is a “star” in how the dish is intertwined to my life.
Food as a link to culture, as an enduring memory of childhood emerges strongly as a theme in Bong Mom’s Cookbook. Do you ever worry that as an NRI, these traditions may not pass on to your children?
I do get these niggling doubts once in a while but I am not too hung up on traditions. I am kind of flexible about them. So even in the US, I might do the celebrations my mother is doing back in India but in my case they are just moulded to suit our life here. On an everyday basis, our meals hover around Bengali cuisine, we speak Bengali at home and we listen to Bengali and Hindi songs even if my daughters might not be too fond of them.
One of the main reasons I started the blog was actually to preserve these traditional recipes for my daughters who might not have access to it anywhere other than their own home in the future. Regional cuisine is not a popular genre while eating out and Indian food in restaurants remains slotted between butter chicken and masala dosa. It is the home-cooked food which brings my daughters closer to our culture.
I also believe that instead of hanging on to traditions it is always nice to create some. That way you don’t feel their burden and yet enjoy them. So through eating paayesh on birthdays, a grand meal of pulao and kosha mangsho on special occasions and the occasional luchi for Sunday breakfasts we create our own version of traditions.
There are a number of food blogs, and in particular Indian food blogs in the blogosphere. What advice would you give to newbie food bloggers or food writers?
There are many food blogs in the blogosphere, Indian or not. They are excellent and every day I learn so much if I get a chance to blog hop. That Indian cuisine is much more beyond chicken tikka masala can be learned just by visiting the regional Indian food blogs. With their beautiful food pictures and luscious recipes, they can get very addictive.
I am not an expert but I have been blogging for almost seven years now and if I have to say anything to newbie bloggers it would be: Blog because you love it and be honest while doing so. The rest will follow.
Who is your favourite food writer/blogger?
I love food writing. Current favourite food writers are Ruth Reichl, Amanda Hesser, Monica Bhide, Chitrita Banerji. I also like Nilanjana Roy’s articles on food.
*Photo credit: Bong Mom.
Now dear readers, a book giveaway for you!
Simply answer this: Is there one dish that is like you as a person? What one dish would you choose to represent you? Be creative and tell us which one and why!
Just leave your answer as a comment below – and the best comment wins a copy of Bong Mom’s Cookbook.
Please note: Only 1 comment per person. The book can only be sent to a valid address in India. Giveaway closes on 9 AM IST 19th June 2013.
So what are you waiting for? Comment away!
UPDATE: GIVEAWAY CLOSED.
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I would say jihnge posto (a bengali veg dish made with ridge gourd and ground poppy seeds). I love the taste of this dish, brings back a lot of childhood memories, plus it has the truly “bengali” taste. It is easy to make and the ingredients are generally available in almost all locations.
I would say pani puri… a simple looking fat 😉 puri filled with so much taste… it looks difficult to eat… but once you put it in your mouth, you experience melange of tastes… you have to eat it to love it… and its available in every part of India with subtle changes in the recipe… I think it represents me completely….
Steaming hot khichuri combined with brinjal fritters(baigun bhajja) or fried fish or just roasted paaper. It is a comfort food …drives away blues if u have the chills/uplifts the spirit on a wet rainy day/its a quick fix one stop meal and most of all it reminds one of MA’s wonderful comforting presence when u make n eat it, now that she is no more to pamper you.It represents love/care n nostalgia for me.
The one dish that I can think of that kind of represents me would be the chingri malaikari. The well rounded prawn lying curled up in a thick rich gravy of coconut milk truly bring out my laid back self .Not to forget the subtle flavour of sweetness with a hint of the hotness of green chillies. Exotic and exclusive this dish truly represents the person I am!
I would say… Biryani.. it is wholesome, warm, spicy, filling and satisfying.. which as a person I am 🙂
I would like to believe that I am a simple, no-nonsense person, straightforward, and one who doesn’t hide anything, or does anything that will give someone a shock or nasty surprise. The dish that I love and represents me the most is mishti doi – difficult to resist, difficult to stop eating, and completely honest in its approach!
Interesting question. I think it would be a colorfuly salad. Raw, candid, colorful and yet subtle. Mostly a side, but the best kind 😉
I feel I am completely like the Bengali dish called Labda. It is often under-estimated from its looks and texture and hence avoided by many. But when you taste it, you can distinctly feel the taste of each and every vegetable that goes into it and can go on having more and more and more. Essentially, the flavors cannot be judged based on its look. Same way, I feel I might be under-estimated by people who don’t know me well. Like the flavors of labda, I am multifaceted. Not many people know that I can sing well, I can dance decently, I can cook like a bong, I can have great one-on-one conversations etc etc along with managing a household and also working as a professional.
Very interesting question! 🙂
I think I am like bhelpuri. A little bit of sweet, a little bit of spicy, a bit of sourness, too. I am adaptable – there are many versions of me, that people close to me know about. I am some people’s best friend, junk for some. 😉
To me mashed potatoes (alu makha) represents everything that I am. The variety of mashed potato that I grew up relishing, contains a subtle blend of some very hot spices – raw onion, green chillies, salt and a few drops of mustard oil, which elevates the taste to another level altogether. Any of these ingredients in excess can ruin the taste, so getting the perfect blend is important. I believe I have qualities to adjust to just about anything in life. A look at the dish might not inspire you to eat it, but you need to go beyond that and get a taste of this spicy mashed potato. I might not look like it, but when the situation arises I have everything in me to deal with things!
I can totally relate myself to Ilish maachher jhol (Plain Hilsa Curry) which is a quintessential dish for the Bengalis. It has the subtle flavour of green chilis and nigella seeds which complement the overpowering taste and aroma of the Hilsa fish itself. It has a light free flowing gravy with aubergines and Hilsa co-cohabiting. I appear to be a simple person who has many inherent layers of emotion and intellect like the Hilsa curry. The very essence of me is of a strong person with evident aroma and taste of her desires and ambitions, yet there are subtle hints of latent emotions and passion that come up after quite a span of interaction. I am the version of Hilsa cooked in a light and simple gravy of life, devoid of the overwhelming spices that cause indigestion. Being essentially Bengali, Hilsa has traversed into foreign lands as Shad fish, I can only state that for myself too, having an exposure of three different continents, thus globalizing the Bengali flavour.
I would be a fish paturi wrapped in banana leaf. Easy to prepare, but a delicious dish, one that can make almost any fish taste stellar. The tangy mustard sauce, the hot chillies and the smoky banana leaf flavors come together to make simple white rice taste sooo good! That’s me: a simple no-hassles girl, a little hard to “unwrap” and get past my introvert nature, but an all-round great girl once you get to know me!
I am just like “tomato r chatni”;it envelops so many flavours ,yet is primarily sweet!
pointed gourd biriyani coz mostly I’m soft but u’ll find hints of toughness just like we find in seeds of this vegetable
I want to go for laal-shaak bhaja. in my childhood whenever I saw that very dish, I used tell my mother that I didn’t any daal, maach, or torkari.. what I want is only laal-shhak bhaja.
I can be easily represented by “Daal”. It is simple and straight forward, essential with every meal either in the form of a soup or as ‘Daal’. But if you mix different varieties of lentils or lentils with veggies or meat then you can prepare “daal” of another level, “daal” can adapt in different surroundings (Indian or western or in any other cuisine) just like me. “Daal” and its different forms has the ability to bridge cuisines from different parts of India and other countries, so have I. “Daal” can turn into spicy tadka or sweet puran of puranpoli depending on how you treat it, this works for me too. 🙂
I think I am/like ilish machh bhaja/fried hilsa fish. The Bengalis swear by this fish. It’s also the queen of fish. If there is ilish machh bhaja…rest can be ignored. It’s a self sustaining dish like me. All you need is salt and a hot green chili. The oil from frying the fish is very flavorful and is used to mix with white rice. I am very much like the ilish machh bhaja…crisp, no nonsense…self sustaining (well almost)…and like my life to be different and non-mediocre.
I feel I am like an Indian-ised chicken stew which we call ‘Chicken die sheddo bhath’ that my mom cooks. My mom makes in in a pressure cooker but first adding ghee and then tempering it with ‘elach’ and then frying few types of veggies cut into small pieces and then adding 2-3 small chicken pieces, frying them a bit..and finally adding ‘Gobindobhog’ chal (and offcourse salt and sugar to taste) and water. Then doing the pressure cooker cooking to yield a sticky and juicy tastier chicken die sdheddo bhat!
OK I gave a overview ( or rather much details) of the recipe to make you feel what it is. It’s not a very uniform recipe, specially the name can’t make you feel what it is exactly- that’s why!
I feel I am like this dish because I am as simple as it is. If you don’t know me and for this dish if you don’t taste it ( or smell it..aah that aroma!) you will have no idea on how ( great? ;)) we are! Once you be with me, you will know that superficial things like tip top looks, that formal courtesy, those flattering words, that you would not get in me, will not necessarily define a person like me. It is the inner warmth, genuine care, not that show-off but that great comfort you feel are what defines me. Much like this dish which may not look a perfect fit for a important guest’s food when she comes for dinner. But trust me if one can look beyond the wordly formalities and be open enough to feel the basics – true things, then this dish is at par or even better than many, for many!
The aroma, the texture, the taste, the ease of eating..wow!
I am definitely an Avial.Avial is a Kerala dish in which you can add all the vegetables of the world and boil them (well avoid bhindi okie?) and add a green chilly, grinded coconut and ieither sour curd or a dash of imli for a tangy aftertaste.The simplicity of the dish is awesome though cutting the veggies can be a pain!
Avial is a totally confused dish exactly like me. Ready to add anything into me (like the veggies of the avial), a bit tangy like that curd and a bit spicy like that green chilly.
One meal that i love totally- Jhinge posto with a bowl of steamed rice…
Simple preparation, complex textures, delicious to the last morsel and the ultimate comfort food…
This dish would sum me up too as a person- I look simple, love simple things about life and find comfort in little things that add real flavour to our simple existence.
Contrary to the adage from Hrishikesh Mukerji’s ‘Bawarchi’, sometimes-
it can be very simple to be happy!
I would say I’m like the ubiquitous idli: round in a good sort of way, honest with no hidden layers, easy on the stomach and keeps well without refrigeration (I love my humidity ridden high temperatures, thank you!), at the best behavior on road trips and long drives, and does well even with a wee bit of spice on the side 😉
I am a person who love to carry smile all the time…so i represent myself with CHOCOLATE CAKE…a baby smile pops for anyone unknowingly who see a chocolate cake
Bongmom’s cookbook is not like your usual cookbook which you will pick up only when you would want to look up for a particular recipe. Its a book which you can keep reading and not get bored. Its like one of those novels which you can turn to when you long to read one and each time its as exciting as it was the first time you read it. Sandeepa and her short stories from her native land not only share some adventurous insights into hers and her families life but also reminds us of our roots and how at the mention of every street, landscape or food even will take you back on a journey of your own memories. You will not only love the recipes but will treasure this lovely piece of writing for an entire lifetime. Only downside it gets over too fast. This is a kind of book (mind you I am referring to it as a book because for me this is not just a regular cookbook) you would never get tired of reading nor tryin out each and every recipe given within…goodluck sandeepa for many such endeavours..I am giving 4 stars since the only thing lacking is a table of contents with page nos whoch sometimes comes in handy when you want to look for that particular recipe which you want to cook and not go through the entire book. But I forgive her since its her first and connecting to your readers at your very first attempt is almost impossible which she has done remarkably.
Author’s Corner: With Maitreyee Chowdhury
Monica Bhide: How To Become A Food Writer
Women On Women’s Rights: With Shifani Reffai
Embracing Motherhood – Abroad
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