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When Sundays meant seasonal produce, wooden fires, and a caretaker-cum-gardener-cum-cook who loved feeding each the physique and the soul

When Sundays meant seasonal produce, wooden fires, and a caretaker-cum-gardener-cum-cook who loved feeding each the physique and the soul

Rising up in Calcutta (now referred to as Kolkata), the place meals is one thing akin to faith, and in a home presided over by my mom who was a superb cook dinner, my reminiscences of nice meals and grand meals are prodigious. But, once I sat down to jot down this piece, a single reminiscence leapt to my thoughts — a reminiscence from so way back that it ought to have light by now. Solely, it hasn’t. Even at the moment, on somnolent Sunday afternoons, I wistfully recollect our day journeys to Barasat on the outskirts of Kolkata, the place we had a  bagaanbari (actually, a home with a backyard), and the place the caretaker would cook dinner lunch for us guests. The meals wasn’t something fancy, however sitting al fresco and consuming off chipped, mismatched plates whereas the birds stored up a drowsy monotone of cooing within the timber above, all the pieces tasted heavenly.

The caretaker-cum-gardener- cum-cook’s title was Ponchu. He should have had a extra civilised title, or  bhalo naam, as we are saying in Bangla. However he was universally referred to as Ponchu. I known as him Ponchu  da. In winter, and in addition in autumn and spring when the climate is nice in Kolkata, we went to the  bagaanbari no less than one Sunday each month, accompanied by both the prolonged household or a few of my dad and mom’ shut mates.

En route ‘shingara’ and ‘jileepi’

Barasat within the Nineteen Seventies was not the bustling Kolkata suburb it’s at the moment. In truth, it was fairly bucolic, and each time we went there, I felt as if we had been journeying to some far-off land. When you left the confines of the metropolis, the highway turned magical, flanked on both facet by shimmering waterbodies and plush inexperienced vegetation.

The foodie expertise started en route. Round 9.30 a.m., we’d cease for breakfast at a big  mishtanno bhandar (candy store). Leaning towards our Ambassador vehicles, we ate freshly fried, thin-crust  shingara (samosa) filled with cauliflower and potato,  khasta kochuri (flaky kachoris), and delectably crispy  jileepi (jalebi) and  aumriti  (imarti), passing across the newspaper packets that held these goodies, our fingers greasy with ghee and our palates alight with pleasure.

You’d suppose that after such a heavy repast, there would definitely be no elevenses and lunch could be an abstemious affair. However nobody was watching their ldl cholesterol again in these days. And I think Ponchu  da would have been critically baffled and damage if anybody was.

For he stored the meals coming nearly from the second we reached the  bagaanbari. There could be a number of rounds of tea and tidbits to go together with it —  daler bora (lentil fritters),  machher dim bhaja (fish roe fritters),  beguni (brinjal fritters),  pneyaji (onion fritters)… Typically tea was eschewed for drinks that the adults had introduced alongside, whereas I glugged from a bottle of Fanta.

The one-storeyed  baari (home) a part of the  bagaan was fairly rudimentary, however the grounds had an air of plenitude — laden with timber like coconut, mango, jackfruit, wooden apple and banana, a largish vegetable patch bursting with seasonal veggies, and a pond which, Ponchu  da claimed, had numerous fish, although I hardly ever caught a glimpse of them via the layer of  kochuripana (water hyacinth) that floated on it. A lot of the meals cooked on these memorable Sundays got here from the produce of that land, and perhaps that’s what accounted for its intensely contemporary and satisfying flavour.

As a cook dinner, Ponchu  da’s repertoire was pretty restricted. Our late lunch often had a normal menu: smoking scorching rice with aromatic, regionally sourced ghee,  narkel diye chholar dal (Bengal gram dal cooked with diced coconut), with perhaps some fried  topshe fish  on the facet,  phulkopi-alu-koraishutir dalna (potato-cauliflower curry with peas),  chingri-alur tarkari (prawns with potatoes),  rui maccher kaalia (a wealthy curry with rohu fish) and a hen or a mutton or a crab curry, adopted by tomato chutney and  mishti doi.

‘It’s the wood fire that makes everything healthy and tasty,’ Ponchu da said.

‘It’s the wooden hearth that makes all the pieces wholesome and engaging,’ Ponchu da mentioned.
| Photograph Credit score: Getty Pictures/ iStock

Sitting within the dappled shade of the winter solar, we ate this elaborate meal with gradual relish. Each dish had a hearty, considerably rustic flavour, a little bit excessive on spice, and better nonetheless in its skill to talk straight to the soul. One which I notably appreciated was the  chingri-alur tarkari, a easy peasant-style preparation seasoned with  paanch phoron and cooked with prawns, diced potatoes and onions. My mom had requested Ponchu  da for its recipe. He had obliged, however had additionally added sadly that she would by no means be capable to replicate its style as a result of, like all of the meals he cooked for us, this dish too was executed on wooden hearth. “It’s the wooden hearth that makes all the pieces wholesome and engaging,” he mentioned.

Possibly there was some reality in that. Or perhaps it was the sylvan setting, the glowing air and the soothing chicken name that gave these meals the elevated, soulful dimension they appeared to have.

Or perhaps it was just a few magic wrought by Ponchu  da, chef and multitasker extraordinaire, whom we by no means noticed once more after the  bagaanbari was offered just a few years later.

The author is a journalist and creator with an obsessive curiosity in meals.

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