Books do different things to different people. Depending on what makes you tick, a book can feel like just another object to engage with completely superficially. Sometimes it turns into something that grabs your attention and seeps inside of you. Next level, as my sister calls it, And then there’s the best kind of involvement as far as a book goes for me. When it opens your eyes wide, grabs you in, and makes you a part of the proceedings you are reading about.
I have to admit, it was only when I began reading Bong Mom’s Cookbook, did I realise just how alien Bong food is to me. For all the hidden reserves of reckless abandon and adventure that I unlock when it comes to tasting things outside the boundaries of my comfort food, I am always a bit skeptical when it comes to Bong food. It’s probably why I was not a keen follower of Bong Mom’s food blog, unlike every other food blogger I know. I’d dropped by the blog several times, to look up recipes, read a little something here and there, and one time I even baked her version of creme caramel. But it has to be said, the book has opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of Bengali cuisine, which in my severely myopic view did not go beyond macher jhol, mangsher jhol, and the indiscriminate use of badly chopped (sometimes whole) potatoes and of course mustard oil. I am not a fan of mustard oil and the only dish that makes me salivate despite being drenched in the stuff is my granny’s version of a Bong fish curry.
Sandeepa does a fabulous job of including, with lovely stories and heartwarming anecdotes, a massive spectrum of Bong cuisine, with intricately archived recipes, with separate sections for dal, meat, fish, veggies; and she does it all in a way that made me the Bong-food-sceptic salivate more than a couple of times. What struck me most was the simplicity of spices. Most things except maybe the more elaborate curries were tempered with not more than 3-4 wonderfully paired spices. Ginger, green chilli and mustard oil made an appearance very often and the luscious recipe on dal had me drooling through and through. I am now totally enamoured by the idea of Bong cuisine and cannot wait to try out the recipes I have bookmarked.
The stories woven through the book read very blog-post like, the style conversational and simple, a style I have grown to love in books as much as I love it on screen. I used to be apprehensive about how blog-post-like snippets would translate into a book, but it seems that if done well and used in the right context, like a memoir, it works well. Warm stories about life in a typical Bengali home, the differences between Sandeepa’s childhood and the one she makes for her daughters, the customs and traditions that make every home what it is, are all wonderfully woven through the chapters, making food a central part of life and everything that comes with it. There’s a delicate and well-balanced mix of tradition, food-history, technique as well as that essential Indian ingredient that makes our food what it is — andaaz or instinct, cooking with feel. Her recipes, though precise, have that easygoing feel. Throw this in if you feel like, increase the chillies if you want it hotter, don’t skimp on the oil if you want to taste the real thing. It’s open.
Bong Mom’s Cookbook was a breezy, enjoyable read and I consumed it hungrily over a couple of days, staying up and reading into the night.
Because it opened my eyes to a cuisine I am rather ignorant about, I finished the book raring to go try something out. Delicate spices, the comfort of potatoes, lightness of fresh fish and a beautiful glossy veil of oil to envelop it all together — I can almost smell and taste the fish curry I have my eyes on. I might choose a different oil and cause my Bong readers some angst, but let’s take one step at a time now, shall we?