Lockdown, Bong Eats and Rediscovery

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m a doctor with a passion for food. I am what most people would call a “foodie”, although I’m not a huge fan of the label. I love to eat, no doubt, but that is just part of it. I actually love all aspects of food; from cooking it to dabbling in food history and often going full-nerdy with forays into food science.

Bong Eats is one of my food heroes, and I’ve been religiously following their videos from very early on. I’ve occasionally tried out a few of their recipes, like the kosha mangsho, momos and dim er devil. Their videos are works of art, and the level of research and effort which goes into making them is evident and commendable. But it’s not the foolproof recipes or the drool-worthy food shots that make Bong Eats so special to me.

Dim er devil (Made by yours truly)

Before I discovered the channel, I’ve taken multiple online journeys into other cuisines, marveling at the intricacies of French sauces, Italian pastas and Chinese stir-fries, while neglecting to a great deal the cuisine that I grew up with. It’s not that I ever found Bengali food boring. It’s just that considering it has always been around, I basically took it for granted.

Bong Eats documents not just the special-occasion dishes like biryani or Christmas cake, but the simple, home-cooked dishes, the things our mothers and grandmothers have been cooking for generations. Thanks to their channel I’ve discovered some simple gems like doodh potol and aloor khosha bhaja. This, to a great extent, helped me appreciate our rich and complex cuisine all over again.

I’m currently pursuing an MD in radiodiagnosis in PGIMS Rohtak, having completed my MBBS a few years ago. I moved out of Kolkata last year in May and have been living in Haryana ever since. The food culture here is different and has its own charm; I actually love the perfect parathas which is second nature to North Indians. But food has its way of engraving itself into our memories and suddenly, more than a thousand miles away from home, I realized I have been taking too much for granted.

Rohtak is a small town with little access to multicultural cuisine, and a hostel life isn’t amenable to adventurous cooking forays. And all of a sudden, Bong Eats took on a new role in my life; a reminder of the pleasures of simple, home-cooked food. A localite from here would miss his rajma chawal and aloo parantha elsewhere just as much as I miss the simple begun bhaja and murgir jhol here. That is just how food memories work.

And out of the blue, after a four month gap, Bong Eats posted a video, just a few days back. This one however, was rather different; an informally filmed vlog of the duo cooking up a simple meal of korola bhaja, beans curry, fish curry and rice. It trended at number 3 on the YouTube and the comment section was flooded with “welcome back”s and “we missed you”s.

As for me, yes I was elated that my food heroes were back, but it struck a much deeper chord. As I saw the simple meal of rice, fish and vegetables coming together over a span of fifteen minutes, nostalgia hit me hard. This is something I’ve been missing for the better part of a whole year. Although I love a pasta carbonara or a pork stir-fry, this is the food which defines me, this is the food I miss the most.

Bowal machh er jhol aar bhaat (Courtesy : Bong Eats)

The lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made things worse in all aspects. People are stranded in their homes, the economy is in jeopardy and those having to go to work like me have to be in constant vigilance, strictly adhering to handwashing protocols and other safety measures. Food is an issue too. Most restaurants are closed, and this frustration of the food-loving Bengali community is showing in online posts and personal chats.

If you are stuck at home and absolutely tired of eating frugal home-cooked meals, if you are missing that mutton biryani from Arsalan or the fall-apart pork ribs from Chilis, think again. It is ironic how a situation like this, away from home in a pandemic with relentless trips to and from work without any respite, makes you crave a simple home-cooked meal.

So, as we turn a new leaf in the Bengali calendar, let us explore some aspects of home-cooked Bengali food. We’ve talked about Calcutta Chinese food and we will have an article on Kolkata biryani really soon, but this series isn’t going to be about that. Over the next few weeks, we will look at some of the dishes cooked in our homes, from the ridiculously simple to the luxuriously lavish. Maybe it will help you see this everyday food in a new light. Maybe, like me, you’ll develop a newfound appreciation for Bengali home cooking.

Subho Noboborsho to all readers of the Gourmet Glutton.

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