Masoor dal and jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) that Didun (maternal grandmother) used to make, yummy veg curry with sheem bichi, aloo, begun or kathal bichi bhaja that Dida (paternal grandmother) would cook so often. Mom does make these occasionally, but they just don’t taste the same. She’s a great cook otherwise but no matter how hard she tries she can’t replicate those recipes. Something is lost. The signature dishes that Didun and Dida would make don’t taste the same, as I remember them. Those were pre mobile days, I don’t even have pictures of those dishes .
For food is so much more than ingredients and spices. Our memories of a certain dish, the love and the affection that enveloped them add to the flavour. That could be the reason why some recipes are lost with a generation or with a person.
The image of Dida sitting before the cooking stove in a white sari in the vegetarian kitchen, chopping veggies and cooking. She would remember what each one of us liked. She usually garnished dal and vegetables with coriander leaves, a flavour that she loved. Since I didn’t like coriander leaves as a girl, a bowl without garnishing would be kept aside for me (much to my dad’s annoyance). We would sit outside the kitchen and watch her as she peeled kathal bichi (jackfruit seeds) or chopped saag. She would dip slices of pumpkin or yam in besan and make them into yummy fries, to be served with dal. If we happened to be around, we would get to sample these fries or daler bora fresh out of the kadai. Often, she would make a fine paste of certain veggies or seeds in the stone mortar (pata pota) – kachu bata, kathal bichi bata, kacha kolar khosha bata. Just kachu bata with hot steamed rice was such a treat. We could finish our meal with her lau moong or sheem bichi sabzi and yummy fries, but she would have none of that. As far as Dida was concerned a meal wasn’t complete without fish. Though I was’t fond of fish them, especially the regular macher jhol, she would sulk if I didn’t have fish.
Dida once loved fish; she couldn’t have a single meal without fish. She was windowed even before my parents got married and as was the practice in those days’ she never touched fish since. Though she would never enter the non-veg kitchen or the dining area she would often stand outside to see if her grandchildren were eating properly. Once while we were being served fish, I asked her how she could watch us eat and not touch something she once loved. “We get used to it didibhai,” she said with a sigh.
Sundays were meant for weekly visit to Dadur bari (my maternal grandparents place). On our request Didun would make masoor dal and crispy aloo fry. She would often make dhokar dalna or kachur saag. Aloor khosha bhaja and a simple cabbage curry were some of her other signature dishes. Of course, she would make fish too for her damad that we would rarely eat. The meal would end with amshir chatni (dry mango chutney) that we so relished. Desserts were always homemade – payesh, patishapta or ras bara. When we were little, she even made fuchka (bong gol gappa) and chop for us at home. Her grandkids should not be given unhygienically prepared food from the shops, she would say. She would stuff containers with moorir moya, chirer moya and mishti & nonta nimki for us to snack in the evening.
These are all simple things made from easily available ingredients that somehow don’t taste the same anymore. What mom makes is quite close, but something’s missing, maybe it’s Dida and Didun or my memory of their signature dishes!!