As the sunlight created a collage of graphic prints on my wall, I woke up to a rather familiar smell of Sunday morning. The hypnotising smell of “kalojeere” nigella/onion seeds dancing in bubbling mustard oil before green chillies are added. Such pleasures of familiarity are some of the perks I enjoy staying in the Bengali neighbourhood of Delhi. Such familiarity also deeply saddens me to prepare my rather mundane breakfast of toasts and tea.
As I pull myself out of the bed I imagine cubed potatoes being fried with a dash of salt and turmeric and finally water being poured in. By the time I prepare myself a cup of Darjeeling tea and browse through “Robibashoriyo” ( Online edition) the final nail on the coffin is here i.e., the smell of the luchi ( disc shaped flour based flat bread) being fried in Lakshmi Ghee. I recognise the distinct smell from my Mashi’s household (Maternal Aunt) preference for Lakshmi Ghee and my mother’s preference for oil (supposedly healthy!) which led to many a world war in the kitchen.
The overpowering smell of luchi and alur tarkari lingers on and takes me back to some funny moments from childhood. My mother was known for preparing white fluffy luchis and was coveted by G an M for “sada luchi” as if luchis could be red, yellow, or blue. Once, B now a handsome young man then 5 years old made this brilliant comment in a roomful of strangers, “I think they are preparing luchis upstairs. Ma, let’s go and have some luchis”. To save further embarrassment his mother got B upstairs and he walks in straight up to my mother and says “Jethin, amake luchi aar chini debe”( Jethin (aunt, elder brother’s wife), please give me luchi and sugar). For all luchi fanatics, the last luchi should be savoured with sugar. And yours truly embarrassed the Oh! Calcutta waiters by asking for a bowlful of sugar to be savoured with luchis… Such luchi anecdotes are precious and the overpowering smell of late riser’s breakfast menu continues to increase my craving for luchi as I pen down this post. It’s 11 a.m.
The smell of luchi will soon encounter the Sunday staple of “mangshor jhol”. Puritans like my dad, uncle and jethu will tell you that mangsho or meat refers to kachi pantha ( mutton). The ideal kochi panthar jhol will have potatoes that will carry the flavour of mutton and the cracked edges from the “jhol” or gravy. Jhol is our answer to “curry”- a runny gravy with rightly flavoured spices. The pressure cooker whistles will soon create the symphony of a Bengali Sunday lunch and a mirage of cravings for people who need to finish boring dishes like dalia khichdi that has been lying the fridge.
There you go. I can hear the first whistle, and I bet it must be from the pressure cooker cooking succulent mutton/ chicken pieces with potatoes – the prized Sunday lunch menu. The background score of kabariwala(scrap dealer and buyer) – kabari, kabari meets the fishmonger who draws up his cart shouting “bhalo chingri, katla rui”…
Such distractions of smell will never find an acknowledgement in my thesis but they are part of the woes and joys of writing. Another whistle goes… and I can smell the perfect whiff of paanchphoron crackling… May be time to prepare “green mango chutney” (aam chutney) or “paanch mishali sabji”(mix vegetables). I leave you to guess as to what dish my neighbours are cooking with paanchphoron in oil.
Do write in and let me know of whiffs from your neighbourhood that leaves an imprint in your food rituals?