I recently made a short trip to Kolkata (one evening and half a day) and I indulged in tasting street food on the city’s Park Street and Decker Lane areas. Kolkata has its own spin on the street food and their “chaats” are very different from what you get in the northern part of India. Bengali cuisine as well is very innovative and uses unique flavours like mustard paste, mustard oil and poppy seeds to name a few.
This book came at the right time to me, the flavour of Bengali cuisine is so fresh in my mind and since I was there for a short period of time and couldn’t have enough of their food…..I was longing for more. It was a perfect way to recreate the food right here in my kitchen.
Oh! Calcutta offers easy step by step instruction on every recipe. The book has about 92 recipes broken down into separate sections on Tidbits, Starters, Entrees, Bhapa (or steamed), Rice and Desserts. Pescatarians will fall in love with this book since there are a significant variety of recipes recreating the unique flavors of the Bengali cuisine using fish owing to the region’s proximity to the Hoogly River and the Bay of Bengal coast. That said there are more than enough recipes for vegetarians like me and there is always an option of keeping the curries the same and switching seafood or meat with a vegetarian ingredient. I experimented with Phoolkopir Cutlet (cauliflower and potato croquettes) and Aloor Dom (baby potato in tomato sauce). Both these recipes turned out really nice and the process of making them were pretty smooth as well thanks to the detailed instructions provided in the book. Apart from these two, some other recipes that caught my eye and will be trying in the future were a preparation with cottage cheese steamed in banana leaves, various chutneys, some rice preparations and my favorite Bengali dessert Sandesh. The poppy seed gravy is also very interesting.
In the beginning of the book there is a section called cooking basics which demonstrates how to make various basic masalas, pastes and curries that are further used in many recipes throughout the book. It also talks about cooking techniques like deboning Hilsa, peeling a banana flower (the only step by step tutorial supported by pictures), steaming and Crumbing. These are essential techniques for Bengali cooking. I used crumbing for the croquettes.
On one hand the book is full of rich, traditional Bengali recipes but on the other it lacks the visual appeal that gets your mouth watering and forces you to cook. There aren’t enough photographs to support the recipes – one out of the two recipes I tried did not have a photograph as a result I was unsure of what exactly was it supposed to look like. Being a food writer, stylist and recipe developer myself I think pictures are extremely important to accompany the recipe.
Overall the book gives a peek into the Bengali cuisine and culture with easy to make authentic recipes. Published by Random House India and written by Anjan Chatterjee – Oh! Calcutta is definitely a good buy for your collection and to learn about the Bengali food.