French, Portuguese and Dutch influences have all contributed to give Bengali Christian cuisine a unique flavour, says Rahul Verma
- Published 22.12.13
Rozario'r ham aar bacon jhatka
It was her son's birthday, so she carried all kinds of dishes for him. But her hamper didn't have the usual foodstuff that mothers pack for their children — instead, she came with pork sausages and pork bhuni, or roasted pork.
I am not surprised, because chef Pradip Rozario's mother is not just known for her culinary skills, but also for the kind of dishes that she cooks. The chef, who picked up quite a few of his skills from his mother, runs KK's Fusion in Calcutta. And he revels in the Bengali Christian cuisine that he has learnt from her.
Mishti kumro'r vindaloo
Now that the biggest Christian festival — Christmas — is round the corner, it's time to raise a toast to Bengali Christian food. It's different from Christian food in, say, Kerala or Goa. And it's also different from the Hindu or Muslim food of Bengal. Nor is it much like Calcutta's Christian Anglo-Indian food. "It's Bengali with a Christian touch," chef Rozario says.
It's also a cuisine that's surprisingly not moved out of people's kitchens. But the cuisine, which chef Rozario will present at his restaurant starting today, is a celebration of all kinds of influences, he stresses.
Like other Christian communities, some influences have been drawn from British food. Other Christian rulers at other points of time — such as the French, Danes and the Dutch — all added to the cauldron. And, of course, the presence of the Portuguese in Bengal gave a new dimension to the food. To give an example, something like the hilsa, which is eaten in a light cumin-tempered curry or steamed with mustard by most Bengalis, is prepared with vindaloo masalas in the Christian kitchen. There's even vindaloo cooked with red pumpkin or mishti kumro.
Amago bhaja curry
The names of the dishes, I find, are a nice mix of traditions too. Take something like the amago bhaja curry — which is a dish of sliced aubergines cooked with prawns and spices. Mamur liver aar gijard jhatka consists of pieces of liver and gizzard tossed with green chillies and spices. The chef has a similar dish that he has lent his name to — and that's Rozario'r ham aar bacon jhatka.
For this, he sauts onions, ham and bacon with green chillies and dry red chillies, taking care not to brown them, for the meats should be juicy. He finishes this by adding coriander leaves, covers the pan, takes it off the fire and lets it stand. It is served with steamed rice. "This is our personal family favourite," he says.
Pork — including bhuni or sausage bhaja (fried in mustard oil with onions) —is eaten in various ways by Bengali Christians. Pork vindaloo is a favourite, too, though the chef points out that unlike the Goan variety, the Bengali Christian dish is cooked without cocum, and can also be prepared with lime juice instead of vinegar. "Sometimes we use gondhoraj lebu (a fragrant lime)," he says.
Again, unlike Christian communities in the south and the north, the dishes are cooked in mustard oil. Thakurdar roast mutton, for instance, relies on the flavours of mustard oil in which a leg of lamb is browned before being put in the oven (see recipe).
Chef Rozario adds that Bengali Christian dishes, unlike their Bengali Hindu cousins, do not use much panchphoron — the five-spice mix that no Bengali kitchen can be without. "Turmeric powder is not used in the meat dishes, though it figures in fish recipes," he says.
I think it's a kind of cuisine that needs to be resurrected. For most Indians, Christmas doesn't translate into turkey. It can be celebrated with a red pumpkin instead!
Thakurdar Roast Mutton
Amago bhaja curry
l½ kg leg of lamb
For the marinade:
½ cup ginger-garlic paste • ¼ cup cashew nut paste cup • ¼ raisin paste (soaked and then blended) • paste of 10 green chillies • ½ cup paste of coriander leaves • ¼cup almond paste (soaked and skin removed) • 1 cup yoghurt • ½ tsp nutmeg powder • 1 cup mustard oil • salt to taste • ½ cup rum
Clean, wash and pat dry the leg (fatless). Mix all the pastes, powders, yoghurt, half cup oil and salt in a bowl. The consistency should be smooth. Dress the leg of lamb with this mix, covering it all over. Place it on a tray. Cover with aluminium foil and refrigerate for 24 hours.
To cook, heat the remaining mustard oil in a frying pan big enough to hold the leg. Add the leg and brown from all sides. Flamb with rum. On a baking tray place the leg of lamb. Cover with aluminium wrap and bake in a pre-heated oven, for 30 minutes, at 350F. Take it out of the oven. Slice the leg with a sharp knife and serve with tomato bharta.