There are countless ways of engaging with another culture. One of the best and most personal ways is definitely getting to taste the food of the people. Not the food served out at branded restaurants with impressive layouts and chefs with a long line of accomplishments trailing their names. But the food, served out from the kitchen of the locals, who live the life and culture that the ‘explorer’ within you wants to experience.
Calcutta Walks was engendered from a strong belief that skimming the surface of any culture is redundant. Gone are the days when one breezed through another country or clime, stopping at carefully selected spots which appeal only to the ‘tourist’. If you have set your foot afar from your native home to seek to know another culture, get onto the streets and into the homes and kitchens of the locals. That’s where the real magic lies.
Calcutta Walks serves up this magic in its ‘Cooking Experience’- a unique cook out with a local, where the visitor can participate in the making of local and national dishes with ease. The main focus is definitely the conversation… engaging the visitor to the city, in a constant dialogue that centres on food but criss-crosses various themes as well.
Madhura Ghosh is a multi-talented Calcuttan. She wears many hats, including that of an educator. But what she loves the most is to cook. So she has hosted a number of guests from different parts of the world as a part of the Cooking Experience offered by Calcutta Walks.
Laura Van Kampen, from the Netherlands, works with the European Union. She was keen to know more about the culinary habits and recipes of Indian dishes and so ensued an interesting Sunday evening rendezvous between Madhura and Laura.
One of the main steps in the Cooking experience of any culture is to visit the local markets and pick up the produce available there. That was our first stop. The busy Jadubabu’s Bazaar is one of the oldest bazaars of the City. It abounds in the sights, smells and sounds of any typical Calcutta market. Fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and poultry products are available in plenty and of course, like many main markets of the city, there is a separate section dedicated to the most important item in a typical Calcuttan’s diet, the fish. That Calcuttans love their maach or fish is evident from the enthusiasm displayed by both buyer and seller.
Madhura walked Laura through the narrow aisles of the market, stopping to point out local veggies, spices or fruits. Conversations were replete with the taste and nutritional value of the wares laid out for sale.
Once at home, the menu for the evening was discussed. The dishes requiring marination had already been put through that stage. The spices had been laid out for close study…and each stage of the preparation was explained. What followed was a fantastic evening full of chatting and cooking, laughing over the many kitchen faux pas of the past and as well, as examining indirectly the identity of a people through their food.
Indian food is rich in colour, variety, taste and nutrition. There are various ingredients included in each dish that serve specific functions. Who better than a local to provide that kind of insight!
Recipes were noted down, rotis were rolled out by Laura, and curries were prepared in a jiffy.
At the end, when everyone sat down to a sumptuous spread of dishes, a bond had already been created. One which is universal- after all, we may be from any continent, but food is a great binder, something that everyone can identify with.
This experience leaves one with a deeper understanding of a new people. Food is a marvellous and yet such a simple way of knowing a culture that is so varied.
So come join us on this journey and through kitchens of the City, you can find your way to her heart!
Pics credit: Preeti Roychoudhury