Bengal (Calcutta in particular) has always fascinated me in an almost fabled sort of way. There are so many cultural influences that dot its history, be it the Muslims, Iranians, Armenians, Portuguese, French, British (and Anglo-Indian), Chinese, Biharis, or Marwaris. This confluence of cultures also influenced the brilliant minds that added to its eclectic, intellectual legacy – Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-white person to receive the Nobel prize for literature for his Gitanjali in 1913; the prolific guru Swami Vivekananda, who introduced yoga to the outside world; Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who pioneered a socio-religious reform movement and became more popularly known as the father of Indian renaissance and cinema maestro Satyajit Ray, who was awarded an Oscar for lifetime contribution. The list could go on and on and perhaps helps people understand my obsession with the wonderful city.
Ever since my journey into food began, I have always known about the incredible food in Calcutta and my recent visit only re-affirmed happily and emphatically that everything I had heard about the region’s many cuisines were all true!
A jewel in the British empire, Calcutta was the capital of British India until 1912. The importance it had is obvious when you see the stunning buildings within its borders; landmarks such as the Victoria memorial, the innumerable beautifully designed green spaces and various monuments have resulted in the nickname the City of Palaces. The goddess Kali, who possibly gave Calcutta its name, is the city’s patron deity, looming large over the city and her people. Calcutta sort of shuts down during the Durga Puja festival, which celebrates the victory of good over evil. The bhog is a traditional festive food, a sort of khichdi (vegetarian kedgeree) served alongside fried vegetables, usually aubergine or potato.