Through no determination of my own I became the “Accidental Bengali” Back in 2006 I married my husband Arnab and started getting my first dose of Bengali culture (West Bengal, India) Suddenly my closet started to transform, the spice cabinet in my kitchen ran out of room, and suddenly my thoughts were drifting to life half a world away. Adrift in a sea of spices, palaces, rickshaws, and a new language. But quickly I fell in love with India’s food culture. A nation of foodie’s if ever there was one. It’s funny how no matter where you go in the world there is one thing that brings us all together: food. It is one of the only things to bring the country together considering the great clash of religions, cultures, and geography throughout India. In India food is extra special because it has it’s own unique culture for each unique region of the world’s largest republic.
West Bengal naturally has unique features that set it apart from the rest of the nation of India. These features are primarily related to the region’s geography (Bangladesh and Bhutan to the East, and Nepal to the North) Bengalis can appear either Indian or Oriental in appearance. West Bengal has a unique Indo-Chin cuisine influence that is a fabulous fusion between India and the far east as well. (Think all your favorite Chinese favorites peppered with an Indian twist.)
Whenever we are in Kolkata we make a special trips in to the downtown to dine on Chili Chicken, Gobi Manchurian, and other Indo-Chin delights. Enjoying the unique cuisine of West Bengal is one of my favorite things to look forward to when we are in town. Earlier this year, January to be exact I had an unexpected and albeit unprepared chance to embrace the Bengali life. We ventured over for our adoption. A project many years in the making and after a sea of papers, rules, and order was apparently about to happen. Opportunity was definitely a knockin.But as we arrived we encountered delay after delay. Fortunately we moved in with my mother and father-in-law (featured above) and waited and waited. Then just when I thought we were done waiting we waited some more.
Fortunately I had the good sense to bring my camera. The photographic possibilities are endless there and one could spend years documenting the food, wildlife, the streets, religion, and history just for starters. The streets are absolutely alive in India. It’s impossible to appreciate unless you are out there and really seeing everything and anything available. Pets, vendors, school children, a hustle and bustle quite unlike anything else I have seen. Imagine an opera of honking horns, rustling bags, laughing children, and chai boiling.
While we waited I decided to take in Kolkata in a way I had yet to do: walking. While although mandatory in most guidebooks of Europe and elsewhere it is probably not found in many a Indian guidebook. But oh what a life changer. The ancient city is a convergence of the days of the British Raj mixing with Hindu temples, ancient doorways, street food like kebab wraps, paan, dosas and more for sale for pennies on the dollar. Books on Jim Corbett’s adventures outside a Kolkata Coffee House where Indian freedom fighters plotted how to end the occupation. Flower Market colors merge in contrast with the murky and holy waters of the Hooghly River.
When not waiting or photographing I was most likely eating and enjoying authentic Indian cuisine. Hot chai with milk and sugar served in clay cups, eggs with green chilis for breakfast, kebab roll-ups for lunch, and Indo-Chin fare for dinner with Arnab’s family. Then finally we got Ankita…
Seen above on her first day (left) and seen four months later on her birthday. When we collected her from the orphanage she was so malnourished she could not hold up her head or make eye contact with us. For the next five days I fed her dumplings from Nepal called momo. Popular Indo-Chin fare found all over Kolkata. Day two she could make eye contact and started moving her arms. By day three she was teaching herself to walk. When we rushed her to a pediatrician her first day out of the orphanage the doctor told me she would not have lived much longer. She was dehydrated, starving, and had a fever. Today as I write this she is a fireball of energy and life.
Now I get the adventure of teaching Ankita about being Bengali in particular and Indian in general. About life in the land where we met her, it’s history, people, and probably most importantly it’s food. She loves fire hot curry, rice, and of course…momo.
Let the adventure begin…
Pakoras: Featured in our cookbook A World Of Flavor: Store