There is no sincerer love than the love of food

Food evokes a whole lot of feelings. Eating and talking about food are the two important past times of Bengalis. ‘Bhojon-rosik’ is a definite Bengali identity. “Bengali food is a product of the home and family ties, of personal relationships - as much of science as of human affection, as much of age-old wisdom as of an intuitive response to Nature.” Ma is the best cook. Grandmother’s kitchen has no parallel. Let me recall an interesting incident that happened many years ago at Kanpur where I grew up. Those days door-to-door selling of ‘fresh’ vegetables was common. One late afternoon, during summer vacation, I heard my Didima reprimanding a Sabjiwala: How dare you brought such rotten vegetables to my place. The Sabjiwala, in all humility, said, Mataji, I thought it will be good for making Chachchari (a Bengali delicacy). Many people think Bengalis eat everything. Of course, they eat everything. They respect food and there is nothing like ‘waste’ for them. A no-fish meal is no meal for Bengalis. It seems there are more than fifty varieties of freshwater fish in Bengal. There is Rui, there is Chingri, there is Ilish, and there is Parshey (oily specimens with bulging bellies). Over the choice of fish, so many emotions are aroused. No meal is complete without sweets. One of my friends says, Sweets are like King’s chariot; wherever it goes, makes it way). This description fits in so well with Bengalis. Howsoever full your stomach maybe, if you see Rosogolla, Sandesh, Pantua, Chum-Chum, Mishti Doi, it is hard to let them not go into your stomach. Paan goes very well with the bulging belly. One of my acquaintances often comes to Jaipur. Since he retired a few years ago, I thought he has taken a new job that requires him to come to Jaipur. He said he doesn’t come to Jaipur for work but LMB’s Dahi-Vada. Someone travelling 270 km just for Dahi-vada is quite fascinating. Bengalis can travel any distance for good food. They are also well-known for stomach upset (this is one of the favourite topics of discussion at a Bengali home). No wonder Bengalis undertake travel for health purposes; mostly to get rid of the problems associated with stomach upset. Perhaps you know that the secret of our big brain is cooking. Our ancestors understood that to have good food they must have a better food processor. They wanted a better technique to extract more energy with less effort. They invented fire. They invented cooking. Cooking is one of the most important innovations for softening food. This is the reason we love to eat cooked food. Food scientists say, our dental anatomy is made for a diet which is soft, mushy, and is reduced in fibres that makes food easily chewable and digestible. Changing the diet from raw to cooked food decreased the energy requirement for chewing, and the energy thus saved was used to build our brain. If there was no cooking, our ancestors would be chewing the gathered food for the rest of the day to get enough calories to survive. Sometime around 250,000 years ago, cooking got going. Once cooking happened, it showed us completely new ways of utilising our resources. We began to look at the world with new eyes. Bengalis understood it long back that eating and talking about food have never been a waste of time.