Bengali Curry Lessons
|Leaves on a pot|
Besides staring into the abyss while standing on the now locked top floor of BK international house and contemplating about my existence, I do cooking. A LOT of cooking. Perhaps the interest stems out from the fact that majority of my life, specially before heading out to boarding school was spent in the kitchen. My dad was away most of the time and my mom needed an extra pair of hands to help her out as she, herself, was a full-time employee. I graduated from dish washing from age 5 to doing simple kitchen floor cleaning chores at 7 to peeling off garlic and crying over dead onions at age 9. By 10, I could feed myself when my mom was away for her official trips.
Which she actually didn't allow because she knew I was clumsy enough to burn the whole house down. My aunts were always there next door to fill the void.
During my winter breaks, my mom would gather all these tiny hands from all over the neighborhood (we had ton of kids around) and have these house work training called "little helpers" where we would learn how to cook meals, do basic household chores, wash our own clothes (nope no washing machines, I am from a third world country remember?) and learn to recycle waste. I still remember Gyan Lal Shreshtha, the green guy, who taught us about kitchen waste and manure. I don't remember anything particular about all that he did but only that one time where he simply sucked on an earthworm while delightfully slurping the whole thing in. Yuk.
Not a normal childhood you see.
As I grew up, I got myself into the St.Xavier's College Canteen where I remember getting paid about $20 for my month's services. Peeling all those potatoes, then chopping them then making all that dough and getting everything ready on time was hard, labor work. Only did I start appreciating my own canteen guys who worked at Budhanilkantha's kitchen because they fed 1000 people four meals a day, every single day. Not an easy task. I still bad mouthed them with gaule words for those shitty meals though.
The point I am trying to make here is that, with all those cooking and training and more hand-on training, I had learnt how to cook pasta, more pasta and an array of veggie burgers (I was a vegetarian until i discovered street side Mo:Mo:) but never to cook curry. Never. It's a really weird thing to say because I ate curry everyday. Curry had no value because it was omnipresent in every meal which made me give more value to exotic food like macaroni in those green $0.1 packets and those oily, soggy shit tasting burgers.
Once I got shipped to Korea, it quickly became clear that after all those effort that my mom had put in, her son was absolutely, downright inept at making himself a decent meal of potato/egg curry. A total disgrace.
That's when the bengali boys chipped in.
The Bengali Boys
My friends from Bangladesh, they love their food. They love to eat and they love to eat well. I remember getting a call from one of the two bengali bros I was close with in undergraduate years;
"Malekum Salam Bhai, Bhalo Chen?"
(I had picked up very basic bengal language at the bengali store I used to work in my freshman year)
"Brought some home cooked meat curry from home, get your ass over here before it get's cold"
By home, he meant Bangladesh. That sucker had just flown in I-don't-know how many miles through 30,000 ft, through multiple transits and into Incheon, then took a two hour bus to Seoul National. And here he was, telling me that the food would get cold.
I had my first bite anyways, and I was instantly grateful for his mother, his dad, his grandparents, his whole ancestral line for the food that was in front of me. It was not only delicious but it had depth, a depth I had never reached in curry before. I had an epiphany of flavors, a wide range, heck; a spectrum of colorful, delightful, orgasmic flavors that's hard to emulate in words. Rest assured, the curry tasted absolutely fantastic.
I wanted to learn.
So everytime they used to cook in that common kitchen in 919, I would magically appear out of thin air shouting out with the buzz bengali words I had learnt. I would see them cook but would get quickly distracted with these tsunami of uncontrolled, adulterated thoughts of the final product that I would lose all interested in the process and wait, with my tail swinging from side to side, to take a dip into the world of lamb/beef/fish curries.
As it became increasingly clear that me showing up wasn't really an accident, we placed an accord to cook meals in turn. For that we needed to go buy the ingredients too, and I also agreed on that. We would get all the stuff from "Foreign Food Mart" in Itewon, take a taxi full of halal chicken cuts, lambs and fish and head straight to populate the two big common refrigerators. That was the stock for the whole month.
Because I was now on the front line making the curry rather than pretend to be an innocent by stander, I had to see exactly how they cooked their meals. Suffice to say it wasn't pretty cooking for three to sustain daily meals for the whole week.
Now, if I have to shed out curries to my guests at home today, I take about..let's say 20 min tops. The Bengalis took at least 2 HOURS from getting the frozen meat defrosted to the final product. The jira and oninons and the garlic/ginger paste would go in, closely followed by dry masala (cloves, bay leaves, cardamom) and then the ungrateful chicken would pop right in with a TON of powered masala (chicken and chilly) with TON of salt. I mean, we used to run out of masala packets every week, that much. The step that was most confusing was adding ton of water and letting it simmer out. That basically took an hour worth of simmering.
"Bhai, there should be Jhol (liquid). No Jhol, it's no fun" my friend used to say.
When the Jhol did eventually land on the rice, the poor white rice turned instantly into freakishly, darrrkishly red in color. Add cola, a punch load of salt and cut onions, peppers with lemon sprayed on top and you had a super high calorie, super salty curry.
Tasted so good though. All I can say is that, if you haven't had curry with a Bengali, you haven't had curry at all.
I have some Bengali bbq stories as well, but I have work to wrap up.
Happy Ramadan guys!
Happy Ramadan guys!