This is a blog about remembering and forgetting inasmuch as it is about cooking.
Many years ago, my mother arrived in this country with two packed suitcases and one two-year old. She cooked, because back then most wives and mothers cooked for their families, and my mother was no exception. But I think also that my mother cooked, not merely because she had to, but because it connected her to a familiar life, to her family and her past in a way that little else could do. I like to think that perhaps it was a way for my family to combat homesickness.
If you were to ask her today about cooking or if you were to praise her cooking skills, she would shrug and say nonchalantly that she was just an “okay” cook. Her modestly notwithstanding, my mother cooked as if to say, “this is what I do to remind myself and to teach my children. This is how we ate, it is how we celebrated, and how we will continue to live.”
Often, how we eat and what we eat binds us to a cultural identity in a way that cannot be measured nor overstated. What we eat runs deep in our blood and the experience of sharing meals gives us a kind of human community that is so commonplace we forget how this extraordinary gesture is carefully embedded into the ordinary coming together of people and meals.
We are fortunate to recall memories redolent of the kitchen, full of bustle and chaos, and reminiscent of wonder. We remember these meals clearly, how that first taste widened our eyes, so fleeting and bright on our tongues; when I remember it now, I remember how each flavor was different and then after a few minutes, it was gone, simply a memory, a taste of something sweet and simple, like love itself.
We celebrate our memories and our communities through food, and it is inevitable that these memories evolve through time and space. When groups of people travel across countries and continents, food-related habits change and newer, hybrid cultures evolve, along with newly created memories that eventually replace our yearnings for the old.
And that is perhaps the saving grace of mealtime: if you can share a meal, if you can remember or re-create the taste, then the act of sitting down to a meal abolishes loneliness, connecting us to those we left behind. Here is an institution that holds fast even as it comes along for the ride. It has been said many times that you are what you eat. I like to think that we are more. We are how we cook.
Some of the recipes in this collection highlight the cooking of Bengal, because it is the kind of Indian cooking I know. It is how our families and our friends have cooked through the years: the favorites that are enduring and the new recipes that eventually became part of our histories.
I’ve also adapted a number of traditional dishes and have designed them to make Bengali cooking accessible to those of us who live in, or grew up in, America. I hope this blog will be helpful to others who want to cook Bengali food.
The other recipes are a reflection of my life: where I live, what my family likes to eat, and what I’ve learned to cook from the myriad people and places I’ve encountered. My name is Mimi and I live in Chicago. Thank you so much for visiting.