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Committed effort to revive the forgotten Bengali cuisine

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“ I would like to bring back the huge repertoire of the Bangal ( East Bengal) cuisine which got buried due to the partition and later the refugee status of the our earlier generations”

Pritha Sen, a journalist, food researcher and a ‘bangal’ by heart  has been travelling for one city to another, putting up pop-up events to showcase the magic of the East Bengal dishes . Goalondo Steamer cuisine is the first of her repertoire with many to follow.

During the late 1800s, passengers took the East Bengal Express connecting the Gateway to the East, Calcutta, now Kolkata, with Goalondo, from where people took the ferry service on the Padma River to cross into the erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh. From GoalondoGhat people fanned out in different directions all over East Bengal and to the tea gardens of Assam or to Burma where there was a huge Bengali population. Sadly, the express train was discontinued in 1964 after the war, but one particular thing was not forgotten – the famous Goalondo fowl curry – this was served as the signature dish to the passengers travelling by the steamers that ferried from GoalondoGhat. This is a light preparation of country chicken, cooked with basic spices by the boatmen who hailed from East Bengal and Chittagong.

Just like disonaurs, the Goalondo fowl curry also became extinct and nonexistent. A lot of these fun facts were gathered by Pritha and she vows to give life to many such forgotten culinary delights she learnt from the elders of her family

‘Nabanno,’ in Hyderabad, hosted a pop-up by Pritha Sen who recreated some of the magical dishes from the Goalondo steamers and it was called the ‘The Goalondo Steamer Pop-up.’ This meal was served as a   buffet consisting of various dishes like the ‘Khoi er Bora’ – a pakodi made from popped rice, MaachherDhumpokko – a smoked preparation of Bhekti fish,  ChhanaBhape (Steamed Paneer) , MachherDeemerBhapa (Steamed Fish Eggs) and many other non vegetarian and vegetarian dishes drawn from the East Bengal landscape. Sen incorporates this East Bengal cuisine in her extravagant menu of vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes with around 4 dishes in starters, 12 main course dishes and 3 mouth watering desserts.

Pritha Sen, whose roots are from the Bikrampur region of Bangladesh, grew her interest in the Goalondo fowl curry after reading about it in Syed Mujtaba Ali’s writings. She wants to enlighten people about the superiority of the huge repertoire of the East Bengal cuisine which somehow got buried because of the Partition and the refugee status that the East Bengalis had. There are several dishes unique to Bengal apart from the well-known stereotypical dishes that we know as Bengali cuisine. The wider ‘Bangaal’ cuisine is what Pritha is referring to and not just the ‘Bengali’ cuisine. The Bangaal cuisine is inclusive of the East Bengal and the West Bengal cuisine before the Partition of the two Bengals took place. It incorporates foodsusing all parts of a vegetable – from the stems of the plant to the seeds, the outer layers – or fish.

Like many who have their family roots in the erstwhile East Pakistan (Opar Bangla), Pritha has a passionate connect with her Bangaal   self. Almost like the East Bengal supporter syndrome playing against Mohun Bagan! This has been the driving force for her unique culinary art venture.

Like a true ambassador, she has been consistently digging up recipes from the past and sharing with the world, a piece of that lost forgotten heritage of Bengal.

Image Courtesy hydfoodguy.com