Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta's blog Bong Mom's Cookbook is a treasure trove of recipes.
If you happen to browse through her blog, you will be delighted by the treasury of recipes that she boasts of. In her kitchen in New Jersey, Sandeepa has whipped up many a dish and perfected them over time by making innumerable calls back home to her mom.
And then blogging happened. She called it Bong Mom's Cookbook for it was only natural. Today, she cooks for her two daughters (and husband, of course!) so that they can learn a recipe or two when they grow up.
In an interview with India Food Network, Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta talks about how she started blogging, getting published and the most over-rated Bengali dish!
When and how did you stumble upon blogging?
Food has always been important to me as it is for most Bengalis. Our gatherings always revolve around food and I find that is the best way to teach my daughters about where they come from and then how they can assimilate.
Around eight years ago, I started my food blog to mainly chronicle Bengali recipes, which I gathered from phone calls back home. I wasn't much of a cook then, and I realised if I did not write them down and follow them, my Maacher Kalia on a Wednesday would taste distinctly different from that on a Monday.
I needed a series of written instructions to follow. At that time, there were only a couple of blogs on Bengali cooking and it was difficult to find Bangla recipes online.
So I thought, as I learn new recipes and cook the traditional Bengali ones, why don't I also put them on a blog. It would help me cook better and when my daughters grow up, I could pass on my legacy of Bengali food to them through my blog. Slowly it became a chronicle of life as food and cooking always have their own stories to tell.
How did the idea of putting all the recipes in a cookbook come about? Were there any challenges you faced? Any advice for aspiring cookbook writers?
My blog Bong Mom's Cookbook has become quite popular over the years and after a few years of blogging and reader feedback, I had this fledgling dream to write a book one day. But, I didn't want to write a traditional cookbook. I wanted to write a food narrative where food complements the narration.
After a couple of failed attempts at sending out proposals, I was contacted by Harper Collins India to write a book based on my blog. My editor's idea of the book was exactly like mine and we both wanted a food narrative with recipes instead of a traditional cookbook. That kind of sealed the deal.
Learning a recipe and perfecting it are two different experiences. What is the process or experience like?
That is a really good question. It often happens that you learn a recipe and then when you prepare it yourself, it is a disaster. A prime example is the classic Bengali dish, Dhokar Dalna. It is a vegetarian dish where lentil cakes are fried and then simmered in a gravy. Sounds simple? But it is far from that.
I have been trying to learn it for so many years now, but I am yet to perfect it. My heart trembles every time I try making Dhokar Dalna. I am never sure if the lentil cakes will come together or not, if they will crumble or hold their shape, if it will turn out the way it should.
I know that I can perfect it if I make it more often, but the process is long and I never have that much time so every six months when I a try making this dish, I am plagued with doubts.
Do you have that one recipe from your book which you enjoy cooking the most? And why?
Not really. I look up recipes from my blog/book often and some recipes are referred to more than others. But, I don't think I love one particular recipe or any such thing. Now of course I prefer some dishes over the other, like I enjoy making and eating a Chingrir Malaikari (prawn curry with coconut milk) way more than shukto (a medley of vegetables) and I am sure you know why. :-)
Photography plays a big role in food blogging. What are some of the key points to remember while conceptualising the photos for the recipes?
Photography does play a big role, but I don't trust food photos that have been styled too much. I think clear, crisp pictures where the food is presented in a pleasing manner, and which gives you an idea of what the prepared food will look like are the best.
I think step-by-step pictures of the cooking process are also a big help. Good lighting, neat and clean lines, a focus on the food and your personal style work best.
What is that one Bengali dish that you think is overrated and why?
You and your readers will probably stop reading me after this. But if I have to be honest, it is Roshogolla. I seriously do not understand what the hype is all about. I mean it is delicious, but whenever I meet someone who is not too familiar with Bengali cuisine and they gush, "Oooh I love Bengali food, I love Roshogolla", mouthing the Os perfectly, I am filled with despair. I want to tell them, "Dude, have you tried Bonde or Gokul Pithey, or an Ilish maach begun diye jhaal or even Aloo Posto? That is Bengali food!"
What are some other kinds of cuisines you enjoy cooking?
I don't really go by cuisines as much by recipes that are easy and food that is delicious yet simple. A lot of Indian food, not specifically Bengali, is cooked as we like Kadhi-Chawal and lemon rice as much as we love our Aloo Posto.
My daughters are big fans of pasta so I cook a lot of pasta at home. We also love Thai food and so the Thai curries are something I make often.
What has been your greatest influence?
Well, of course it was my mother's cooking, which channelled me towards home-cooked food in the first place, and so she definitely was the most influential one in this regard. I would also give credit to my husband, who is a cooking geek and has scientific explanations for every cooking step, from boiling eggs to caramelising sugar!
What do you do when you are not cooking or thinking about food?
Come on, you don't ask a mother of two kids that question! We are the ones forever wishing for 48 hours in a day! Apart from being a Mom, I am also an engineer by education, and sadly I have to work to pay for the all-clad sauciers that I have in my kitchen. :-)