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How Didu's Rui Kaalia made me fall in love with Bengali food

How Didus Rui Kaalia made me fall in love with Bengali food
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Bengali rui kaalia is a light yet flavourful fish curry perfect for summers

My childhood summer holiday memories are dominated by those of weekend trips to my grandparents' house. I had moved to India when I was about 8 years old. My parents had decided to come back home after their stints abroad.

I used to be quite a picky eater as a kid.

I would refuse to eat Indian food when I first came back. My mom would cook specially for me and I would only eat the spaghetti, noodles, meatballs and fish and chips that she would cook.

Which would be a problem when I would visit my maternal grandparents’ place on weekends.

Didu, my maternal grandmom, would cook only Bengali dishes and a few north Indian dishes that she had picked up when she lived in Delhi before coming to Kolkata.

So, my mom would cook and pack meals for me before dropping me at my grandparents' house. I would live on those through the weekend.

Then one day my Didu called me to her kitchen.

She was making a dish I had never tried before. Luchi (Bengali flour based puri-like fried breads) and cholar daal (a lentil curry). She asked me to taste it and tell her whether she could serve it to the others.

Feeling chuffed at being considered an expert, I agreed to take a bite. I took my first bite of Didu’s luchi and chholar daal, and I was sold.

I realised that I had finally found an Indian dish that I liked.

I repeatedly asked Didu to make it for me and even demanded luchi and chholar daal when I went to Bengali weddings. It remains my favourite dish to order at Bengali restaurants.

Things changed a year after we moved to Kolkata when my father passed away. My mother moved in with my brother and me into my grandparents' house.

My pampered existence was over as my mother had a tough task of raising us on a meagre college professor’s salary and had to travel for two hours each way to work.

Didu used to cook for us while my mom went out to work. I slowly began to fall in love with Bengali cooking, and till today Didu is my favourite cook.

She is well into her 80s now, but forgets her aching knees and cooks for me when I go to Kolkata to visit her.

Once she had cooked a rui or rohu kaalia for us when we had dropped in. I asked her for the recipe.

Didu giggled and told me the recipe in a simplistic way that folks used to cooking by instinct do. Do keep in mind that they were not used to thinking in terms of recipes in their time.

Learning to cook was through observation. Cooking was taught directly to the daughter by the mother through lessons in the kitchen.

Here’s what I got out of her. The spice approximations are my inputs so the final taste could be a bit different from Didu’s dish.

Ingredients (for 2):

4 pieces of rohu

2 cubed parwal or potol (pointed gourd), a summer favourite

2 tbsp mustard oil for frying the fish, 1 tbsp mustard oil for frying the potol and 1 tbsp mustard oil for the curry

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 cubed potatoes

2 split green chillies

1 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp salt

½ tsp each of coriander and cumin seeds - all made into a paste with a tbsp of water

1 teacup of water for the sauce

Method:

1. Smear the rohu with salt and haldi. Fry it in mustard oil. Keep aside.

2. Fry the potol or parwal and set aside.

3. Heat oil in a saucepan and fry the white jeera (cumin seeds).

4. Add cubed potatoes, green chillies, paste of turmeric powder, salt, coriander and cumin seeds.

5. Keep stirring till the potato cooks.

6. Add water and let the gravy form.

7. Add the fish and parwal and let it cook.

8. Serve with plain steamed rice or Bengali mishti pulao.

So, what’s your favourite grandma's recipe?

Photo credit: Kalyan Karmakar

Kalyan is a Mumbai-based food blogger and columnist who loves to travel in search of local tastes. He is at his happiest when eating at small, family-run places. His blog Finely Chopped won the Best Food Blog Award in 2013 and 2014 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. He is the lead critic for Mumbai at EazyDiner and is a columnist for Femina. He is also the Chief Chowzter for Mumbai, and conducts food walks in the city.

Follow Kalyan on Twitter @finelychopped

Kalyan Karmakar

Kalyan Karmakar

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