Graduated in Comparative Literature, sold computers and software education, transformed…
We all know Rabindranath Tagore for his literary excellence. In this story Sumita Ganguli/Mou shares another aspect of Tagore that is food from the Kitchen of Tagore’s residence.
The Tagore family was one of the wealthiest and highly prosperous families during their times. Dwarkanath Tagore, the grandfather of Rabindranath, was perhaps among the most prominent Indian business tycoons of the 19th-century. He maintained cordial relations with the Europeans and regularly entertained high-ranking officials. As a corollary, cuisine from across the globe used to be dished out with much aplomb.
The family traveled well and naturally, exposed to a diaspora of cuisines. They used to preserve recipes from far and wide. Family chronicles revealed detailed recipes ranging from English Pies, to Turkish Kebabs, alongside local fares – the list was almost endless.
The Tagore family’s contribution to social reforms, literary activities, and reforms for women’s empowerment is legendary. They contributed to almost every sphere of life. Rabindranath’s birthday cannot be complete without a discussion about food. Culinary culture was no less than a goldmine in the Jorasanko household.
The Bengal kitchen flourished here with items from Shukto to Bhaja, Dalna, Tarkari, Pithe and various kinds of sweets. Their global food repertoire included Continental, Pan Asian, Indian, and the depth across each was fascinating. Some dishes had Irish Stew, Shahi Korma, Chicken Rasalla, Mutton Roast, Phillipino Chicken Curry, Shingara, Fruit Salad, Mysore Pak etc. The list is so vast that it would take a few days to read it all!
As is evident, Rabindranath had composed a beautiful poem as a child showing his love for food.
Aamshotto dudhey pheli
Tahatey kodoli doli
Shondesh makhia dia tatey
Hapush-hupush shobdo, charidik nistobdho
Pipira kandia jae paate
He often used food as a medium for ironic and satirical observation of human character. The essence of the poem portrays simple pleasures of life. Comfort food of sun-dried ripe mango in milk mixed with squashed bananas and Sandesh (sweet) tastes so good that the slurping sound echoes in silence and after finishing the food not a morsel is left so as to make an ant cry in deprivation.
A silent revolution
The Thakurbari kitchen underwent a culinary revolution, with the cooks toiling hard to recreate the magic of the food which lingered. Gurudeb was exposed to oriental and occidental cuisine, and the Thakurbari kitchen underwent a culinary revolution.
Rabindranath’s favorite niece Indira Devi Choudhurani, the daughter of Debendranath’s second son Satyendranath Tagore, had maintained an exercise book of recipes. That exercise book/khata was inherited by Purnima Tagore. “Thakur Barir Ranna” (Foods from the Tagore Kitchen) by Purnima Tagore (daughter of Pramatha Choudhury and Nalini Devi) details some of the culinary aspects. The book has been divided in multiple sections – vegetarian, fish, egg, meat, desserts, and pickles. When you read through the pages, you’ll clearly visualize the colorful and flavorful dishes in your mind’s eye. So much was the power in the storytelling format.
Few of Tagores favourite fish dishes were –
Kkacha iilish er jhol
Chitol mach aar Chalta diye Muger daal
Narkel-chingri and aadar maach
Bhaapa Ilish (steamed hilsa)
Paturi, Dolma etc.
But he relished comfort food too. In his memoirs, he writes how welcome this comfort food was when he ate it after an illness: “After this fast, the Mourala fish soup and soft-boiled rice which I got on the third day seemed a veritable food for the gods.”
Mou’s Cuisigne remains indebted to the chronicles of Jorashanko kitchen for the enormous repertoire of recipes that they recreate and make people pick up a conversation and cherish the history of the food. After all, adda at the dining table is a tradition that we all love.
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Graduated in Comparative Literature, sold computers and software education, transformed into a hobby chef and evolved into a restaurateur-entrepreneur. Loves to research the culinary influences on the huge repertoire from the Bengal peninsula. Sumita lives in Kolkata with business connections across the world.