One of the signs, probably, of the tomato’s late entry and adoption in Indian foodways is that its name hasn’t changed much in some major Indian languages from the Spanish tomate and the English tomato. In Hindi, for example, the word is “tamatar”, pronounced “tuh-maa-tur”; and the English transliteration of the Bengali would be “tomato”, though pronounced “tom-ae-toh” (with hard t’s all around). Whereas in the Hindi belt in North India the tomato has been fully indigenized—it is a crucial ingredient in a number of iconic savoury dishes—in the east its incorporation is less complete, more belated. I think I’ve noted before that, as per my aunts, one of the marks of North Indian influence in my mother’s cooking is that she uses a lot more tomato in savoury dishes than is strictly traditional in Bengal. However, though the recipe for this dish which centers almost entirely on the tomato is from my mother, it is for a fairly traditional Bengali dish: tomator chatni. Tomatoes are used here though as a fruit rather than as a vegetable. Continue reading
Here is a classic Bengali dish and one of the true pleasures of summer. You are not going to find this in any Indian restaurant outside India (and within India only Bengali restaurants are likely to serve it and those are not so common). Luckily, you can make it very easily at home. It is made with mangoes. Here in Babylon we may not get mangoes that can approach even the third tier of Indian mango glory but that’s not a problem for this dish. That’s because it is made with green, unripe mangoes, of which all that is required is that they be sour without being astringent.
Now, why have I put “chutney” in quotes up top? That’s because the Bengali chatni (pronounced with a long aa) is neither chutney as it is understood in North India (a condiment, as in tamarind chutney or mint chutney) nor as it is understood in most of the West (as a sort of pickle/preserve a la Major Grey’s chutney). The Bengali chatni is closer to dessert, though it is not a dessert proper as it is not primarily sweet. It is a tart-sweet dish and in a structured Bengali meal (of the kind now seen mostly in Bengali weddings) it would come before the sweet/dessert course proper. When not eating a structured Bengali meal it works just fine as dessert, and I’ve been known to devour it by the bowlful at all times of the day and night. Continue reading