Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Notun Alor Dum and Doi Maach

Every day for the first 18 years of my life (barring maybe the first two) I grew up singing a Bengali hymn. As a child in India I had a better understanding of alien cultures than the unique parts that made India whole. Blame it on the education system with its emphasis on the British East India Company and the Mughul rule. The Macaulayan distortion of Indian history was what was fed to us through the elite education system as it still does today. I digress but that is my defense.

The Bengali hymn, none other than the Indian National Anthem written by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win a Nobel prize for literature. Hence Bengal occupies a special place in India, as for matters of Bengali cuisine, it might as well as have been on the other side of the world, that is exactly how much knowledge I had of it. From my corner of the world in TamilNadu anyone who lived north of the Vindhyas were predominantly wheat eaters and chapati making just came naturally. Imagine my great surprise when a blogger friend who will be introduced soon, confessed she was not good at making them.

I'll quickly state a few other facts that come to mind whenever I think of Bengal and feel free to please dispense me of any wrong ones.

1. Unlike most Brahmins who are vegetarians, Bengali Brahmins eat fish.
2. Clothes most specifically ready made garments were sold by the Kilo. - this fact mentioned by my dad of what he saw when he visited Calcutta Kolkata long before I was even born.
3. Goddess Kali is a very important deity
4. Communists have ruled the state for as long as I can remember (and)
5. Their love of literature and poetry.

But something happened a few years ago that gave me a deeper and a richer understanding of Bengali cuisine, when I discovered Sandeepa's excellent blog Bong Mom's CookBook. She loved her rice and read the previous paragraph again to learn one other truth about her.

Along the way I discovered a few more excellent blogs none of which need any introduction but I will list them all the same.
Soma's eCurry
Shramila's Kichu Khon
Sayantani's A Homemaker's Diary
Mallika's Quick Indian Cooking

I am sure there are many more good ones out there. Please feel free to list your favorites ones in the comments.

Read Sandeepa's latest post, don't ask me how she anticipated what I was going to talk about today!. As for rasagulla - the other stereotype, those days and maybe even today they came in tins packed I guess all the way from Calcutta (or was it Haldiram?), my dad loved them and bought them wherever he found them, as for me I loved my ammayee's gulab jamuns more.

A timely article in the Washington Post - Mmm, Kolkata: Eats on the streets and off the beaten path was perfect to spur me along.

I have learned so much about, admired and anticipated tasting various Bengali dishes and had to start somewhere. I wanted to try fish/shrimp in mustard paste or vegetables in poppy seeds paste first. Life interfered and potatoes happened first.

I am a succor for potatoes small, big ,round,oblong, thin, fat - you name it and I will buy it if I can see it. One look at this Karaishutir Kochuri aar Notun Alur Dom and a date was set and was also the first dish to be tried. I did not add the whole spices, garam masala or sugar the recipe called for.

Recipe Source: Sayantani's Notun Alor Dom

Baby Potatoes in onion yogurt sauce
1. 10-12 baby potatoes boiled and peeled, pricked with a fork and set aside
2. 1/2 of red onion minced using a food processor - 1 cup worth
3. 1 inch knob of ginger grated - 1 tbsp
4. 2 tomatoes chopped 1 cup
5. yogurt - 3-4 tbps whisked
6. coriander seeds - 1 tbsp
7. 2-3 tsp cumin powder
8. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder (or to taste)
9. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
10. salt to taste
11. seasonings: cumin seeds.
12. 2-3 tsp oil


1. In a wide mouthed pan (kadai) heat oil and roast the potatoes for 3-4 minutes and set aside. ( i forgot to rub them with turmeric and salt, please remember to do that)
2. Add the onions and saute, as they start to turn pink, add the ginger and saute till they are brown but not burned.
3. As the onions are sauteing dry roast the coriander seeds and powder them
4. When the onions are brown, add the turmeric,coriander, cumin and red chili powder and mix it in.
5. Now add the tomatoes, cover and cook till they are completely mushy. Switch off the flame.
6. Cool the pan for 5 minutes , add the whisked yogurt and put the pan back on the flame, add the potatoes, salt and let them cook for 8-10 minutes. I did not need to add any water as I was using yogurt made from fat free milk. Add 1/2 cup of water otherwise.

No kachuris only chapatis but thoroughly enjoyed.

Next up is the Doi Maach. One of my cousins was fond of non.veg (chicken/goat) so much that he wanted to take the day off from school if he found out non.veg was being cooked that day. In our(my) family that kind of enthusiasm is reserved for fish. It is one item we can eat without any problems whatever way it is cooked. A day was reserved for cooking doi maach as I am not lucky enough to know a source of Rohu or Hilsa, what I had on hand - frozen flounder had to do. I rubbed them in turmeric and salt and set them aside for a while. DD had to go somewhere and I just under an hour to finish the cooking and this was done with plenty of time to spare.

Fish curry in our parts was usually made with the head, tail and a few pieces usually with the bone left behind after the fleshy ones were taken for the fish fry. The fish pieces dropped into the gravy was never fried before hand and because the only most sturdy pieces were used they did not fall apart in the gravy. Lot of Bengali curries use fried fish in the curry and keeps the fleshy pieces together and from falling apart. Even the delicate flounder maintained most of its shape. Here too I did not add the whole spices - the rush got to me and I forgot.

Recipe Source: Sandeepa' Doi Maach

Fish in yogurt sauce
1. 8 fillets of flounder smeared with turmeric and salt
2. 1 cup of minced onion (I did not make a paste)
3. 2 tbsp of grated ginger
4. 1 cup of whisked yogurt
5. 3 slit Thai red chilies
6. 1 tbsp turmeric powder
7. 1/2 tbsp chili powder
8. 1 Tbsp oil
9. salt to taste
11. Whole spices - cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves and cardamom (I did not add them)

1. Heat 3/4 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and the sear the fish pieces on both sides
2. Now heat the rest of the oil in the kadai and add the whole spices if using.
3. Add the slit chilies and minced onions and saute, when the onions start to turn pink add the ginger and saute till the onions are brown.
4. Add the turmeric and chili powder and turn off the heat.
5. After 5 minutes add the whisked yogurt. I did not add any water because the fish will leave water.
6. Let it cook on medium low heat for 6-8 minutes.
7. Add the fried fish and salt if required and let it cook till the gravy thickens.

Serve over rice.

We enjoyed the fish preparation immensely.

My experiments with Bengali cuisine will continue at the rate of one every 2 weeks. Let's see if the schedule sticks.


  1. Delicious recipes!

    I am in hunt for hilsa for the past 3-4 days and just found out that Bangladeshi stores sells hilsa! I have Sandeepa's Doi Maach and Doi Ilish bookmarked... I think I will try the Doi Ilish first.

  2. Being a South Indian myself never had the oppurtunity to taste bengali food till now,although I like reading Sandepa's and the other blogs that you have mentioned, everytime I wonder how it will taste.
    But after reading your post, I want to try some recipes especially the fish ones..

  3. Both the dishes look wonderful....all the facts about bengalis are true, only the 2nd fact, I've no idea, but your dad said so, it must be true..I learned something today...
    I'm also a bengali food blogger, Visit my blog at your spare time
    APPYAYAN (http://indranid.blogspot.com)

  4. Alu dum looks divine. I love bengali sweets.

  5. Indo

    You are funny :-) great minds think alike.

    1. Bengali Brahmins eat not only fish but also meat(goat and later chicken) and if they are corrupted like me they will eat all kinds. I have a friend who is Tam Bram, she was very surprised by this bit of news. She says, her Dad will not even eat food at Non-Brahmin's home because of such contamination.

    2. "Clothes sold by Kilo" must have been true when your Dad visited but I have never seen such a thing. I am thinking it must have been some wholesale place where they do business in garments.

    4. I hope to see that change in my lifetime

    Ok, another confession, even I love gulab jamuns better than Rasgulla ;-), as a kid I would have rasgullas only when I would be sick 'coz then gulab jamuns were not allowed.

  6. both the recipes look so delicious. i love the addition of yogurt in Sayantani's aalo recipe and for long time I was looking for a good doi maach recipe which I just found here. Give me some rice now and I am good for my dinner :)

  7. Growing up I had Bengali food at my friends place and when she moved, had them at a restaurant in Hyderabad.
    Both recipes sounds delicious.

  8. I was just commenting on Sandeepa's blog and then I came here. It is as if I was reading an extension of her post here ( of course, you have already mentioned it).
    Loved your first paragraph, in fact it kept me in a bit of a suspense as I wondering which Bengali hymn you sang everyday for 18 years. Duh! I should have guessed it immediately, but did not ring a bell :-))

    Love all the blogs that you have mentioned.

  9. I saw the header in my reader and did a double take ... went back and checked it was indeed Daily Musings. :-)
    Such a wonderful writeup ISG! And you have done a great job with both the dishes ... they look perfect! Much thanks for mentioning me and my blog. :-)

  10. You're right. Our syllabi has a lot to do with our ignorance of the foods, culture of various states.( I once met someone who thought Karnataka was a city! She was the daughter of an Air Force officer!) Plus long built prejudices that continue even today. You'd think with time, our thinking would have changed but no, it is as bad as ever. (I totally digressed here, didn;t I?! Just left Sandeepa a similar comment. I guess I still had that on my mind :))

    The aloo dum looks so good. Am bookmarking this.

  11. Lovely two dishes. Sans the sugar I too love the combo of spices and veggies / fish / meat that Bengali cuisine has. Just came from Sandeepa's latest post on Bengali cuisine and read your comment there too! Love the two dishes Indo!

  12. I have been lucky to find a good friend here who is a Bong and I enjoy food at her place - my daughter more than me since she spends so much time there! Love the rui and hilsa - very different texture from the sea fish we are used to. The alur dom is one of my favourites!

  13. Indo, loved reading about your adventure..though we grew up learning about all the cultural and regional aspects, food wise bengali cuisine was always different. We club everything as North Indian food. But I understand how different and wonderful this cuisine is only after trying RCI Bengali from Sandy..it was simply superb! the luchi and alur dum..my gosh they were so tasty..I even made posto which was too too good..looking fwd to see all the lovely dishes that you will make ..love reading all the blogs you have noted down..

  14. I love Bengali food - once Sandeepa even asked me if The Spouse was Bengali because I would mention it on and off in her blog.

    As for the story re: your cousin, it reminded me of another - one of my relatives would like chicken curry so much that when it was made at home, she wouldn't wash her hands with soap after dinner, and go to bed smelling it!

  15. Totally relate to the whole post, actually i started lerning more about bengali music zafter getting married. And about foor, i dodn't think i ever had any bengali dishes untill i started making myself or when i went to bengali home for parties.
    I would love love that fish curry.

  16. I love bengali sweets thatz about it about bong food for me. I love this alor dum

  17. Indrani and Sandeepa,

    now that both of you mention that you have never heard of it I am wondering if my dad was talking about another "North" Indian city.

  18. No Indo, it might be true. There are wholesale garment traders in some specific areas of Calcutta, maybe your Dad visited those places.

    We relocated to Calcutta much later in life and before that it would be just an annual visit to my maternal grandma's place. So we only went to retail stores for saree and dresses

  19. Gowda Saraswat Brahmins also eat fish. The fish has expanded to include mutton, chicken and everything else... and many other Saraswat brahmins have followed suit... so very often I have to clarify to people that Saraswats are vegetarians "traditionally" :)

  20. I had to check twice to see that the title matched the blog :-) LOL.. I am speechless.. such a wonderful post. and 2 of my very favorite dishes.
    The only thing I have never heard of is the "kilo" thing:-) Tho' an export market near Jaipur still sells cloth material by kilo!
    Thanks a bunch for the mention Indhu. Hugs

  21. both the dishes look yum...


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