Wordsmith Memory : Food, Feast, Bengali Marriage Reception

[ For last four months, corona virus and lock-down made sure that we did not attend any marriage reception dinner. Absence of something makes memory more vivid.]

Then and Now

Like everything, food in social events in Greater Bengal has undergone great change and variation. I think the same is true for all the parts in India. I shall restrict myself to the Greater Bengal area for two reasons, first, I was initiated into this kind of food since my annaprasanam and secondly for having direct field data for this region for a span of thirty years.

Here is a typical middle class marriage reception menu (1980s)  – generally served while seated and not a buffet or a la carte. The focus was on the taste of the food and less on presentation and if I am allowed to say, pretentiousness.

  • Radha-ballavi (Indian round shaped stuffed bread )
  • A dal or lentil curry
  • A fish fry and  vegetable fry (seasonal)
  • A vegetable curry
  • Alu dum (potato cooked in Middle Eastern style/seasonal)
  • A dish with fish’s head
  • Fish – Dish I
  • Fish – Dish II
  • Meat (not chicken but goat)
  • Flavoured rice /plain rice / pialu
  • Chutney
  • Sweet Curd
  • Assorted Sweets – legendary rasgolla / sandesh etc 
  • Chewing  leaf with sweets

Now :

Generally buffet with stalls of the following in order

a) phuchka b) coffee/tea c) sherbet and aerated drinks (non-alcoholic) d) salad with Russian salad for sure e) ice-cream f) pan

b) A vegetarian and non-vegetarian divide.  It is not surprising if soon we have diabetic and non-diabetic sections in a marriage reception in Calcutta. If someone has heard of it, let me know.

c) A selection of entrees or appetizers that sometimes have pasta and noodles – some innovators have started putting momo counters as well !

d) Main courses have names like – Fish Ajwain, Fish Amritsari, Fish Labrador, Lemon fish

e) More exotic names of the courses with core ingredients completely foreign to Bengal.

My order to a Reception Chef and his team while a customer or a Lead of a social event : 

In a few receptions (marriage and others) where I was in-charge, I call them and order them :

  • No dodgy innovation or pretense of fusion confusion. Fanatically traditional.
  • I have not invited these guests to have a taste of “seven wonders of the world” in miniature form – ref. Eco Park, Calcutta but to offer them healthy, handsome, authentic, fresh and wholesome local food. Fresh, Local, Tasty, Wholesome and cooked and offered with love, care and affection. Not with pretense, dubious innovation, fusion confusion and counterfeit synthesis and all the mischiefs masked by use of liberal amount of Indian spices.
  • I will be extremely happy if the guests say : “the food tasted like home” – so do not try to present a Bengali fish curry as Mexican or Meso-American fish curry. Remain loyal to the food and tradition.

Few theories (circumstantially proved) – to be tested more systematically by a team of Bengali food bloggers, culture theorists and historians 

  • Those who eat more of packed, frozen and factory food (non-fresh going under the name “fresh-frozen) lose the subtle sense of flavour and of smell. This is the same for a drunkard who cannot distinguish between subtle variation and shades of the taste and smell of wine, cognac, cider, ale, brandy, port, contreau, pastis, vermouth, beer and gin. The howl I hear about “Scotch, Scotch” and of “Chinese, Chinese” in some Bengali circles provide a strong circumstantial evidence of my theory.
  • Those who are exposed to low quality music have their inner composition destroyed and the only thing that now remains to distinguish is the loudness or the “hook.”  appeal. The inner organs of “hearing” and “feeling” subtler notes and complexity are lost forever.
  • Those whose best teachers in communication are Facebook, whats-app cannot appreciate finer art of communication. Thus their communication slowly becomes telegraphic and functional only. Since the cannot communicate deeper meaning of anything and soon cannot communicate any either and hence like the Pavlov’s dog, they see a forward button and in a conditioned reflex- click.
  • Fake Food, Fake Music, Fake Communication >> Fake News

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