Eshani Adhikary has created a collection of recipes exploring culture and narrative storytelling. Titled ‘Hidden Stories of a Dusty Kitchen’, she states:
This project is a homage to my roots, the women in my home who really didn’t belong to a place.
They were like water- taking the shape of wherever they were placed. They floated like rootless beings clutching on to recipes which they felt were closest to what they could express through their cooking. Each and every recipe was like poetry, like art, like a short story showing their emotions in the realest way possible.
Up until last year, my identity revolved around being a mum, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law etc. Now I can say I am a learner… Every day of my life is revolving around learning, adapting, processing and evolving around culture, and languages. I am a being of transition now.
Coming into a new country, and trying to find a place of my own, I often try to grasp my roots lest I forget who I am. As a being of transition there is very less amount of material possessions that I have with me. It is mostly memories, stories and an eternal fondness for the
place that I belong most. In the rectangular space of two large suitcases I brought things that would remind me the presence of a past that would continue to have a lingering presence in my future. A bit of my mother in the jars of achar, bori and naru that would very faintly replicate the culture that my mother has been carrying as a predecessor of generations of women in our lineage. Yes, recipes that somehow has taken place of an oral narrative, of hidden stories that are not penned down anywhere. Dishes that existed under the guise of culture, traditions and storytelling that only the women folk of our family were allowed to carry. Kitchens are often seen as the heart of a house, the central repository where many great memories are made. Food can be seen as a personal homage to our ancestry. Recipes can be seen as a symbol of love, continuity and social history. It links us directly to our ancestors in a history that has been shared and preserved. In this assignment for Community Of Arts and Well-Being, I will try to trace back to ancient remembrance and bring back some recipes that have been and even today is of special significance in our culture and our community, and the story behind it. The story will be mostly personal, with a flicker of communal past.
Below is Eshani’s narrative recipe for Chochhori:
If someone asks me what is that dish which I miss most and that reminds me of my home? I will reply chochhori in a heartbeat. This dish comprises of a vast number of vegetables. A single dish will contain potatoes, green beans, pumpkins, eggplant, striped gourd, radish etc. You can add or omit according to your own preference and availability. You can add fish head and bones if you want to make a non-veg version of it, and little spicier. In making of this dish, cooking is the simplest matter. It is washing, chopping and cutting the vegetables into uniform pieces that make it unique and delectable.
This dish was made by my paternal grandmother on days she craved a little treat for herself. It was labour-intensive, but the result was worth the effort. My grandmother became a widow when she was in her twenties. She never remarried. Instead, she focused on raising her six children all by herself. She knew money was a kind of an illusion, that didn’t materialise much in reality. So, she started to grow her own vegetables. In our desher bari (ancestral house) there was this little bit of narrow piece of land, where my granny grew her saag, chillies, lemons, and little bit of pumpkin and ladies fingers. That green patch till her death remained her favourite spot to just be. She survived with the simplest of means and taught us we can fight our battles with just being present at the battlefield with the intent of not giving up.
An earliest memory of mine was seeing my granny in a white saree, with spots of turmeric stain in it, her face all sweaty with the smoke coming from the earthen cooking stove, sitting on a wooden piri cooking her and my favourite chochhori. Me and my other cousins all sitting around her like pat cats, waiting with small batis to eat the first
taste of heaven shimmered in that iron cauldron. She used to sing sometimes in a slow, sleepy voice which sounded like some deep pain coming out of a deeper chasm.She used the simplest of spices like panch phoron, fenugreek seeds, dried red chillies lightly sautéed in oil for tempering and that dish till today remains as an embodiment of a past that can be discerned only through an invisible smoke-screen.
Preparation time: 15 minutes.
Cooking time: 30 minutes.
Total time: 45 minutes.
Ingredients for Chochhori:
– 1 cup ridge gourd chopped
– 1 cup pumpkin chopped
– 1 cup brinjal chopped
– 1 cup potatoes chopped
– 2 drumsticks, cut into 3 inch pieces
– ½ cup pointed gourd chopped
– ½ cup runner beans chopped
– ½ cup radish chopped
– Mustard oil as required
– 3 green chillies, slit
– ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
– ½ teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
– Salt to taste
– 1-1/2 teaspoon panch phoron
– 3 red chillies
– ½ teaspoon sugar
How to make Chochhori:
1. Firstly cut all the vegetables in similar shape and in the same size, wash the vegetables in running water, strain and keep aside.
2. Heat a wok on medium to low heat and add mustard oil. Heat it to smoking point and then add panch phoron, then asafoetida and some red chillies.
3. Begin with the hardest vegetable. In this case, pointed gourd and ridge gourd, as it takes time to cook. Saute for 3 minutes and then add the potatoes. You may reduce the heat or add splashes of water if you find anything sticking at the bottom of the wok.
4. Next add the radish, drumsticks and runner beans and continue sautéing for the next 2-3 minutes.
5. The vegetables should be 50% cooked, when you have to add salt and turmeric. Reduce the heat and cover and cook for 5 minutes. Open the pan and add the brinjals. Give a good mix and add the green chilles. Stir to combine.
6. Saute for 5 minutes or until all the vegetables are turned little mashy, yet holding their shape. Lower the steam and add the sugar now. Stir all the vegetables and turn off the heat.
7. Serve with steaming white rice and a wedge of lemon.