Aradhita is the amazing Master Cook behind this months new Culture Kitchen Kit. Hear from her in this post on her cooking career.
In the year 2000, I gave up my bachelor life and got married. The only cooking I knew up until that point was how to boil milk and a few snacks. My husband used to live in Bangalore (often times known as the Silicon Valley of India) and we were supposed to travel there from our home town 2 weeks after getting married. He casually told me that I should learn 2-3 dishes from his mom before we leave. I panicked and interviewed my mom and my mother-in-law for recipes and wrote everything down – with the hope to try and figure it out when we reach Bangalore. The day came and we left for Bangalore, during the journey, I told my husband about my cooking skills. He was of course not thrilled and bought me a recipe book from the train station.
We reach Bangalore and I could not even figure out how to make rice. I remembered we went to the market and bought an electric rice maker and I had to read the manual to understand the ratio of rice to water. Well, that was the start of an amazing journey of my life. I had a brand new life in a brand new city, plenty of time in my hand, a few hand written recipes, recipe book and a desire to succeed and rise to my husband’s expectations.
One quality which helped me was the fact that I liked to eat. Till date, I cannot decide what I like more – to cook or to eat. So, as a connoisseur of food with zero cooking skills, I started experimenting with ingredients and spices. I got rid of my phobia of not touching raw meat and fish and started cooking, testing and making panic calls back home when things didn’t work. Slowly but surely, I started liking what I made. And when I like a dish, I knew others would like it too. I learned some more when my mother and mother in law visited Bangalore. Bangalore has a very cosmopolitan nature and that allowed me to not limit myself to any particular style. I grew in confidence within couple of years, started to throw parties at home where I would do all the cooking – something I enjoy even today. In 2006, we came to the Bay Area and I think my best came out. I cooked for a friend once and all of their guests called me back to see if I could cater for them. That started my catering business which I ran for a couple of years. Though I cook many different styles today, what I most enjoy is Bengali cuisine – it brings back all the memories from my home. Normally we put lot of emphasis on fish, lentils, rice and sweets. The taste can be fiery or subtle. Bengalis are generally obsessed with food – I have seen my father going to market daily to buy fresh supply of fish and vegetables. And that is the norm. Bengalis are also very particular about the way and the order food has to be eaten. Each item is served separately so taste of each once can be enjoyed. In big occasions like marriage (including mine), food is served in banana leaves. In any big occasion, normally a meal will consist of rice, dal, bhaja, at least 2 types of vegetables, fish, chicken, mishit doi (sweet curd) and sweets. And after all these, a paan (beetle leaf) is usually served. Normally all the guests will be seated to have the meal and it’s a very traditional practice for the host to go to each table, greet the guests and request them to eat well. Hosts will also request them to eat more of a particular thing like fish, chicken or sweet. It is also a normal practice for the guests to oblige. So in the end, everyone ends up over eating J.
PS: I still have those hand written recipes and the recipe book we bought from the train station.