How many times have you asked a Bengali colleague to bring an authentic fish curry on an office potluck? Or requested a Bengali friend to bring Sandesh from their trip to Kolkata? The moment we see a “Mukherjee” or a “Ghosh” we almost impulsively start a conversation on fish! Or Roshogolla! The reason is obvious. The world equates Bengalis instantly to Fish! And for good reason too. The relationship between a Bengali and Fish is a well-established, legitimate and widely acknowledged one. There is hardly any doubt or debate on this. It’s a culinary fact. Bengalis love fish. Period.
What the world doesn’t know, is about a secret affair almost every Bengali has. That’s not with fish or Roshogolla. Not even Nolen Gur. It’s a much simpler food yet the relationship is quite intimate. It’s the Egg! Or the oh-so beloved Deem! Every Bengali family has one member (if not all) who wholeheartedly believes that “Deem” is bae! For those Bengalis, an egg is not just a breakfast item or a saviour food for bachelors…oh no Siree! For a Bengali, an egg is beyond any food fantasy. An egg is the source of a pure foodgasm! It’s like the mistress who you just can’t let go of…ever! So, here is some “dirt” on this eternal love affair between a Bong & an Egg you might relish!
When Poaching isn’t a Crime
Being a Bengali myself, I grew up cherishing the “Poach”. Now, why am I putting quote signs with the words? Because a Bengali poach is not exactly like a poached egg steamed in water. A Bong poach, however, is nothing but a fried egg or a sunny side up! Why do we even call it a poach is not quite clear. But boy, do we love the poach! It’s like a whole orbiting process where you first enjoy the egg white bit by bit, like a long-lost asteroid, gradually making its course towards the “sun”. And finally, when it’s just you and your yolk, you carefully prick it with a spoon and then slowly savour every drop of the golden yellow heart-melting syrup that oozes out! Everywhere else in the world, a fried egg is just an option for breakfast that you eat with your toast, bacon, or sausages. For us, the “Deem-ented” Bengalis, we save the best for the last. To absorb every drop of this syrupy bliss in our hearts!
Fun story: My 6-year-old niece inherited her genetic lust for eggs from her mother and almost all her parents’ Bong friends. She simply refuses to accept a “poach” if the yolk is even slightly broken. Even at an early age, she knows what she wants which is a perfect Bong poach with a large visible white area and a runny yet firm intact yolk. She’s also mastered the perfect way to justify this glorious food (that is licking the plate until every tiny drop of the yolk is devoured!)
The Omelette vs. Maamlet
The very first omelette is believed to have prepared by the Persians. However, it was through French cuisine that an omelette reached many food tables of the world. A Maamlet (that’s what Bengalis lovingly named an omelette) is where an omelette prepared using shorsher tel (mustard oil). The onions, green chillies and coriander leaves are added along with usual spices. The point is, a Maamlet has to be cooked in mustard oil, otherwise it’s just a regular omelette!
A Maamlet can be relished as a side dish, an evening snack with tea, and of course at breakfast. I remember as a kid, I particularly loved visiting one auntie in my neighbourhood with mom. She always invited us in and immediately greeted me with a “Khide peyeche? Ekta Maamlet kore di”? (Are you hungry? Should I make a Maamlet for you?) I wonder if she still makes such delicious Maamlets? I think I’ll try looking her up on Facebook!
Fun story: When Napolean was crossing through southern France, he and his army rested for a night near a town called Bessieres, where a local innkeeper fed him with an omelette. Napolean loved it so much that he asked them to prepare a huge omelette for the whole village using all the village eggs! Now that’s an ultimate egg fantasy for almost every Bengali! Feasting on a giant omelette!
The Boiled Desires
There’s something about a boiled egg that makes Bengalis go weak on the knees! The mere sight of steaming hot eggs sprinkled with salt and pepper has the ability to make a Bong guy leave his hot date in the middle and go for it! And if you thought they’re just white boiled eggs, well think again! There is so much you can do with a boiled egg to make it a culinary delight. Here are some “boiled” favourites that the egg-loving-Bongs go crazy for:
- Deemer Dalna or The Egg curry: One of the special dishes in every Bengali household, where the boiled eggs and boiled potatoes are first fried to obtain a crispy skin. Then they’re cooked in a spicy gravy to be eaten with rice. The frying of the eggs and adding the large potatoes are the two emblematic elements of Bengali egg curry. Frying is a must. In mustard oil!
- Soft boiled eggs: This one is my favourite. Delicately soft-boiled eggs where the yolk is done but still a little runny. Slurping that golden juice out of the egg white makes your heart stop!
- Hard-boiled travel partners: No train journey or a road trip is complete without hard-boiled eggs. We used to be particularly excited about our long train journeys as kids because of these boiled egg event! You’ll hardly find any Bengali without one such train memory! Our mother would ration the number of eggs to equally spread over a two-day journey!
- Debhil or Devilled eggs: Again, a little different (or if I may say enhanced!) from the classic Devilled eggs of ancient Roman origin. A Bong Deemer Debhil (yes, that’s the correct pronunciation!) is halved boiled eggs stuffed with minced meat, potatoes, and other spices, coated with egg white and bread crumbs and then deep-fried! It’s a delicacy that has absolutely no competition. Durga Pujo pandal hopping or a mere evening get-together, a Deemer Debhil alone makes your life worth celebrating!
Fun story: As kids, we were only allotted one egg per head, always (I’ve been compensating ever since the onset of adulthood!). Some 13 years ago, while on a date with my then Bong boyfriend, as he was dropping me off, we spotted a roadside Egg-vendor. He asked how many eggs I can eat and me being always used to having a limited number of eggs told him I’ve only had two at a go so far. He said “eat as many as you can” and I savoured 4 boiled eggs that evening. I remember experiencing an overwhelming sense of thrill running through my veins! That’s the day I decided to marry that guy and we’ve been living in an egg-paradise ever since!
On Top Of Everything
One of the major reasons Bengalis prefer a Kolkata Biryani any day over others is the very existence of egg in it. Along with potatoes, a Kolkata Biryani is garnished with boiled eggs making it all the more desirable. The scrumptious Iranian Chelo Kebab is the most popular dish in Kolkata’s famous restaurant Peter Cat, probably because of the addition of fried eggs along with the whole platter of lip-smacking kebabs! Bengalis find Parsi recipes quite admirable also because of their generous use of eggs on the main dishes. Tamatar-par-Eedu (tomato & egg-based dish), Bhindi-par Eedu, Kanda Papeta par Eedu, the list is quite long. Just like the Bongs, the Parsis have found happiness in eggs and they don’t skimp on them in their dishes!
Fun story: On several occasions, I’ve witnessed many of my Bong friends (well, and myself) getting furious over the absence or inadequate amount of boiled eggs in Biryanis. There have been long telephonic arguments that mostly led to refunds from the restaurant. In fact, we’ve often boiled extra eggs to add to the Biryanis to avoid intra-group disputes.
Precisely, Bengalis have always had a soft corner for the soft boiled! Of all the kinds, possibly the scrambled egg is the least favourite among Bongs. The simple reason is, we just can’t fathom the idea of wrecking an egg by crushing into million pieces thus eliminating the pleasure of big bites. There have been long hours of debates, fights amongst friends over possession, even secret tear-sheds, and wailing over torturous siblings looting egg shares. And yet eggs aren’t considered “auspicious” food, hence never been included on Bengali wedding menus. Sigh! Life isn’t fair! So, the next time you want to earn some extra brownie points from a Bengali, try replacing the stereotypical “Mach khabe” to “Deem khabe”? Maybe you’ll have a chance to redeem with the Deem!
Do you like eggs just as much? Or maybe you have a Bong friend who is just crazy about eggs (or anything else)? How about you share your egg-stories with us in the comment!