food nostalgia - stories and memories

Sunday Lunch Memories: A Soulful Trip Through Three Nostalgic Indian Dishes

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Sunday has always been one of my favourite days, where I can set its pace to either slow, relaxed, bound to the couch, or to a complete roller coaster ride with family, friends, and experiences. The most anticipated and significant part of it all, being our Sunday luncheon. I don’t like a lavish Sunday breakfast as I am too fond of sleeping in and I prefer dinners to be light, easy, or a takeaway. So I always love a good sumptuous lunch. During the lockdown, people carried out Dalgona challenge, made a sourdough starter, and even experimented with drool-worthy new recipes. I too indulged in a lot of cooking, channelling my memories. When in the mood for homemade and Indian, I kept referring to these three dishes. As I yearned to recreate the comfort, love, fun that I once felt, here let me take you through a nostalgic trip.

Ma’s “Bhoger Khichuri”

Pujo Special Khichuri bhog
Pujo Special Khichuri that always comes with the aroma of nostalgia

During childhood every Sunday around noon, I would call out….. What’s for lunch, mummy?

Only to hear the same answer “Khichri“.

I would then sigh and sulk. Of course, the food palate of a juvenile craved to discover something new. It so happened, in our home, it was my dad who had the responsibility of dishing out Sunday afternoon meals and the only thing he could make was “India’s very own dal risotto“. I realised it much later in life how it used to taste delish and immerse me in a warm pillowy hug.

However, I was struck by the glamour in the form of “Bhoger Khichuri“. Hundreds of people would queue up in the warm humid afternoons of October to receive the prasad in our local Durga Pujo pandal. I used to wonder, being one of them, standing amidst the heady aroma of sweat, talcum and incense, “what’s so special about this Khichuri?” For the uninitiated, “Bhoger Khichuri“ is the one which is offered to the goddess and then distributed among the devotees in the Puja, particularly Saraswati Pujo and Saptami (seventh day) of Durga Pujo. Served with Labra (a typically mushy Bengali style mixed vegetable containing pumpkin, potato, spinach, aubergine, cauliflower), papad or Beguni (aubergine fritter) and Chaatney (tomato chutney) and had among friends, neighbours and strangers.

Was it the sense of being a part of the community, exchanging harmless titbits, reverence for the goddess, the love and simplicity with which it is cooked and the ethereal flavour or maybe a bit of everything that made it unique? The vibe is difficult to replicate at home but, I could definitely try to recreate its physical form, taste and fill our home with the same fragrance. I did, following the recipe from Bong-eats (a YouTube channel and blog about the food of Kolkata).

To my pleasant surprise, it transported me back to my Pujo pandal, as I savoured this healthy concoction made of rice, dry roasted moong dal and also the coveted moment. Do try the recipe on a rainy day for some extra warmth.

Love in the time of “Rajma Chawal”

Rajma Chawal of Delhi's Shankar Market
Rajma Chawal reminds me of Delhi’s Shankar Market
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jas Arora put “Rajma Chawal” on my Sunday meal map. He, of “Gur naal ishq mitha, oye hoye” fame, a 90’s remix song by Bally Sagoo, sung by Malkit Singh and featuring Malaika Arora dancing in a black leather ensemble (faux?) and red heels and later a lilac lehenga-choli (fashion inspiration definitely!). Jas Arora adorned with his dimpled smile and nonchalant hair once mentioned in a Delhi Times interview, his favourite Sunday lunch to be Rajma Chawal. And though, I was very much aware of this Punjabi Sunday favourite, having lived in Delhi all my life, somehow after reading about his inclination, my heart too plonked itself forever on the dimples of our Red kidney beans.

And that is how making Rajma Masala takes me back to my teen years. They were a simpler time with no mobile phones or the internet for us. Outdoor games and television being the biggest sources of entertainment. The late 90s was the era of independent pop music artists and remix video albums featuring models and fresh faces. The music was new, different, and felt very indigenous albeit marked with pronounced western influences.

Even though our Rajma beans (red kidney beans), are derived from a common bean ancestor originating in Peru, and introduced to Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders, they are the heart and soul of Punjab and North India in the form of Rajma Masala. And as it came quite practical to cook this during the lockdown period, with just store cupboard and basic ingredients, I was also reminded of the famous “Shankar market के Rajma Chawal (Parashar foods, Delhi) and how office goers would huddle to relish it during their lunchtime.

Food memories are interesting in a way that sometimes they are not about the actual dish. But mark the era, surroundings, occasions in which it was had, people who lovingly and tirelessly made it or friends with whom you enjoyed it. It becomes a reminder of your grandmother’s soft hands, the long drive with friends to a highway Dhaba, and even the petrichor that you enjoy with hot pakoras (fritters) and ginger chai. One such memory was formed when I had lived in my matrimonial home.

Married to “Mangshor Jhol”

A spicy Mangshor Jhol for Sunday luncheon
A spicy Mangshor Jhol is by far my favourite Sunday luncheon dish

One drill that I was so happy to adapt to, embrace and continue is having “Mangshor Jhol/Meat curry” for lunch on a Sunday. Most Bengali households have “Mangshor Jhol” on their Sunday lunch menu. It could be either mutton or chicken and this is almost like their circadian rhythm, only it happens every Sunday. Ours is a simple chicken and potato curry, but it is the memory of going shopping for the fresh chicken in the morning, making a ginger-garlic paste on “Shil-nora” (grinding stone), cubing the potatoes and the bite of the mustard oil when it touches the hot pan, that puts me on an endorphin rush. And later, the sprinkled comfort of garam masala and sugar on the dish, to be enjoyed with steamed rice readies me for the well-deserved Sunday siesta.

Here is our recipe for 1 kg chicken, cut into small to medium pieces:  

For marinade:

Turmeric powder – 2 tsp, Coriander powder – 2 tsp, Cumin powder – 2 tsp, black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp, ginger garlic paste – 3 Tbsp, dried red chillies – 2, slit green chillies – 5, chopped onion -1, chopped tomato – 1, Mustard oil – 1 Tbsp, salt to taste

Method:

Wash and clean chicken pieces. Marinate with the above mentioned ingredients for at least an hour

Wash, peel and cube two potatoes, fry lightly in mustard oil for 2-3 minutes. Keep it aside.

Chop two large sized onions for the gravy

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat mustard oil (4-5 Tbsps), once hot put chopped onions to fry

Once the onions appear soft and slightly browned at the edges, add the marinated chicken pieces

Cook the chicken with frequent stirring (can also cover and cook but do keep an eye and stir frequently) till it is done, takes at least 20-25 minutes.

Add the lightly fried potatoes and 1 cup hot water into the pan

Let the potatoes cook in the gravy till they are done (keep adding hot water if the gravy becomes dry and is sticking to the bottom of the pan), also the gravy should be a bit runny

Towards the end of the cooking add a pinch of freshly ground garam masala and 1 tsp sugar

Taste and adjust for salt and seasonings

Do try this recipe and make it your own, whether you are a recipe-focused cook or a laidback one. You can even tweak it to your own liking. The experience of cooking is to engage all your senses, de-stress, and be experimental, it is as I said earlier to relive memories and also make new ones.

As Anthony Bourdain once said, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life”. You would also have your moments where having mangoes will remind you of that well-spent summer holiday in your hometown or cooking पुलाव on an open fire with family and friends of that picnic in winters.

If reading about my food escapades tempted your taste buds or nudged your hippocampus, then do share your most cherished food memories with us.

Bon appetit!

Cover Image Credit: Freepik, Wikimedia Commons

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Alaka
Alaka
2 years ago

Scrumptious, nostalgic and such a leisure read. Perfect material for a lazy Sunday. The way you’ve weaved three stories for the three dishes just took me back in time. The ’90s pop era, the Pujo bhog….truly nostalgic. And of course the Mansgher jhol always takes the prize!! I might try the khichuri and laabda soon! Thanks for sharing your food memories 🤩🤗🤗🤗

Seetha Iyer
Seetha Iyer
2 years ago

Woohoo… Fell in love with the ‘dimples’ of your writing! Very nice play of words..and the way you have described the 90s…Thanks for taking me back again to my favourite years.. Loved every bite of your article.

Chaitali
Chaitali
2 years ago

What a wonderfully warm article! Took me right back to my pujo pandal days and surrounded me with warmth. This one is totally meant to be savoured and read again and again.

Sheetal
Sheetal
2 years ago

Good to know about the Bengali food , beautiful write up, keep writing dear💕

Shruti Gupta
Shruti Gupta
2 years ago

Excellent write up Sudeshna.. it’s so vivid that you feel you are watching rather than reading. Reaffirmed the many more functions of food than just satiety and nutrition 🙂

Adit Nigam
Adit Nigam
2 years ago

Truly Nostalicious. All my favorite dishes too. And loved the storyline…

Sunita majumdar
Sunita majumdar
2 years ago

I enjoyed your writing, especially your words which are used. I also understand your feelings during this lockdown. Very good. Keep it up.

khushi
khushi
2 years ago

Very well written and relatable!!. Never knew about your writing talent

Ayan
Ayan
2 years ago

Robibaarer maangsho bhaat!! 😋😋🤪

suhani
suhani
2 years ago

Wow sudeshna , content and write up, both are exemplary. I am sure many would try the recipe u ve put up

Aparna
Aparna
2 years ago

Hi sudeshna , excellent write up about Sunday lunch , the flavours of food oozes out as u describe them . Though it is Monday morning in Bangalore , it still picked up my mood just reading about it . Post something more
All the best
Aparna arunraj

Amandeep
Amandeep
2 years ago

Amazing Sunday lunch stories, very well articulated, amazing choice of words Sudeshna. I’m not too much into Bengali food but the 3 dishes you talked about were part of my Lunch but in Punjabi style.

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