A hearty conversation with the author of Bangla Gastronomy – Ananya Banerjee
The Bengali cuisine that we enjoy today is a result of different culinary influences from those who were based in undivided Bengal. Blogger, chef and author Ananya Banerjee’s recently launched book Bangla Gastronomy encapsulates the interesting journey of Bengali food. Find out why Ananya says Bangla Gastronomy captures the heart and soul of Bengali cuisine
Guess what gave Ananya Banerjee the idea of penning a book on Bengali cuisine? Well, the lack of English language books dedicated to Bangla food, and of course the love for this cuisine. These inspired her to write Bangla Gastronomy – her second cookbook that took her three long years to put together!
It all began at home
Hailing from a Bengali household, Ananya grew up having traditional Bangla food. “I have seen my grandmother, mother and aunts preparing Bengali delicacies. Most of the recipes in the book are my family favourites,” she says. “But like most of our home recipes, there was hardly any documentation.”
Ananya began documenting everything for the book. She even worked on a video series on Bengali food in order to capture minute details and accentuate the special aspects of the cuisine. Her video series took her to the interiors of the state, which was an experience in itself.
When documenting any recipe, the biggest challenge that arises is the variations that come along with it. With her latest book, she aims to capture the essence of Bengali food with its subtleties and unique influences. She mentions,
We live in a country where recipes keep changing every few kilometres. Most homes will have closely guarded family secret recipes.
Choosing the best from the best
For Ananya, all the recipes mentioned in the book make it to her list of favourites. But her heart melts specially for Macher horogouri (fish served in two gravies – a spicy mustard based one and a sweet and sour tamarind gravy), Kankrar jhal (crab curry), Christmas cake, and Radhabollobi (stuffed poori).
When asked about her favourite thing about this cuisine, she emphasises on the simplicity and subtlety that go into making Bengali food. “Another very unique thing is that nothing goes wasted in a Bengali kitchen. Vegetable peels, roots, stalks, leaves, fish heads, bones, flowers, etc., are judiciously used to prepare delicacies.”
The first book that Ananya authored was Planet Gastronomy which contains popular local recipes from 60 countries. The book was a result of her extensive travel across the globe. “That experience was indeed overwhelming, and anything first is always special,” she proudly states. Each recipe mentioned in the book was triple tested and tasted first-hand by Ananya. The recipes from her second book – Bangla Gastronomy – have been multi-tested and tasted innumerable times.
Authoring a book is always a great learning experience for the writer. And in Ananya’s case, it’s no different. Talking about the changes that it brought in her personal cooking style, she shares, “I was always a prolific chef! I never followed recipe books to the tee. A pinch of this and a dash of that works for me perfectly. However, while working on these two books, I have disciplined myself to follow measurements.”
Labour of love
For Ananya, being an author is incredibly satisfying, but it is also a true labour of love. “The multiple edits, testing, tasting, correction, photography, styling and design can be a mindboggling experience!” Unlike many of her counterparts, Ananya started blogging after she became an author. She believes that blogging is a fantastic way to reach out to a large audience. Her advice to bloggers is simple –
Keep writing, keep clicking, and keep posting pictures. Especially if you are a food blogger, pictures truly say a thousand words!
It was all worth it
A chef, culinary advisor, food stylist, author, painter – Ananya is a true artist in every role that she dons. “Creativity at its best can be practised through good food, where it touches the mind, heart, soul and the tongue. The various colours, spices, condiments and textures never cease to amaze me. Food is an all-pervasive human experience which needs to be fulfilled. I believe an artist is well positioned to do so.”
Recalling the most rewarding moment from this experience, the talented author says, “As a painter I would drown myself in all the colours when I could not find my way out. Somewhere I had this same overwhelming feeling while writing this book. After writing hundreds of recipes, multiple edits, designs, sketches, etc., when I held the first printed copy, my emotions went blank. Never felt like this before; this little child has summed up all my love for food.”