Food, like the language, is a matter of serious pride in Bangladesh. Other foods are generally tolerated (and burgers celebrated as a worthy import from the west) but Biryani, Ilish, Bhorta and Fuschka stand on a pedestal of their own. I have heard more than one person say that Bengali food is the best food in the world. In fact, I know a story about some friends of friends who went to Bangkok for a work trip and didn’t eat for 3 days because they couldn’t find a Bengali restaurant. Such is the devotion.
I’ve been enjoying my fair share of delicious cardamom-and-clove-spiced foods, but being in any new part of the world is always about sharing – not just learning more about what your adopted country has to offer, but giving something back.
With this in mind, I’ve been slowly introducing my Benagli colleagues and friends to a few ‘Australian’ foods and habits. Famously, Australia is home to the largest Greek community outside Greece, and one of my favourite foods to cook for friends and family is dolmades – those delicious, vine-wrapped mediterranean morsels of sweet and sour snackishness.
Armed with specialty supplies from my recent trip to Turkey, I spent some time in the kitchen over a weekend making a giant pile of the things. They really are a labour of love, taking the better part of an afternoon. Starting with washed vine leaves, you fry onions and raisins in a ton of olive oil, then add semi-cooked risotto rice and fresh parsley. The time consuming bit is rolling this filling into the vine leaves so you have little individually-wrapped mouthfuls. These parcels all go in a big pot, are covered in lemon juice and boiling water, and boiled for about an hour.
I’m getting hungry thinking about it.
At home, I usually make these babies on holidays – when I have lots of down-time and need to do some productive, meditative work with my hands. As a result they always remind me of summer, and when I’d finished this batch and sunk my teeth into the first roll, I was instantly transported to Christmas. I could practically smell the heady mix of pine needles and sunscreen. Making them is also a bit of a special-occasion present for my family (they take so long that usually no one can be bothered), and they never fail to elicit cries of joy followed by extended periods of silent, happy munching.
So when I took my giant lunchbox full of about 100 dolmades to work the next day, it was kind of a special offering. Here were some of the classic bengali reactions:
(frowning, trying to unwrap leaf) “Do I eat the whole thing? are you sure? but it’s a leaf. Are you sure?”
“Ah, I think there are olives in this. Definitely olives.”
“It is OK. It is very sour.”
“It would be better if it was dipped in something. I would like to eat this with a sweet chilli sauce.”
…And maybe if it was fried in turmeric with some cardamom and cloves? 🙂
Maybe I got it all wrong and I need to stick to bringing the ever-reliable mishti (sweets).
Next week: Bengali reactions to Vegemite.