March 14, 2014
No trip to Kolkata for me is complete without the dreaded stomach infection. This has little to do with the environment there. More a result of the abject torture I put my system through cramming the food in before the inevitable return to Blighty. (I am a camel, I will fill my hump, etc etc etc.)
The first week flew by. By the middle of the second week, the familiar tummy cramps set in. The fever was yet to descend so off we went to India’s premier North Indian restaurant. With a cup of chamomile tea, and a stern warning from the manager, I deep dived into Maa Ki Dal, a ghee laced bread basket and soft, spicy kebabs. The stuff of heaven.
Hell was soon to follow. Bundled into the car afterwards, I told driverji to find me the nearest pharmacy. It was late at night, the options were limited. I soon found myself ducking stray dogs in a local fruit and vegetable mart, which handily housed a shiny pharmacy.
I flung myself inside. Hello, I have come from London. And then launched into a sordid recount of the painful symptoms.
The object of my self diagnosis was directed at a smiling man, sat presidentially behind a desk. He waited patiently for my tirade to end, and then said in Bengali: “Acha, tell me something.”
I was all ears.
“Who told you to eat food outside your mother’s house?”
Was this man telling me off?
“Can your mother not cook? Ok, never mind. Filter water.”
Was this a question?
“Why did you drink filter water? What is wrong with mineral water? Available everywhere, tsk tsk.”
Now, I know Bengalis have a particular affinity with medicine. But it was late, and I was being given a dressing down by the owner of the only open pharmacy in the locality. I started blubbering a response. Translating feebly to my man. Who by this time had started taking portraits of the quasi medicine man.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, he declared his remedy: “Quickly, go quickly, to the shop next door and buy some chire [flattened rice]. Cook it gently and eat it with yoghurt tomorrow morning.”
This was quite enough. Are you a doctor?
“I am a homeopath,” he proudly declared, breaking into the widest grin. His assistant finally handed over the stash of the OTC drugs I was really after.
There are a few things Bengalis eat to settle the stomach. But Sheddo Bhaat has to top the list. This is basically rice, lentils, vegetables and eggs, boiled, subtly flavoured, and then eaten with bits of broken green chillies. You can cook it all together, or at least cook the rice together with the veg and eggs, and the lentils separately. Vegetables that can be used here include pumpkin, potol (pointed gourd) and karela (bitter melon).
So this is what I ate on my return. And sooth it did. My bruised pride and burning insides. Until next time, my dear friends…
Wash the lentils thoroughly and set to boil with cold water. When it starts bubbling, use a wooden spoon to scoop out any foam/scum that rises to the surface. Then lower the heat to a medium, mix in the turmeric, and cook for about 20 minutes until you get smooth cooked lentils with the texture of a very thick soup. If the lentils dry up too quickly, add some hot water and stir to prevent sticking. Stir ghee and salt in to finish, cover and set aside.
Peel and boil the potatoes, boil the eggs and cook the rice. I boiled the eggs with the potatoes, fishing them out after they boiled for about 15 minutes. I know that some people boil the whole lot together, simply shelling the eggs later.
Mash the potato well, adding salt and the mustard oil in. Shell the eggs. And that’s your lot. Just mix the dal, lentils, potatoes and eggs together, squish a green chilli into the mix and get stuck in. This dish is also lovely on very hot days, as a soothing and cooling aid.