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Aroma Down Memory Lane

Moving away from your childhood home can bring a longing for those home-cooked dishes left behind. Food Editor, Saiba, details her journey with those much missed meals from her childhood town of Dhaka City.

By Saiba Haque, Food Editor

The Croft Magazine// There is always that one dish, that every time you make and taste, takes you rushing back to your childhood. Whether it’s the memories of cooking with your loved ones re-surging as you recreate the dish on your own, or the wonderful aroma of the food bringing back old memories of your childhood kitchen.

Sense of smell and memories associated with a specific aroma or scent are largely intertwined. Even now, every time I smell onions, ginger and garlic frying in ghee or mustard oil, it takes me back to my hometown of Dhaka. There are many street-delicacies from my native city which evokes a sense of nostalgia upon growing up in Dhaka city. From the sweet and delectable smell of date sugar or Jaggery being used to make numerous kinds of rice cakes (or as we would call, Pitha), to the Dhaka-style Biryani being cooked on the way back from my school, to acquiring some beloved street-food snacks such as fuchka and jhal muri after school. These are the foods that I can recall when I ponder about my childhood. Aside from term time in Bristol, as I currently live in Southall, a place synonymous for it’s variety of South Asian restaurants. Sometimes as I walk towards the broadway, the aroma of all those street-foods that I would eat when in growing up in Dhaka would come rushing back to me.

© Saiba Haque

Although there are culturally significant Bangladeshi dishes that are widely common and well-recognised, every household has a different interpolation of spices that makes for unique recipes in different kitchens. The aroma and taste of the Biryani made in my aunt’s kitchen would be somewhat different to that from my grandma’s kitchen. Hence, although street foods from my city provide fond memories, certain home-cooked dishes are immensely memorable from my childhood. Smells and tastes can only be replicated at home; even then, they may still differ slightly from the original version of the recipe. Partly because standardised measurements are rarely used in Bengali home cooking. Another personal reason is that my grandma would often try to gate-keep her valuable recipes by not disclosing particular ingredients. Meaning that the dishes that she makes can only be made and replicated by her (yes, I also find this rather bizarre).

For instance, this dish (pictured below) is called “Deem Bhuna”, which translates to egg curry. It’s a common Bengali household delicacy. However, although most recipes would call to use tomatoes for the curry base along with onions, ginger and garlic, growing up, my family would opt out of using tomatoes at all. We would start with ghee, cumin, cardamom, bay leaves chillies and cinnamon sticks, sauté in the diced onions, garlic and ginger paste and add in powdered spices such as turmeric and chilli powder. We would fry the boiled eggs in a different pan with some ghee, turmeric and salt. We would then add in the eggs to the curry base, pour in some water and allow to simmer until the curry thickens again.

© Saiba Haque

Nevertheless, I try my best to replicate these home-cooked dishes that my grandma would make during my childhood, regardless of the lack of information. Often it would work out well in my favour. Although I didn’t actively start cooking at a young age, I remember that I would often “help” my grandma with her cooking in the kitchen. She wouldn’t let me actively participate too much in her rituals, but despite that, I would often be there, in her kitchen loitering and lingering, and asking questions, but most importantly I would be observing. Observing the techniques and ingredients she would often use or would opt not to use in her recipes of these traditional dishes. As I grow older and recollect my observations from when I was loitering in my grandma’s kitchen, I would go on to recreate that same aroma and flavours that my grandma tried so hard to gate-keep from everyone.

Regardless of that, whenever my grandma cooked for us it was always a joyous occasion. We would all gather around and gladly devour her food. Sometimes when she would cook large amounts of food for festive occasions, all our relatives would go on for months after, about Rehana’s (grandma) food and how it was different to anything they’d ever tasted. When I’m attempting to replicate those dishes my grandma would make, in my own kitchen in Southall, sometimes as I make huge portions of food for my friends gathering around my own table, I can feel the essence of my grandma’s culinary talent. As the food is devoured, yet again, and the compliments are exchanged about the flavours of the dishes, I feel as though I am transported back to when I was younger, with my grandma receiving those same compliments as the chef of the household.

Featured Image: by Saiba Haque

What dish reminds you most of home?