Singapore’s Mountbatten Indian Activity Executive Committee (IAEC) held their second ‘Cook with IAEC’ session virtually on May 16 showcasing Bengali cuisine. 31 Mountbatten residents of Chinese, Malay, and Indian descent attended the virtual session to learn about various landmark Bengali dishes.
The idea of ‘Cook with IAEC’ started after members of the committee were brainstorming ways they could share the diversity of Indian culture with the local community. Indian ethnic communities are often clumped together under one monolithic notion of Indian culture. Some initial ideas included highlighting different ways sarees are worn in India and having workshops for different Indian languages.
“Whenever we see an Indian dish, we think it’s from the same community. But India has the most diverse culture and diaspora. It was great to learn about the more lesser known cuisine but rich in history, the Bengali dishes. The mashed potato is very similar to one of our Malay dishes too” said Amatul Jameel Suhani Sujari, chairman of the Malay Activity Executive Committee.
“Sharing our diverse historical dishes is a great way for all of us to engage with each other’s cultures and share it with one another” said Manisha Sarkar, demonstrator of the cooking session and member of the IAEC.
Ultimately, the prevailing idea was to host a monthly cooking demonstration with the intention that each session would showcase different distinct culinary traditions of Indian ethnic communities. The first session was on February 21 focusing on Sindhi cooking. Ideally, there would have been two more sessions in between the Sindhi and Bengali cooking demonstrations, however, changes in COVID rules and additions of new events interfered.
The Bengali cuisine demonstrator and member of the Mountbatten IAEC, Manisha Sarkar volunteered to host the session at her residence and conduct the session via zoom. The classic Bengali dishes cooked during the session were Rui Maacher Jhol (fish curry), Begun Vaja (brinjal fry), Beguni (battered brinjal fry), Luchi (deep fried flatbread), Payesh (milk and rice pudding), Steamed Rice, Aloosheddho Makha (mashed potatoes).
“I want to learn from different cultures of India. I want to learn the Bengali cuisine, even though I am from Kolkata, I had never seen them cooked in front of me, it was a real treat and very educational” said Primal Saxena, Mountbatten resident.
Bengali fish preparations in particular are so popular and well known in Singapore that wet markets and local sellers of fish have a ‘Bengali cut’ and refer to the fishes with their Bengali names.
“I joined because we make Pubjabi dishes and don’t know about other different city foods so I want to cook and relish. South Indian food we get in restaurants too but rarely Bengali food” said attendee Babli Tulsi Walia.
Food lovers from abroad attended the session as well. “Feeling nostalgic, it has refreshed my childhood memories, dishes and how I wish I could taste!” remarked Reshmi Agarwal, Mountbatten resident attending the session from India.