All the borders in the world are man made. Everything is connected. We are all hooked together like the colours of a rainbow.
Thus, I could understand so well, where Epaar Opaar-a wholesome pop-up hosted recently in Delhi, India’s bustling capital, by two childhood friends Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema and Aparajita De-was coming from. For like Bengal, I come from another state, Punjab that was once partitioned not into two states, but two countries too. Yet there is no music in the world that still tugs at my heartstrings than Urdu ghazals and Punjabi songs by Pakistani singers. It is a connect based on century old roots and ties, something perhaps the soul remembers, the body reacts to and the mind embraces, unwittingly.
Food of a people is another such connect. How food traditions and ingredients travel over continents, yet vary across the boundary walls of two houses or communities is both mysterious and mystifying. In India just the tempering of a dal, cumin or mustard, onion or garlic, coriander or curry patta can tell you something about the state it comes from. So there it was, this intriguing event coined Epaar Opaar, with an introduction on their Facebook page:
Two Bengali friends meet after many years in Delhi. What followed without a question was non-stop nonsense, addas where we chatted, giggled, gossiped and of course argued about anything and everything. But it was food that brought us together and divided us as well. Surprised? You should not be for Sharmistha is a ‘Ghoti’ and ‘e-deshio’ from this side of the border – that is West Bengal and Aparajita a Bangal and ‘o-deshio’ from the other side, the erstwhile East Bengal. The Ghotis and Bangals may no longer be divided by a physical border (as East Bengal is now a separate nation state of Bangladesh) yet their differences remain in terms of their cuisine, rituals, festivals and culture.”
Pop-ups have been extremely popular in recent times for discerning people who do not want to have the run of the mill fare doled out by 5 star hotels and restaurants. Pop-ups are closer to the authentic tastes of a region, have that personalised touch and unique recipes and presentation. Often pop-ups are a great way to meet like-minded people who are passionate about food and strike a great rapport and build wonderful friendships that revolve around food.
The menu that Sharmistha and Aparajita served was something you would not find in any restaurant in Delhi. Both are not ‘trained chefs’ but they do carry with them the illustrious tradition of unmatched home-cooking which is the very grain of our culture. One of them is a Professor of Economics, the other has had a wonderful career in the past with Taj group of hotels in the Sales and Marketing department. They both proudly hold on to their Bengali roots in this cosmopolitan metro and passionately practice and perfect the ancient recipes of their respective families, inherited lovingly from mothers and grandmothers and aunts (and uncles too for good measure).
The menu for Epaar was :
Maacher Chop (Fish Croquettes,
Sobji Diye Bhaja Moong Dal (Roasted Moong dal with winter vegetables),
Bhaja Aloo Posto (Dry potatoes with khuskhus),
Mangshor Jhol ( the quintessential mutton curry),
Tomato Khejur er Chutney ( Tomato Date Chutney),
Nolen Gurer Payesh ( Kheer with Date Palm Jaggery),
The menu for Opaar was : Kumrani ( Pumpkin Fritters),
Bandhakopi Bhorta ( Cabbage Bharta),
Shosha Chingri ( Prawns with Cucumber – A Noakhali Speciality),
Maacher Kaalia ( Fish Kaalia – A Faridpur speciality),
Haath Ombol ( Uncooked Chutney),
Patishapta ( Rice flour pancakes with coconut jaggery stuffing)
All this was eaten with Rice.
As I entered the well-kept drawing room of an East of Kailash house, the rustle of dull gold silk, gleaming kohled eyes and friendly Bengali banter was the only ambience one wanted. The room almost gets overcrowded, you could perch wherever you could find place and taste the snacks being passed around, discuss its variations at length. Everything is relaxed and easy, no formalities, the guests help serve if they want, no protocol on who starts first. The table is soon laid painstakingly, with utmost warmth and eye for detail by the gracious hosts. The room is rife with excitement at what those dainty casseroles hold.
So we merrily hopscotch across the delectable chessboard of Epaar and Opaar, picking our familiar tastes and flirting with the bold and unseen. It is like playing a game of hide and seek, where you hide your ignorance and seek new pleasures. It is like going on a blind date and hitting a jackpot!
That the food is exceptionally good is the icing on the cake. The power of shared tastes and childhood memories sweeps past one part of the room, while the other revels under the effect of discovering a taste they have never experienced before. There are debates on how while Epaar has its subtlety and balance, Opaar too wins with its robustness and energy. The two come together as a beautiful indivisible whole, a perfect yin and yang of shared loves, friendships and trysts. Pop-ups to me are a progressive and pleasurable pursuit where culture is the winner, a winsome camaraderie is the piece de resistance and a strong communion is the delicious outcome.