A day with Goa-based Bengali chef and mom, Ajanta Burman.
53-year-old Ajanta Burman is the dream Indian chef mom. She radiates positivity and is perpetually smiling. She is the kind of mom you can kick back and relax with, sipping cocktails by the beach. And she also loves pampering you silly with the most delicious food. Well, that’s what life is like for chef Burman’s family when she’s not travelling around the country as a guest chef.
After having met her in Mumbai, I had the good fortune of spending time with her at a Bengali food festival being held at Fisherman’s Wharf in Bangalore. She was responsible for guiding the restaurant’s chefs in cooking some of the most appetizing Bengali dishes I have ever tasted. We first sampled the Basil Martini’s, before Burman showed me the recipe of the famous Bengali steamed fish dish, Maach Paturi. I devoured at least six of these right before shooting the video. Hey don't judge me, it’s incredibly healthy!
Bengali biryani. Image source: monerdiary.com
Growing up in Bihar, Burman’s tryst with cooking only happened after marriage during her early 20’s. “I come from a middle class Bengali family where my father’s view was that girls shouldn’t be in the kitchen because they can hurt themselves, cut their finger, or get burnt. So my sister and I had to actually rebel to start cooking.” Burman started experimenting with food when she moved to Goa during the early 1990’s. But her learnings began before that. Her earliest food memories are associated with summer vacations in Kolkata with her grandmother, whom she fondly remembers as being passionate about cooking. “When I was in the 10th standard, she taught me how to bake a cake without an oven using sand. And make Pulao with the flavour of all the garam masalas and chillies without getting any pieces stuck in your mouth.”
Chingri macher malai curry. Image source: YouTube.com
After Burman moved to Goa, she began experimenting with all kinds of food, from prawns and squid to mutton, chicken and vegetables. It started when her children, Rahul and Rea began asking her to replicate different kinds of food from restaurants they had visited. So she moved from Bengali to Bhojpuri, Rajasthani, Gujarati and Continental food, and decided to participate in her first cooking contest which was affiliated with the Singapore Tourism Board. Amongst 500 participants, she won the title of Kitchen Queen for an experimental squid dish in spinach sauce. This inspired her to continue her tryst with food. Burman’s most recent food experiment has been fried prawns with onions, chillies and other (secret) sauces in a puri, paired with a shot glass of the Maharashtrian cooler, Sol Kadi.
Kosha Mangsho. Image source: YouTube.com
Soon after that Burman started playing an instrumental role in setting up Bengali food festivals and pop up kitchens across Goa. It made her the go-to Bengali guest chef across five star hotels. Her top three favourite Bengali dishes, and the most popular, are Kosha Mangsho - a spicy mutton curry, Maach Paturi and Chicken Dak Bungalow - a dish that was especially famous during the British era.
“When the Britishers stayed at guesthouses in jungles, those houses would be called Dak Bungalows. There were limited ingredients available, so a special homestyle chicken curry would be cooked using potato and eggs. That’s where the name came from.”
While I was gobbling mouthfuls of Mutton Curry and Luchi, a Bengali puri. my favourites remained Maach Paturi, Kosha Mangsho, Chicken Dak Bungalow, Chingri Lau, also known as Prawns and Bottle Gourd Sabzi, and traditional Bengali Biryani.
Chef Ajanta Burman showing me the Chicken Dak Bungalow Curry
Flitting between Mumbai and Goa to spend time with her children and husband, Burman often travels across the country as guest chef at various food festivals. I have always believed that when people turn their food hobbies into a profession, they help make the world a happier place. In Burman’s words, “Nothing makes me happier than making people smile by feeding them new creations coming out of my kitchen.”
101 Maach Paturi
Hilsa fish or sea bass
Mustard paste and poppy seed paste
- Marinade mustard paste and poppy seed paste together
- Add chopped green chillies and onions to the mixed paste
- Add a teaspoon of salt
- Add two to four teaspoons of mustard oil to the mixed paste
- Drizzle two to four teaspoons of mustard oil on the fish pieces and sprinkle salt on it
- Cover the fish in the marinade and leave it for at least 15 minutes
- Use a banana leaf, cut into pieces that can be used to parcel the fish pieces
- After cutting the banana leaf, put it on a hot tava with half a teaspoon of oil for a few minutes, this prevents the leaf from breakage when wrapping up the fish later
- Place the fish in a banana leaf and keep a white string handy for wrapping it up
- Now place it on a hot pan and let it steam for atleast 10 minutes.
- Your fish paturi is now cooked and ready to serve
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Sasha Klaatu
Cover photo credit: dusbus.com