As embarrassing as it is to admit, I am one of those cheery people who truly believes that food brings people together. People like to eat together, some people like to cook together, and heck, I know lots of people who like to talk about food together. That might not be the same in your circles, but it’s most definitely an occupational hazard of moonlighting as a food lover/writer/photo-documenter. When people discover my alter ego as ‘Connie Consumes, International Consumer of Food’, many ditch whatever line of conversation we were running and skip to the food talk. Not that I mind at all because I’ve generally got food on the brain.
Once we get the ‘what is this blog thing’ out of the way and steer away from restaurant recommendations, we get down to business with the bit I really love… just nattering on about anything and everything people love to eat or cook, the weirdest things they’ve eaten on their travels, friends and family who are exceptional cooks, signature dishes… I’m inherently nosey, you might have realised this if you’ve met me so I could keep chatting about this stuff for hours on end. Test me if you dare.
One day in the office, a colleague found herself embroiled in one of these above described conversations – poor thing probably had no idea what she had unleashed… She got talking to me about her friend who’s an excellent cook… tell me more… this friend runs cooking classes and is thinking about supperclubs too… oh now I’m really interested… and she focuses on traditional homestyle Bengali cuisine… right, where do I sign up?! No seriously. I was more than a little intrigued because I couldn’t recall ever having tried Bengali cuisine and this had to be rectified. What kind of food lover/writer/photo-documenter would I be if I didn’t.
And that is how I ended up at the inaugural Tiger Kitchen Supperclub hosted by keen cook and teacher Shahnaz. See what I mean about food bringing people together? My colleague told me about Shahnaz’s great cooking skills and brought me to her, so I think it’s only fair that I pay it forward to tell you… if you have also never tried Bengali cuisine, this is a great way to get familiar with it.
Our ‘Taste of Bengal’ started with Maach Bora (spiced tuna cakes) and Dal Bora (lentil fritters) with a red onion and tomato salad and minted yoghurt. Of the two, I think the flavour and texture of the crisp lentil fritters gave it a slight edge over the tuna cakes, which reminded me a little of Thai-style fish cakes but with different aromatic spice. The salad and yoghurt, even though I detest mint, were the perfect accompaniments, lifting the dish by providing a bit of freshness and acidity.
For the main course, Shahnaz served up Murgh Bhuna (roasted chicken) or (Begun Bhuna, aubergine steaks for the vegetarians) with cumin pulao rice and wilted spinach with chickpeas; a dish which to me, screamed comfort food. Perhaps you grew up in a meat and two vegetable household, but I grew up in a meat, rice and vegetables household so anytime I come across this combination, I am instantly transported to my happy place of hearty meals.
I don’t mean to do Shahnaz a disservice by describing her food as comforting; surveying the room confirmed that these are the dishes which make people happy. It takes skill to serve something which is simply delicious, without any bells and whistles to hide behind. Chicken, rice, spinach and chickpeas are all humble ingredients, but what we got was far from plain – every element was full of rich aromas and warming spices. While the moist chicken was undoubtedly the star (highlight was getting some sneaky seconds, minor lowlight was not having more of the gravy… you know I like my sauce), I found myself diving into the spinach and chickpeas with surprising gusto and polishing those off first. Yes, the spinach and chickpeas – who am I?
Fear not, dessert arrived and I was back to my usual tricks of devouring cake with enthusiasm. We had a slice of Mishti Aam, a mango cake served with pistachio cream and a cup of warm Assam tea infused with cardamom and cinnamon. The tea wasn’t really for me, I find those flavours a little too challenging in a drink, but the cake was just lovely. It was light and airy with just enough mango flavour coming through, I’m told the secret is to use mango puree so I might just have to give it a go myself.
For a first ever supperclub event, I’d say this was a hit from Tiger Kitchen and over time, this will be a slick, on schedule operation. I love hosting dinner parties but serving twenty-odd guests is another story, and as I’ve said before, I think people who decide to take on that challenge are a little mad and incredibly brave. Even more so when you cook food from your childhood, food that you have fond memories of – you want to do it justice. All achieved with flying colours on this occasion.
Thanks to Tiger Kitchen for introducing me to the incredible flavours of Bengali Cuisine, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone! I also loved catching up with Vicky, Chiara & Jason, and Aaron – all of us brought together by food!
If you haven’t tried Bengali food before, go check out the Tiger Kitchen website for future dates. If you have, what did you think of it?!