The Anglo-Indian community is an integral part of Calcutta’s cultural heritage. This community is two hundred years old with origins dating back to the arrival of Europeans in India for trade and commerce. A concentration of Portuguese, English, Dutch and French traders developed in the port cities of India. The men married Indian girls and for the next nearly 150 years, the Anglo-Indians grew as a community, culturally as well as in size. In fact, in the 1800s, they even outnumbered the British in Calcutta. The Anglo-Indian culture was evolved by combining both the European and Indian cultures, and even though the community adopted the religion, manners and ways of dressing of their European forefathers, their food is a mixture of both western and Indian. In this festive season let us take you inside an Anglo-Indian kitchen
Perhaps, the Anglo-Indian cuisine is very first example of ‘fusion food’ in the world. It is a result of reinventing and revamping popular European dishes with a dash of exotic Indian spices giving it a completely new flavour. Thus a completely new contemporary cuisine came into existence, which was neither too bland nor too spicy, but with a distinctive flavour of its own. It became a direct reflection of the multi-cultural and hybrid heritage of the new colonial population.
While Anglo-Indian cuisine is said to be influenced by the various European invasions in India like the Portuguese, Dutch and French, but it was the British who left the most lasting impact on it. This new cuisine was often called “Club Food,” referring to the food served even today in some of the elite clubs in Calcutta. Roasts, stews, bakes, sandwiches and white bread are a legacy of the British, and Anglo-Indians took these to new heights, making them part of their daily diet. Other dishes such as fish and chips, cutlets, croquettes, sausages, beacon, ham, egg variants, puddings, custards, and many other savoury treats became a part of the Anglo-Indian culinary repertoire.
The French too left us with a legacy of French loaf, quiches, crêpes, baguettes, croquettes, liver fry, beef assad, crumb fried chicken, onion soup, batter fried fish and chocolate mousse, while the Scottish delicacies like treacle pudding, pancakes, Scotch eggs, short bread, oats porridge, beef mince and potatoes, hotch potch, bread pudding, cottage pie and kidney pie also ventured into the Anglo-Indian kitchens. Sadly, the Dutch didn’t have much of an influence on the Anglo-Indian cuisine with the only exception of the beef cutlet.
Yellow rice and ball curry is still a must for Sunday lunch in many Anglo-Indian homes. And then there is Pork Vindaloo (a Goan-Portuguese dish that Anglo-Indians made their own), Mulligatawny Soup, Railway Mutton Curry, Fish Kedegeree, Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken, Jhalfrezi, Rose Cookies, Kulkuls (during Christmas) and Salt Meat (huge chunk of meat salted and kept for days and weeks; holes gouged in it and slices of lime put in).
Many of the dishes have a unique history behind their existence. The very popular and familiar curry dish “Vindaloo” is derived from the Portugese word “Vinha De Alhos” from the two main ingredients in it, which were “Vinho”, meaning wine or wine vinegar, and “Alhos”, meaning garlic. It was originally vinegar and garlic based watery stew made with pork or meat in Portugal. However, after the Portugese introduced it in India, it was completely revamped with the addition of spices and chilies, and over the years it has become one of the spiciest and most popular curry dishes all over the world. “Vindaloo” was originally prepared as a pork dish but later became popular using other types of meat, fish, poultry and even vegetables. Potatoes were added to absorb the extra vinegary taste and it became to be known as “Vindaloo” instead of the original “Vinha De Alhos”
Railway Mutton Curry
Railway Mutton Curry is a direct throw back to the days of the British Raj, when traveling by train was considered aristocratic. This slightly tangy dish was served in railway refreshment rooms and on long distance trains, with bread or dinner rolls. The curry was not too pungent keeping in mind the delicate palates of the British. It was also popular with the railway staff who had to be on duty for long periods at a stretch. The vinegar or tamarind juice used in its preparation ensured that the curry would last for quite a few days and was an ideal accompaniment with rice as well.
Mulligatawny is a popular Anglo Indian curry flavored soup. The word ‘Mulligatawny’ is Tamil for ‘pepper water’. The mulligatawny is substantially and deliciously a complex meal by itself. Since soup is not a significant dish from the traditional Indian cuisine, the mulligatawny soup poses it own mystery as rumors say that the English adapted a traditional spiced pea and lentil Indian peasant dish to suit their own love of soup. This soup became popular with the British who were living in India during the colonial years.
The Fish Kedegeree is the Anglo-Indian version of the Indian kichudi. It was prepared with rice, lentils, raisins, etc along with the addition of fried fish flakes and hard boiled eggs. Fish, either steamed or fried was a regular item for breakfast during the Raj and the cooks tried to incorporate it with local dishes. Eventually the Fish Kedegeree became a hot cooked spicy dish, with the addition of various spices and was invariably included in the breakfast menu all over the Commonwealth. Minced meat was also later added as a variation.
Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken
Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken was a very popular dish during colonial times since it was very easy to prepare. In those days, the poultry used in its preparation were authentic well-fed, homegrown country chickens, which would take at least two hours to cook over a firewood oven, but the curry when done, would be rich and delicious.
Jalfrezi is a type of curry in which marinated pieces of meat or vegetables are fried in oil and spices to produce a dry, thick sauce. It is cooked with green chilies, with the result that a jalfrezi can range in heat from a medium dish to a very hot one. Typically those eating jalfrezi cool it down by combining it with cream. Other main ingredients include pepper, onion and tomato.
Rose Cookies are delicious fried Christmas treats. Though named as cookies, they are not cookies in the strict sense of the term as they are not baked but deep fried in oil. Rose Cookies are also known by various other names like Rosette Cookies, Rosa Cookies, etc and are prepared with a sweetened batter consisting of flour, eggs, vanilla extract and coconut milk. Believed to be another culinary legacy left by the Portuguese in India, they were earlier known as Rose de Coque or Rose de Cookies in Portugual.
Kulkuls are prepared in almost all Anglo-Indian homes during Christmas time. A variant of ‘Filhoses Enroladas’ a Portuguese Christmas sweet, kulkuls, (always referred to in the plural) are crunchy inch-long curled or shell shaped sweetened fried dough sweets. Sugar and flour are combined with eggs, milk and butter to soft dough and then small marble sized balls of this dough are rolled on the tines of a fork or a comb to form a shell or a scroll. Then these are deep fried in hot oil. The kulkuls are later frosted or coated in hot melted sugar syrup.