What’s gota sheddho? I ask S when we are alone that evening. All the cousins were speaking of this lip-smacking dish that they wait a whole year for.
I was too shy to ask, I confess.
We are in Kolkata, it’s just a month or so post our marriage, and we are in S’ ancestral house to celebrate Saraswati Pujo.
S looks at me, a kind of stunned look that translates to you sure must be joking M.
I reiterate that I’ve never heard of, leave alone savoured, gota sheddho.
Seriously ? S retorts, still unwilling to believe I am serious. If that’s indeed the case, let’s hurry, Thakur might just be starting the process. Gota sheddho is always prepared the night before and had cold. It’s Shitol Shoshti tomorrow and aunts shall only have dishes cooked the day before. Nothing hot or freshly prepared.
Another new for me, I make a mental note to quiz S later.
Our burning eyes alert that we are nearing the kitchen. We brave the smoke billowing out and the paroxysms of cough.
An ancient hnaari filled to the brim with water sits snugly on the oonoon. Thakur adds a liberal pinch of salt. And a generous glug of mustard oil. Small mounds of vegetables rest patiently to be added to the boiling broth. First to be added are the baby potatoes and sweet potatoes. Do take note that the vegetables are whole, not even a single knife incision, S explains, hence the gota (or whole) in gota sheddho.
Next to go in shall be the baby eggplant, their stalks intact, the sheem and the peas in their shells. And finally if memory serves me right, S rattles ahead, the shish palong.
S looks at Thakur for his confirmation.
He smiles. The trick is slow cooking, he elaborates, at least a couple of hours before the vegetables are tender.
We are at lunch the next day.
And first to hit the plate is the gota sheddho that I have now been yearning to have a taste of.
Add a drizzle of mustard oil, a cousin suggests.
The first bite and I am in food heaven.
This is too good to be true. How boiled vegetables sans spices can taste so sublime is beyond my comprehension.
Did you like it ? An elderly aunt enquires.
I don’t need to answer. The smile says it all.
Have a second helping, she lovingly coaxes, another year before you get to enjoy it again.
Cut to the present.
I am washing the vegetables that shall go into the pot of boiling water.
There’s so much diversity in Bengal herself, I ruminate as the baby potatoes get immersed in the water.
Gota sheddho is so intrinsic to Saraswati Pujo in S’ family that they (and now me too) cannot imagine a meal the day after without the boiled vegetables with just a luxuriant drizzle of mustard oil. And I, with my Sylhet roots, hadn’t even heard of it.
On the other hand, I grew up relishing ilish on Saraswati Pujo, Jora ilish or a pair of gorgeous Padmar ilish was offered to the deity and then Maa would cook and we would savour one of her delectable ilish dishes. To S, having ilish (or as a matter of fact any non-vegetarian dish) on Saraswati Pujo is next to sacrilege.
The divide of the two Bengals.
But this is what makes life so full of colour, isn’t it ?
I need to hurry now to get the pot off the stove where it has sat simmering for hours.