Thakurbarir ranna — the culinary legacy of the Tagore household, is well-established. On the first day of Bengali New Year, a lavish feast was held in the verandah of Thakurbari on the second floor. The spacious verandah, adorned with carpets, featured an array of delectable dishes served on banana leaves and in clay pots, including hilsa curry, moong dal using chital fish and chalta, coconut prawn curry, fish pulao, and fish with mango, among others.

One of Tagore’s earliest poetic endeavours was dedicated to food. As mentioned in Jibonsmriti (1912), perhaps at the age of ten, he wrote:                                     

             “Aamshotto dudhey pheli (Mix dried pads of mango in milk)

Tahatey kodoli doli (Add bananas into it)

Shondesh makhia dia tatey (Flavour it then with Sandesh)

Hapush-hupush shobdo, charidik nistobdho (Slurrp, Slurrp and nothing else can be heard)

Pipilika kandia jae paate (Even the ants are left crying)”.

Tagore particularly loved fish and sweets, which propelled his wife, Mrinalini Devi, to create varied dishes. From unconventional green jackfruit kofta pilaf (এঁচোড় কোফতা পোলাও), mutton bangla (পাঁঠার বাংলা), prawn raita (চিংড়ি রায়তা), to desserts like taro root jalebi (মানকচুর জিলিপি), dahi malpua (দইয়ের মালপো) and ripened mango sweets (পাকা আমের মিঠাই), Mrinalini brought Tagore’s eccentric culinary desires to life. She also developed a distinctive type of fried sweet, which was initially termed Elojhelo, which Rabindranath later named as Paribondho. The three-inch luchi (deep-fried flatbread) from Thakurbari was also her specialty.

Likewise, Hemendranath Tagore’s daughter, Pragyasundari Devi, had a keen interest in the culinary arts. Her specialities included pilaf of dates (খেজুরের পোলাও), sauteed chilli leaves (লঙ্কা পাতার চড়চড়ি), beetroot hingi (বিটের হিঙ্গি), a sour recipe with green tamarind (কাঁচা তেঁতুলের সরস্বতীঅম্বল), a type of pilaf with onions (পেঁয়াজের পরমান্ন) etc. There was also Rammohan Dolma Pulao (রামমোহন দোল্মা পোলাও) or Dwarkanath Phirni Pulao (দ্বারকানাথ ফির্নিপোলাও). On May 7, 1911, she introduced the first ever Bengali menu card- Kromoni, on the occasion of Tagore’s 50th birth anniversary. Her special preparation for the day was Kabi-Sambardhana Barfi, a dessert made with cauliflower.

The importance of culinary traditions in the Thakurbari can be understood in the light of the following story. Nabanita Deb Sen fondly recalls a childhood feast at the Tagore household where the absence of pulao left her disappointed. In response to her dismay, Tagore promptly instructed his daughter-in-law, Pratima Devi, to prepare pulao, sharing a quick recipe that included white rice, oranges, and a blend of spices.

Another interesting story came up during Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. In support of this campaign, Abanindranath Tagore took an initiative to produce salt at home, a process his grandson Mohan Lal described as “বাটির মধ্যে লবণ আন্দোলন” (Salt agitation within a bowl).

Various cuisines of the Tagore family were preserved through the meticulous documentation by its women. In Pragyasundari Devi’s book Amish O Niramish Ahar, the three sections not only contain recipes, but also start with lessons in hygiene and home science. Towards the end of the book, there are detailed definitions of kitchen terminology. In a similar vein, Indira Devi Chaudhurani, while not a chef herself, kept a recipe book which was later handed down to Purnima Thakur. Along with mother Nalini Devi’s recipes, Purnima Thakur anthologises all these in Thakurbarir Ranna. This collection includes fusion dishes such as Madrasi Salad, Philipni Murgi Curry, Irish Stew etc. Renuka Devi Chaudhurani’s books Rakamari Amish Ranna and Rakamari Niramish Ranna revealed unique culinary methods. These included 59 different types of fries, techniques like feeding curd rice to ducks before cooking them or preparing goats by feeding them chickpeas, grass, and rosewater.

Tagore is also known to have collected menu cards from his sojourn across England, Spain and Turkey, among other places, and incorporated some of the dishes, like salmon in Hollandaise sauce, back home.

From Rabindranath Tagore’s culinary explorations to the skillful creations of the Tagore women, each dish carries a story of cultural heritage and gastronomic artistry. As we bid adieu to the culinary tales of Thakurbari, we’re left with a mouthwatering legacy that’s as rich and flavourful as the dishes themselves.

1 thought on “Tagore’s Culinary Heritage: Thakurbarir Ranna

  1. This is the new insights for me.
    The faded photographs capture the essence of our old heritage, forever sparking a golden era.

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