Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fro -Yo!

I am referring to Frozen Yogurt.
I have entered every "tutti-frutti", honey berry, pink berry, red mango, tango fango - you can name and I have sampled their fare. There is a certain force that forces me to enter the portals of anything to do with sweet yogurt.

Being a Bengali, Fro-Yo is a part of our culture. Depending on which Bengali you manage to accost, our culture can demand from 4 hours to 10 minutes of lecture time. In my childhood, Sundays demanded special attention. My dad, whenever he was home, picked up two "bajaar-er bag" (market bags) and made his way to the neighborhood plaza. You had to have your own bags. Unlike here where plastic or paper is an option. It wasn't a plaza exactly. More like a farmer's market where farmers sat on the dirt road and laid out their fare on relatively clean pavements. Then they squatted down, fanned themselves and their produce with their tattered towels and got ready to haggle. As soon as the first shops were set up, the Bengali "babus" (gentlemen) queued up for the fish.

The best fish went quickly in the morning. The earlier you elbowed your nearest Bengali out of the line, the higher the probability was of getting a fresher catch. Bengalis weren't very polite when it came to fish. They assumed the business acumen they never had, when it came to buying their favorite "topshe", "illish(salmon)", "rui(Rohu)" and "chingri(shrimp)" "macch(fish)" (types of fish). A typical conversation between the vendor and the consumer would proceed this way.

"How much for the "macch"? The Bengali babu would bark.
"One for twenty. How many shall I pack?" The vendor moved on to the next question without bothering to find out if his customer was really interested.
"How about two for twenty-five?" The Babu would ask with a smirk. Inside he would think he was making a killing. Outside he would pretend that the vendor was making a killing.
"I can give three for thirty. Freshest stuff ever. Can't let go like this. Want it or not?"

The haggling proceeded till no one really made a killing. In my dad's case he ended up with four fishes, which he never intended to buy in the first place, at fifty-five rupees! It would inevitably mean a kitchen overtime for my mom which would turn into a domestic conflict for both of them. One time I have seen one or two of those fresh fish flying through the window and making their way to their home town, namely the nearest swamp. Of course there was no assurance that the fish would be the freshest.

After the fish and the "bhegetables", my dad would make his way to the local sweet shop. A "bhaar" of "rosogolla" would be packed along with "mishti doi"(sweet yogurt). (Bhaar is an earthen pot).

Misthti Doi or sweet yogurt was the Bengalis version of Fro-Yo. Of course no Bengali would be caught in Bongland uttering those words to a earthen pot of "doi". A Bengali household will hardly ever make "rosogolla" or "mishti doi" at home. Those are duties performed superbly by the local sweet suppliers. They have perfected the art so well that not a single "mashi" and "pishi" (aunts) I know will venture into it. I have however found a multitude of Bengali wives concocting their own blend of "mishti doi" in foreign lands.

When my dad returned from his morning market responsibilities, we would be waiting to grab his bags. The sweets would be the first ones he would lose control of. The Sunday morning breakfast would include the ubiquitous "luchhi alur dum" (bread with potatoes) and "rosogolla mishti doi" (sweets I just mentioned).

As a child I have finished several pots of Fro-Yo single handedly. Opening and closing the refrigerator door several times on Sundays was one of my favorite hobbies. (I couldn't put it down on my resume because there aren't enough people doing it to give it the "hobby" status). Long after all the goodies were gone, I kept opening the door, expecting something new to pop up. It never did.

The Bengali Fro-Yo served an important part in our lives. Every exam I recall started with a little blob of Fro-Yo. As I made my hurried exit from my house, burdened with overnight wisdom and a lunch box, my mom would pull me back. Holding me still, she would apply a generous dab of the sweet yogurt on my forehead. It was auspicious. It was for success. I don't know how much credit the yogurt took for my good grades but I do blame it wholeheartedly for my uncool quotient. By the time I reached school, the other ladies of my class would already have appeared, properly attired and perfectly "figured". Then they would spot us - me and my sister, perfectly rounded with an extra distorted circle of white congealed mass on their foreheads.
When I watched the epic and the war tales Doordarshan doled out on the mass media, the kings and the princes made their way to the battlefield with a similar mark ("tika") on their foreheads. No one thought it was un-savvy. Women worldwide sighed at the mark. The mark symbolized greatness. It even symbolized sexiness.

Mine on the other head made me ugly. I could not ask my mom to stop doing it either. Secretly in my heart, I needed a support system. Something that wouldn't fail when my one night cramming did. A weapon that would induce higher brain function for those crucial hours. Maybe God was testing me. The uglier I got, the better my grades were.
It was only in my college that I stopped having the white spot. That's when I started missing it.

Here, nobody dabs my forehead with yogurt any more. Interviews, tests, transitions, presentations go by without the yogurt touch. I would have to do a lot of explaining turning up with a monster white spot in an American workplace. My colleagues are still grappling with the concept of red dots ("bindis") and red spots ("sindur") without me adding another color to their overburdened spectrum.

I attempted making my first "mishti doi" after feeling all mushy about it. Halfway into the recipe, on step 2, pouring the molten sugar water into my hot milk, my milk curdled. The Fro-Yo dream dissolved into a sweet undefined paste. I have decided to give it another try before bowing my head to the Bengali Fro-Yo experts in Bongland. Their art remains supreme. I can bet they would give a good competition to the mango tango s in the area. As to how they would ever get their business out here - "maa Kali" knows!
(Maa Kali refers to Mother and Goddess Kali, a consort of Shiva)


rosie said...

Fro-Yo wanted!

Tania said...

M, salmon is not ilish!!
I too tried my version of mishti doi. In my case, the milk did not turn into curd even after 48 hours. I gave up, and made "ghol" with the sweetened milk and fat free dannon yogurt.

Enakshi said...

Awesome!! It reminded me of our childhood days...thanks for the nostalgia :) Forget mishti doi, continue with fro Yo :))