Sanchita Chakraborty is a community builder, a social activist, a dance-troupe leader and, emphatically, not a food snob. Born in Bangladesh, she grew up in India, and in 2001, moved to St. John’s, N.L., to attend Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is currently the diversity coordinator and intercultural training officer with the Association for New Canadians, based in St. John’s. In 2004, Chakraborty founded a cross-cultural dance community, named Bollywood Jig, to celebrate the richness of Canada’s cultural experience. The troupe currently has members of all ages from 16 different countries.
Muri ghonto is a Bengali speciality. Muri means “fish head” and ghonto is the medley of vegetables. This is my mom’s recipe—of course, I can’t make it as good as she does. Usually, we eat it on special occasions, like for a pre-wedding celebration, but it can be a daily food. My mom made it for the guests when my sister got married, and especially when I go home to India, she’ll make it for me.
It’s a very historical, traditional food. I’ve seen my grandmother make it, and I’ve heard about her grandmother making it. My dad’s mom, my mom’s mom—it kind of continues, this legacy. It’s made in west Bengal and the eastern part of India, where there are some twists and changes to it, but the main ingredients are the fish head, rice and the dal (lentils).
You choose fish heads that have some meat in them, then wash them and take out the black stuff in the head. People are not used to eating fish heads in Canada, though they have some fish stews in Newfoundland that are just as hardy: “fish and brewis, ” a traditional Newfoundland fish stew with chives, savory and lots of potatoes, is sometimes said to use fish heads, but most of my friends’ families do not use them. However, cooking is so universal; my mom uses the lines in her fingers and the palms of her hands to measure, as do my friends’ grandmothers here in Newfoundland.
Growing up, food would be served by Mom in the kitchen on a big platter. Rice would go in the middle, and there would be other foods, like vegetables, on the side served in small steel bowls, and those small bowls would surround the side of the platter in a circle. You ate with your hands. Why? South Asians do this because touch is part of your senses, so when the food tastes good and smells good, it also has to “touch” good. That is one difference for me, when I’m home by myself, I prefer using my hands to eat. But when I’m socializing, I use a fork and spoon. With my hand, I can feel the bones in the muri ghonto, for instance, before it goes in my mouth. Over here, when I have friends over, I’ll let them know there are bones in the stew and warn them to be very careful before they serve themselves.