‘Potatoes’- A discourse after Roland Barthe’s Mythologies

Potatoes or ‘Aloo’ is the heart of the Bengali cuisine. Apart from the usual rice or ‘Bhaat’, aloo is taken as a staple food in Bengal and in the north eastern states of India where Bengalis usually reside. In an average Bengali household aloo is eaten routinely and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a standard diet for people, supplying a large fraction of energy needs and generally forming a significant proportion of the intake of other nutrients as well. In almost all dishes of Bengali cuisine took Aloo in different avatars. It’s not just an important ingredient but history and emotions of long ages are also amalgamated into this vegetable. Julien crispy fried aloo accompanying the usual lentils with hot steamed rice or just boiled mashed with chilies and onions, or the most famous ‘aloo posto’- soft medium cut aloo in white gravy of mashed poppy seeds; the ultimate delicacy of every Bengali house, rich or poor, privileged or unprivileged- aloo has taken the front seat of Bengal cuisine over the period of time.

              Edward Terry mentioned the potato in his travel accounts of the banquet at Ajmer by Asaph Khan to Sir Thomas Roe, the British Ambassador in 1675. It is the earliest mention in the history of India (?). The vegetable gardens of Surat and Karnataka had potatoes as mentioned in Fyer’s travel record of 1675. The Portuguese introduced potatoes, which they called ‘Batata’, to India in the early seventeenth century when they cultivated it along the western coast. Then British traders introduced potatoes to Bengal as a root crop, ‘Aloo’. By the end of the 18th century, it was cultivated across northern hill areas of India.

              Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle flavours, and its huge spread of confectioneries and desserts. It also has perhaps the only traditionally developed multi-course tradition from South Asia that is analogous in structure to the modern Service ‘à la russe’ style other than the traditional ‘service à la française’ style of French cuisine. Food is served course-wise rather than all at once. And aloo comes in every mood in every dish- be it the contemporary notion of starters, in the main course as an ingredient of fish curry or accompanying the mouthwatering meaty delights or just simple and sweet vegetable delicacies or in the concluding dish which too can include aloo in the innovative avatar. Thus aloo almost becomes a symbol of regional and cultural identity of Bengalis. No one Bengali can be found who doesn’t like aloo in his mutton curry or in the Dum Biriyani. They love aloo as they equally love hour-long sessions of Addas. In the most humble form, aloo is served mashed with onions and chillies and this can be found in any household. Another variant of this can be found in the roadside stalls where mashed aloo is dipped into the flour mixture and get deep fried. This is one of the most common yet famous dishes of aloo, ready to accompany the crispy puffed rice. This famous aloor chop (potato-croquettes) can be rendered in various other ways – open all kinds of experimentation with the spices.