Peer Review by sasha7 (United States)

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And the onions sizzled on

By: MimiChoudhury


I closed my eyes to soak in the tangy smell of the tomato chutney, which was filling the  dusty atmosphere that surfaced all around, with a delicious aroma. I gazed at the shop's label, which, after years of standing tight had started to peel off at the creases. The ancient tape recorder sent the music of love  throughout the building, and we, the customers who had been eagerly waiting for the dish swayed with the notes of the classic, Kaho na Pyar Hain.

My keen eyes dwelved inside the building which had played mother to so many magnificent dishes. The onions sizzled on, exhaling the fresh aroma throughout the area. This was , the Barista. I remembered the good old days, when my mother used to make Dum Biryani at home. The onions, she would say, were the most important part of the entire dish. They could not be overcooked( that would smell like carbon in the pan) , or undercooked( according to mum, your cooking skills are atrocious if you ever undercook a dish). The onions have to be sizzled till they turn a golden brown , and a beautiful aroma touched the tips of your noses.  I remember mum telling me the exact proportions to which we have to make the alternate layers of chicken and rice. This, for me, was the most exciting part. 

Once or twice, I had even managed to chuck out a leg piece or two while my mum payed her full concentration to the onions. I recalled the time we had gone to visit my uncle at Hyderabad. The restaurant there served fresh, aromatic Hyderabadi Biryani. All the way there, we were forced to absorb the knowledge that Biryani was , indeed born in Hyderabad. Mum, on the contrary, kept arguing that Dum Biryani was born in Kolkata itself. I sat still between the two siblings, unable to agree or to disagree, but my  child's mind very excited  at the prospect of  tasting something new. 

The new dish was a distant cousin of the dish that I loved, but still I loved the richness of the chicken, and the heavenly aroma of the herbs and spices ; eventhough  Mum kept telling uncle throughout the meal, that this was not Biryani. Our Calcuttan Biryani is famous for its potatoes. The soft and fresh potatoes of Aloos, as we prefer to call it in Bengali, update the dish to a new position. But this was not Kolkata. This was Hyderabad. And no matter what, you have to accept that India is unique in its diversity, even in terms of food. The Dum Biryani winds a tale around its origin.

I always asked Baba , why the Calcuttan Biryani was different from other states. At this , my Baba always laughed and summoned me closer. I would come and sit near him , all work forgotten , to hear about the origin tale of one of my favourite dishes. He used to bring one hairy hand upto my shoulder and squeeze me closer, to which I would squeal and laugh , and then,  he would start the story.

It was during the time when the English East India Company were ruling the land, when they drove the King of Awadh out of his kingdom , and exiled him to Kolkata. The King was poor and penniless, and hence had to accomodate to the feeling of nothingness: something , which was very new to him. Biryani was one of the King's favourite dishes, and when one day , when he ordered his cook ( yes, the cook also came with the King) to make the dish for him, the cook was at splits. Nevertheless, he hunted down all the ingredients but realised that the amount would be too small to satisfy the King's hunger. So, very cleverly, he added three potatoes in the Biryani, as to increase the amount. The King was high in praises of the new dish and hence came forward Kolkata's very own, The Dum Biryani.  

Baba- father in Bengali 
Aloo- Potato in bengali
 

Peer Review

I admire the extent to which the author uses all types of imagery. The author does not only use visual imagery, but also auditory, olfactory, and gustatory imagery. This holistic approach truly makes the reader capture the atmosphere of the text or sitting in the restaurant him/her self.


The writer explicitly focus on culture and history. The author makes it clear that the setting of the piece is India. He or she uses words such as 'Baba' or 'Aloo' which may be foreign to the reader but which the author gives the meaning of in the footnotes. The author also makes it clear that this piece has a historical undertone, as is noted in the italicized paragraph towards the end of the piece. The author takes food writing to another level in this piece. He or she describes how food is so much more than what we eat without having to directly state this. Through her recollection of the tips her mother gave her about cooking, such as how an onion should be prepared, and the description in the hook about how customers come together and dance to cultural songs, the author expresses how food can both bring people together and create memories.


If the writer were to expand on one part of the piece, I would recommend discussing the history of this restaurant , such as its owners and why they built it. I would also love to hear some background information to the narrator. Why is this restaurant or the meals it produces so important to the storyteller? Is it a hope and dream of the narrator to own a restaurant?


Yes, the beginning definitely makes me bite. The author utilizes multiple types of figurative language in her piece, but primarily focuses on imagery in the beginning of the piece. This is a huge part of food writing, and extends the idea that food is so much more than what you swallow. It travels the body, and simplicity impacts all parts. While the customers are waiting for the food in eagerness , they begin to dance. Just by this one plot line alone, the writer pulls on multiple senses, such as hearing and smell.


The fuel of this piece is definitely the cultural and historical aspects of it. If you are to edit, I would not remove any part that takes away from the diversity of the story. Keep taking those of us who are foreign to the culture described in the piece on a journey in which we discover new aspects!


Reviewer Comments

This is an amazing piece. I would honestly recommend making it into a story, as I could definitely see this being the first chapter of a book or the backstory of a historical, non-fiction novel! Keep up the great work!