Potato Bhajee

Syndicated

Blog readers Barry and Sallyanne Scott scanned and sent me a vintage Jewish cookbook from Calcutta, India. The book, entitled The Jewish Cookery Book, was published by Mrs. H. Brooke and printed by East Bengal Press in Calcutta. It had been handed down to Sallyanne and Barry by Sallyanne’s father, Ezra Gubbay, a Jew from Calcutta, India. Here is an excerpt from Barry’s first email:

My father-in-law, a Jew of Calcutta, gave a copy of this book to me. The Jews of Calcutta had a long and colorful history. They settled there well over two hundred years ago. They came mainly from Aleppo and Baghdad. They were involved in various trading that included indigo, textile, and precious stones. My wife’s family is from Baghdad.

My mother-in-law’s story (Miriam) is equally compelling. She was born in Queens, NY, and was an army nurse assigned to a forward aid station in Burma, during World War II. She and my father-in-law met at a Purim party. They married in 1945 and lived in India until 1947, whereupon they emigrated to the United States. My wife tells the story that her mom was given a choice—The French Riviera, or New Rochelle, New York. She chose New Rochelle because it was closer to home. My wife was born in Darjeeling, where my in-laws had a summer home.


Barry and Sallyanne’s father-in-law, Ezra Joseph Gubbay,
a Jew of Calcutta—1930, 8 yrs. old.

I was intrigued by the email, and by this family. Whenever a reader submits a recipe to me, I try to dig in and find out as much as I can about their family story. Ezra and Miriam’s story is a colorful one, indeed. I emailed Barry and Sallyanne questions to ask Ezra, now 89 years old, about his life in Calcutta.

Ezra and Miriam Gubbay, Calcutta—1946

Normally I would have taken their answers and written out their story myself, but both Barry and Sallyanne have a wonderful way of describing these things from the heart. Instead, I decided to let them tell their family story in their own words by sharing excerpts from our email exchange. Here, Sallyanne describes her childhood in Calcutta:

In our house in Calcutta were two separate cooking areas, one for meat and one for dairy. All the kitchen help were Muslims. All the housekeeping staff and other help were Hindus. The person in charge of meal planning was a Yemenite Jew. My Grandmother and Mother would meet with him each morning to plan the day’s meals. The head chef had some knowledge of European cooking, so the menu consisted of both European types of cooking as well as Indian Jewish cooking.

If you stole someone else’s chef, it was ‘an act of war!’ The two families would never speak to each other again. Chefs were sacred.

My mom would have the chauffeur drive her to the market on many occasions to buy food. The market was indoors and there were many vendors each selling separate types of food: fruits and vegetables, baked goods, etc. Since our family was kosher, the only things my mom would bring home were fruits and vegetables. All baked goods, bread, cakes, pastries, etc. came from the Jewish bakery in town.

On Friday afternoon before Shabbat, my mom, dad and Grandmother would go to her niece’s husband’s mother’s house for tea and cakes. After that they would go to her niece’s house for dinner. They would have a splendid dinner because, according to my dad, their cook was superb! After dinner, my grandmother would either sleep over or take a rickshaw home because she would not drive on Shabbat.

Miriam Wartell (maiden name), 2nd Lieutenant, taken between 1942-1945

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