“As a child, I used to watch a lot of cooking shows and the food channel was one of my favourites. Wanting to try different cuisines and be able to cook them has been something I’ve aspired for,” shares Asha Das, a 34-year-old brand design and illustrator working in a tech company in the city. This year, Asha has been on a culinary adventure, whipping up delectable Greek and Sri Lankan dishes by following recipes from renowned cookbooks, including Rambutan by Cynthia Shanmugalingam and Salt of the Earth by Carolina Doriti.
Occasionally joining her in the kitchen, is fellow cookbook enthusiast Rahul Jadhav, 35, who moved to Bengaluru from Mumbai. “In fact, last year when I moved here I was living in an Airbnb with a very small kitchen so I would usually ask Asha if I could use her kitchen. And she is a good cook, she would help me out also,” says Rahul.
Together, they once prepared a delightful roast chicken curry with crispy curry leaves from Ixta Belfrage’s cookbook, Mezcla: Recipes to Excite. Asha excitedly recounts, “He stayed overnight at my place, and we cooked and prepped together. It turned out great.”
“And then the next day, we had the club potluck where we shared our food with other community members. Cooking alone can get a bit overwhelming especially when you are working with foreign ingredients and recipes,” adds the 34-year-old Malayalee. Over the months of trial and experimentation, Rahul and Asha have forged a robust friendship as they bond over their shared passion for exploring new flavours and cuisines through a different cookbook each month.
And they are not alone in this pursuit; they are part of Bangalore Cook Book Club: BCBCBath, a group of about 20 food enthusiasts who gather for potluck events. Here, over a leisurely Saturday lunch, they share the dishes they have prepared from the chosen cookbook of the month.
“I never cooked actively before joining the club. My motivation was to explore and experiment with new cuisines. Initially, the prospect of cooking for fellow members who were already skilled in the kitchen was quite intimidating,” says another member, Divya Pal, 30, who works for a software company in Bengaluru.
Yet, with time, these fears have simmered down. “Now I’ve realised that everyone shares the same apprehensions about how their food will ultimately turn out,” she adds.
Since its inception in October 2022, BCBCBath’s members have explored various cuisines from cookbooks such as Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking by Maangchi and Martha Rose Shulman, Mezcla , Rambutan, Farokh Talati’s Parsi: From Persia to Bombay , Saee Koranne Khandekar’s Pangat , Yasmin Khan’s Zaitoun , and Salt of the Earth.
Sahil Khan, a 34-year-old product designer and co-founder of the club, shared the club’s origin story. He explains, “I started a cookbook club in Pune in 2017 because I made a New Year’s resolution to enhance my cooking skills and venture into diverse cuisines. I approached my friends, inviting them to join me in exploring new recipes from cookbooks. Soon, more people came on board. Initially, we were just three members. When I relocated to Bengaluru, I continued this culinary journey.”
Following a similar path, Apurva Chaudhary, a sales professional, initiated a cookbook club in Mumbai as part of her New Year’s resolution to delve into cooking. Reflecting on her inspiration, she shared, “During my extensive travels, I had the opportunity to explore various global cuisines, especially during my time in France, Spain, Amsterdam, and parts of Southeast Asia. Although I savoured a wide array of dishes, I never really explored cooking. Then, in 2020, I made a culinary resolution and launched the club in Mumbai.”
Sahil and Apurva crossed paths in Bengaluru while both were working in the city. Together, they founded Bangalore Cook Book Club: BCBCBath, which they cleverly coined as BCBCBath, combining the first letters of Bangalore Cook Book Club, and translating to hot hot rice (bisi bisi bath) in Kannada. Sahil says, “To me, it sounds like bisi bele bath,” and then adds with a chuckle, “You should hear the name of the Mumbai club – they go by MCBC: Mumbai Cook Book Club.” MCBC happens to be an acronym of a popular insult in Hindi.
The monthly potluck on Saturday, which is a feast comprising recipes from the chosen cookbook of the month is usually hosted at members’ homes. “We usually take turns hosting it,” says Apurva.
Cooking often becomes much more accessible when you can follow a recipe as it unfolds before your eyes, particularly when it comes to preparing unfamiliar dishes. As Sahil points out, “Sometimes, it’s a matter of understanding the precise consistency of a broth or determining its ideal colour, or even nailing down measurements. I recall an instance where the author simply stated ‘take one big tomato’ in the ingredient list — what does ‘big’ mean in this context? How large should it be? My usual approach is to turn to Google to find the weight of a ‘big tomato’ and work from there.”
In addition to deciphering recipes, sourcing exotic ingredients can also pose challenges. “Within our WhatsApp group, we often engage in discussions about the dishes we’re cooking, based on the cookbook of the month. Frequently, members share ingredients or explore alternatives when a specific ingredient isn’t readily available in the city,” says Apurva.
Last week, Asha encountered a culinary puzzle while preparing her prawn dish, which necessitated the use of Ouzo, a dry anise-flavoured aperitif derived from rectified spirits. She recounted the ordeal, stating, “I found myself pondering the nature of aniseed, a key ingredient in Ouzo. This led to an extensive discussion within our club’s WhatsApp group as we sought to find out what it really is.”
Consulting Google yielded the term saunf in Hindi as the translation for aniseed, but it further compounded the group’s confusion, given that fennel is also referred to as saunf in Hindi. Determined to unravel the mystery, members dove into research and unearthed a crucial distinction — aniseed is thin and small, while fennel seeds are thicker and bigger. A light bulb moment ensued as they finally realised, ‘Ah, yes, that’s ‘mota saunf!’”
One cookbook Sahil really struggled with was Mango Mia: Celebrating the Tropical World of Mangoes by chef Vikas Khanna. “It was just a painful book to work with for all of us I remember back in the Pune club,” he says. “The recipes were rather haphazardly written — it was a very Indian mother-style book, sab andaazey pay chal raha tha (everything relied on our estimation),” he adds.
Another difficult tryst was with Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, on the recipes of Les Halles, a classic New York City French bistro, where Bourdain launched his career. “Many of us lacked experience in French cooking techniques, and the dishes were quintessentially French, so it was difficult to keep up with Bourdain’s expectation in the book,” says Sahil.
In contrast, Rambutan by Cynthia Shanmugalingam, featuring recipes from Sri Lanka, received high praise within the club. Divya, who joined the club last year, shares, “I tried the author’s homestyle chicken white sodhi curry. Normally, I’m not inclined to cook chicken, but I gave it a shot, and it turned out really well. I prepared it at home again, and it’s a recipe I would happily make multiple times.”
Some things work out, and some don’t; with recipes and with life. For this cookbook club, every new month brings in a new cookbook with a chef who has mastered it. And these Bengalureans still take on the challenge to make a magnificent feast fresh off the page and share it over a delicious Saturday luncheon with the friends they’ve forged while conquering recipes by culinary giants.