My Heritage – (un)French Toast

Growing up, I encountered French toast a lot. My mother made it whenever she wanted to indulge us with a decadent breakfast or afternoon snack. Every Bengali family we knew had a recipe for it. It involved eggs with chopped onions and chillies and was naturally, completely savoury. My father says that in his childhood, French toast was served to guests.  Sometimes orange juice was used to make sweet ones too.  I never tasted the sweet ones because my mother only made the savoury ones. It was much later that it dawned on me that what I knew as French toast was anything but.

Indians have this great ability to adopt things from other cultures and make it our own, often turning it into something barely recognizable as exotic. So perhaps, what we know as French toast might have started out in its original form when French colonisers on the east coast first made it with their day-old bread. But soon, Bengalis around them adapted it to suit their own taste for something more savoury and spicy. I am guessing it was the Bengalis who first enthusiastically took to this eggy bread dish, simply because I haven’t met any non-Bengali family who claim to have made this dish for a few generations. But I could be terribly wrong, so do correct me if that’s the case! In Bombay Mumbai, it goes by the moniker¬† “savory Bombay toast” and has fresh coriander. And then there is bread pakora, which features a spicy batter of chick-pea flour and is quite popular amongst vegetarian Indians, but is even less french than the Bengali version, if that’s possible!

This morning, the first-grader and I made a very Bengali french toast for our brunch. Aromatics included onion, ginger and garlic. No chillies unlike the “original”.

Recipe: Bengali Savoury “French” Toast (just an approximate one, meant to be fiddled with)

Ingredients:

6 slices of whole wheat toast bread (I used whole wheat toast that was a couple of days past its expiration date but still looked good. I think any bread would do as long as it is not too soft or full of holes
5 eggs
half a small onion finely chopped
half a clove of garlic grated
1/4 tsp ginger grated
chopped chillies to taste (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Process: Whisk the eggs with aromatics and seasonings (the first-grader did this entirely on his own). Soak the slices of bread in the mixture. Use a flat tray like dish for this purpose. Let the bread absorb the liquid for a few minutes. I make sure that not a single millimetre of bread has escaped the egg-action. Meanwhile, heat your frying pan with a mixture of oil and butter (about a spoon each). Lay your bread side by side, lower the heat and put a lid. I once saw a video where some “big chef-personality” was talking about how the slow-cook-with-cover method works very well for french toast. I have to say that I tried it and it does make for a more custardy, lighter french toast. Once browned on the under-side, flip it and replace the cover. You can take it off in the last minute of frying, to let the steam escape so that your french-toast does not end up soggy. If I remember right, french toast back in my childhood used to be almost deep-fried or at least fried in oodles of oil. But this is completely unnecessary.

Serve warm with accompaniments of your choice. And what do you think? Leave a comment.

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