When it comes to curries, Arupa can’t stop cooking

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Arupa Sarkar… “I love food. If you don’t, it’s hard to be a good cook.” Photo: Kate Matthews

ARUPA Sarkar went from not knowing how to cook about 10 years ago, to now cooking for thousands of people under the not-for-profit organisation, ATN Canberra.

Arupa, 40, of Bonner, and other ATN Canberra volunteers are getting ready to cook Bangladeshi food for thousands of patrons when they hold a stall at the fifth World Curry Festival, in City Walk, from Friday, August 30 to Sunday, September 1. 

But it wasn’t so long ago that Arupa would call her mum in West Bengal, a state in eastern India, between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, and ask her what to do when cooking.

“Even for a simple lentil dish but now I can cook for hundreds of people,” she says.

Her cooking journey really blossomed after she married Bangladeshi man Newton Muhury, 42, who she met when doing a masters degree in information systems in Melbourne. After her degree they married, both in West Bengal and Bangladesh. 

The two moved to Canberra about 10 years ago when Arupa got a job with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, where she continues to work. In more recent years, Newton and two others founded ATN Canberra, which is named after its founders, Asik, Tarek and Newton and has a goal to share the Bangladeshi culture while giving back to the Canberra community. 

“We organise a cultural event and then the money we get goes back to the Australian Cancer Council and the Kids with Cancer Foundation,” says Arupa, who now cooks for most of its events. 

“We chose to donate money towards cancer research because it’s one of the diseases that we don’t know how to cure.”

While Arupa isn’t from Bangladesh, she says the food from West Bengal is pretty similar and so are the vegetables they use.

Newton says it’s more like comparing Australia with England.

“People think we’re part of the Indian culture but we do actually have a different culture in performing arts, socialising, cooking, eating – everything,” he says. 

Confident in cooking Bangladeshi food now, Arupa is also excited to share the Bengali culture through its food. 

“I love food. If you don’t, it’s hard to be a good cook,” she says. 

Arupa’s favourite Bengali curry is a fish curry, and when it comes to making a good curry she says people need a passion for cooking and they should also use whole spices. 

“Start with whole spices and put them in hot oil to get a special aroma,” she says.

At the World Curry Festival, Arupa says visitors can expect curries such as mezbani beef, which is a hot beef curry in Bangladesh, but Arupa says they’ll be toning it down for the event, as well as smaller dishes such as samosas, lentil dhal and Bengali sweets. 

Run by the Canberra India Council, the World Curry Festival is a way of introducing visitors and locals to a variety of cuisines and cultures, says festival founder and council patron Deepak-Raj Gupta. 

“This year, we’re trying to bring more diverse stalls, more community stalls and more home cooking,” says Deepak, 53, of Gungahlin. 

Like every other year, Deepak says people can look forward to its ever-famous chilli eating competition, which will be held from 1pm, Saturday, August 31. 

Arupa Sarkar. Photo: Kate Matthews

SORSHE ILISH (Hilsa fish curry with mustard sauce)

Arupa says: This is an authentic Bengali fish curry recipe to cook Hilsa fish. It also works with salmon fillets. It’s easy to try at home and the ingredients are available in the ACT from the supermarket or an Indian grocery shop. 

Cooking time: 45 minutes > Serves: 4


  • 6-7 regular cutlets of Hilsa fish or salmon
  • 150g of mustard seeds 
  • 8 tablespoons of cooking oil 
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder 
  • 1/2 tablespoon of chilli powder (dried Kashmiri chilli) 
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin powder 
  • 4-5 green chillies
  • 1 tablespoon of salt 


  1. Marinate the fish with Kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt for 30 minutes.
  2. While it’s marinating, use a food processor to make a semi-liquid paste with 3/4 of the 150g of mustard seeds and 2-3 green chillies.
  3. With this mixture, add cumin powder, Kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric powder and water to make a smooth paste.
  4. In a non-stick pan add 4 tablespoons of cooking oil and heat the oil before frying the fish for 15-20 seconds on each side. After frying take out the fish from pan and keep the fried fish aside.
  5. Add the rest of the oil in the same pan then add the rest of the mustard seeds and green chilli and sauté this for a while.
  6. After 30-40 seconds add salt and the paste you made earlier then continuously stir to avoid overcooking it. Add some water (200ml) to make a gravy.
  7. Once it boils, add previously fried fish, ensuring the cutlets are completely covered by the gravy. Then cook it for another 15-20 minutes over a medium heat.
  8. Add some mustard oil on top of the fish curry if you like the fragrance of mustard.


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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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