Food is an important identity marker in a multi-cultural, traditionalist nation like India. As Indian society experiences more migration and integration, recipes become storage containers of history, ethnicity, and memories. Every recipe narrates multiple tales – from familial customs and cultural legacies to alterations borne out of journeys and experiences.
Bengali cuisine is a rich repository of stories, tastes, and flavors. The food of Bengal was primarily influenced by its geographical location as a river delta, the criticisms of Vaishnavism, which eschewed meat eating, and the Mughal additions to its repertoire. This amalgamation resulted in iconic dishes like macher.
The Geography of Bengal
Tracing its origin back to the Bengal region – an Eastern section of India that comprises Bangladesh and some Indian states, such as West Bengal, Tripura, and Assam’s Barak Valley – is where the highly celebrated Bengali cuisine originated. Over time it has developed into a delightful culinary art form.
Today, the widely observed Durga Puja festival is a modern-day interpretation of an age-old tradition that occurs during Ashwin or Kartik (September and October).
Kolkata has always been known for its extravagant Durga Puja celebrations. Four days of festivities honor the goddess by offering her favorite dishes.
Eid, The Most Special Occasion
On the merry occasion of Eid, we give food to ensure that no poverty-stricken people go without a wholesome meal. Referred to as the ‘Holiday of Breaking the Fast’ or ‘Festival of Sweets,’ it is one of two prominent festivals celebrated amongst Bengali Muslims worldwide.
How To Eat Bengali Dishes
From professional chefs in any Bengali restaurant to Bengali households, popular Bengali dishes must follow an order in your palate so you can enjoy their unique taste.
A Bengali dining tradition comprises two main courses, one for special events like weddings and the other for everyday meals. Each course may vary significantly from its counterpart depending on which region you are in – West Bengal or Bangladesh.
Food Sequence in a Bengali Household
The culinary heritage of this wondrous culture can be found within these sequences, as each dish presents a unique flavor and texture.
Start with the more subtly flavored dishes, like vegetables and dal, before slowly transitioning to more assertive flavors. Bitter gourd is always an excellent way to begin, complemented by fried fish or vegetable fritters.
Following that are intricate vegetable dishes such as ghanto and chacchari, the prominent fish jhol, and other seafood recipes in order. Chacchari tantalizes the taste buds with aromatic veggies sliced into thin strips, sometimes accompanied by leafy green stalks. Each delectable bite is skillfully spiced with mustard or poppy seeds and artfully seasoned with a phoron to add flavor.
After a succulent fish course, the meat will bring the meal to its savory climax. But not before the tantalizing tartness of chutneys stimulates your taste buds in anticipation of the sweet delicacies that await.
To truly appreciate the flavors of a traditional Bengali meal, one must savor every dish separately, preferably with some rice.
Essential Ingredients in Bengali Dishes
Panch phoron is an aromatic blend comprised of five spices:
- black mustard seeds
- nigella seeds
- fennel seeds
- fenugreek seeds
- cumin seeds
Spicy, aromatic, cold-pressed golden mustard oil is essential to preparing Bengali cuisine.
Chaat masala is a piquant and flavorful powder that serves as the mouthwatering crown jewel of chaat. This spice blend requires amchoor (dried mango powder), cumin, coriander, dried ginger, salt (often black salt), black pepper, asafoetida, and chili powder.
Widows were traditionally not allowed to partake of spicy, ‘aphrodisiac’ condiments such as onion or garlic. This is why most traditional Bengali vegetarian dishes do not include them – a stark contrast from other areas within the Indian subcontinent where these two ingredients are often included in almost every recipe.
Widows And The Bengali Culinary Style
Hindu widows in Bengal were held to a higher level of restraint than their counterparts in other areas. Allowed only minimal freedoms, they led austere lives and had very few dietary choices.
Widows were primarily responsible for the kitchen and were only allowed to partake in religious activities and housework.
Through their genius and expertise, widows crafted unique culinary methods: easy spice mixtures, the aptitude for cooking in small amounts (considering they often ate alone), plus imaginative utilization of fundamental cooking techniques.
The Most Delicious Bengali Food
Here is a simple guide to some of the staple dishes of Bengali Cuisine
Lau Patai Pabda Paturi
Steamed pabda fish in bottle gourd leaf is a delicious dish made by wrapping fish seasoned with spices (e.g., shorshe) in banana leaves, then steaming or roasting it over glowing charcoal embers. This dish contains mustard seeds, turmeric, mustard oil, and green chilies.
Biriyani is a flavorful medley composed of aromatic grains of rice, succulent pieces of chicken, mutton, or beef, and an assortment of enchanting spices. You can also cook this delectable dish in tightly sealed containers to intensify the delicious flavors – often called dum biriyani.
This classic, lip-smacking Bengali popular dish comprises fish croquettes – a delectable street food from West Bengal. Lightly fried to perfection, these tasty morsels are delightfully fishy on the inside with a flavorful, crunchy coating outside.
This traditional Bengali dish is a delight to the senses, featuring plump jumbo prawns and creamy coconut milk. The preparation begins with cleaning and marinating the prawns in salt and turmeric for half an hour before they are fried until golden brown.
Then, bay leaf, cardamom cloves, cinnamon sticks, and onion paste are added to the same pan, followed by tomatoes blended into red chili powder mixed with turmeric providing a delectable gravy brings this masterpiece of seafood cuisine together.
Jhol is a dynamic term encompassing any stew, ranging from meat to fish and vegetable dishes. Simmered to perfection, Jhol is a flavorful fish curry with fish and vegetables immersed in a fragrant concoction of cumin, coriander, chili, and turmeric.
For a quick and delicious weeknight dinner or lunch, try making Bengali-style Chana Dal – an aromatic lentil dish with a subtle kick. Prepare the whole dish in minutes and serve it on steamed rice or alongside chapatis for a simple yet flavorful feast!
Ilish Macher Paturi
The Ilish Macher Paturi is an exquisite dish that unites three of Bengal’s favorite items: the delectable Hilsa fish, banana plant, and mustard. But don’t be deceived by its refined appearance; this recipe couldn’t be more straightforward! With only a few ingredients and no complicated methods, you can have a delicious meal ready in record time.
Aam Tel Ilish
Bengali cuisine is mainly based on fish, whether freshwater or seawater varieties. But of all these fishes, nothing is more beloved than Ilish – or hilsa – in its savory and salty forms.
In a Bengali kitchen, nothing goes to waste – not even the fish head! Fried and cooked with rice, dal, or vegetables, this dish is believed to be beneficial for your brain. Even the tail and bones are used in an exciting stir-fried concoction known as ‘churchuri.’
Sukto is a treasured vegetable medley in Bengali homes with many fresh ingredients. Bitter gourd is the star ingredient, and it’s accompanied by pumpkin, plantain, sweet potatoes, ridge gourd, drumsticks, eggplant, and raw papaya to create an exquisite dish like no other. A creamy blend of spices and milk cooked together, this thick curry is the ideal way to commence your meal.
Bengali Mishti Pulao
Aromatic, fluffy pilaf or pulau is a delectable dish crafted with fragrant ghee and flavorful spices, including tiny vegetables. For this tasty meal, long-grained aromatic rice such as Basmati or Jasmine is often used, but some may opt for small grains like Kalijira or Gobindobhog to add extra taste and texture.
Beguni is a tasty dish with fried slices of eggplant dipped in an exquisitely-blended batter. This irresistible combination typically includes rice, gram flour, and fragrant spices like turmeric, chili powder, and cumin seeds.
Easily one of the most straightforward Bengali vegetarian recipes, it will surprise you with its exquisite taste. Aloo and posto – or poppy seeds – each delivers delectable scrumptiousness to your plate.
Bhortas, initially brought to life by Bengali Muslims, are now an integral part of traditional Bangladeshi cuisine. As a main course or side dish, bhortas pair perfectly with rice.
West Bengal Desserts
The perfect rasgulla is a sweet, savory treat lightly flavored with cardamom. Its texture should be soft yet spongy – when squeezed, it must spring back to shape! To create this delectable delicacy, curdle milk and knead the milk solids into balls. Finally, cook these balls in hot sugar syrup until they are light and fluffy!
Ras malai is an incredibly rich sweet made with cheese balls immersed in a creamy milk sauce. The spongy cheese pieces, known as Rasagullas, are cooked in hot syrup until they absorb the sweetness of it.
If you are inspired to try your hand at some exquisite Indian dishes after reading this article, be sure to follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter so that you can keep up with the latest news and recipes!