I did a write up on Bengali Cuisine for Indian Food Trail Series for dear Sailaja of Sailus Food.
I was delighted that she posted the article today on Poila Baisakh
Go over and check it out if you want to know more about the Bengali Cuisine. Ok go over and check it out even if you don't want to. While you are there check out all others on the Indian Food Trail series.
This is the link to the article:
Bengali Cuisine -- by Sandeepa of Bong Mom's CookBook
Since Sailaja has asked me to write a guest post on Bengali Cuisine
for her blog I have been in deep thought, given that she made a polite
request some months back, I have been very thoughtful ever since.
is so much to write and such a vast cuisine to encompass that I wasn’t
even sure I would do justice. Because you see, Bengali Cuisine has
subtle nuances which varies within districts of West Bengal and not so
subtle differences when you compare Bengali cuisine across borders from
Bangladesh and that from West Bengal.
So I thought I would take
the easy way out and stick to the kind of Bengali Food or Cuisine I am
familiar with, the kind I have had for breakfast, lunch, dinner day in
and day out while growing up, the kind my Ma makes everyday till date,
the kind I have seen my Dida, my Grandma, my Aunts, my Husband’s family
make, the kind I cannot live without for more than a week and so cook
My Ma in spite of spending many of her years outside
Bengal in a neighboring state, was very Bangali when it came to food.
She did delve into all kinds of cuisine when it came to breakfast or
tiffin items, but lunch and dinner on weekdays was strictly Bengali.
Only occasionally when my Baba would be out of town would she shift from
this and serve a dinner of say Aloo Paratha and Raita or maybe Noodles,
such stuff was meant for tiffin or packed lunches and having them for
sit down dinner or lunch on a weekday was well radical.
will describe a typical everyday, simple Bengali lunch which you will be
served if you land up in a Bengali home in a small hamlet in Bengal on a
hot afternoon. With the sun beating down on your back and the sleepy
ghugoos making their call among the green shady trees if you happen to
knock on the wooden doors of a Bangali home, you will be welcomed with a
cool tumbler of aam-pora sherbet (green mangoes roasted and made into a
sherbet) or daab er jaal (naariyal pani or coconut water) .
you are refreshed and sit down for your lunch, chances are this is what
you will be served as was in my home many moons ago.
everyday lunch would begin with something bitter, definitely if it was
Spring or early Summer, occasionally in other seasons. It would be
either Bittergourd (Uchche) or Neem Leaves. Fried Bittergourd,
bittergourd fried with eggplant, fried tender neem-begun (neem leaves
with eggplant) and even boiled bittergourd with mashed potatoes were
served as starter to cleanse your system and invigorate the taste bud.
Shukto is another bitter veggie dish that you might get if you are
Next was the Dal, this would usually be Moong or Masoor,
Cholar Dal (Chana dal) with tiny coconut pieces on special days and
Kalai er dal (Split White Urad Dal) when there was Aloo Posto or Aloo
Seddho (Mashed Potatoes). Toor or Arhar Dal is not a very common dal in a
Bengali household unless you are a Probashi bangali and have settled
down up North.
Served with the Dal there is typically a Bhaja -- a
fried veggie. The most routine bhajas are Thin Sliced Potato Fries or
Aloo Bhaja, Fried Eggplant or Begun Bhaja and Bittergroud fries or
Uchche Bhaja. In summer when parwal was in season, there would be lots
of patol bhaja or fried parwal. On days my Ma was feeling particularly
liberal the bhaja would be some veggie dipped in a batter of gram flour
and fried like the Beguni or Fulkopir Bora (Cauliflower dipped in a
spicy gram flour batter and fried).
Next would be a purely
vegetarian dish made of any veggie that was in season. Typically most
authentic Bengali vegetarian dishes are without garlic or even onion and
minimum spices to retain their natural flavor. This could range from
Charchari or a Labra, both of which are a medley of random veggies to a
Lau Ghonto (Dry sabzi with Bottlegourd) or BandhaKopir Ghonto (a dry
Cabbage & Potato Dish) or some other such stuff. There could be a
Cauliflower Gravy (Phulkopir Dalna) or the much loved Aloo Posto. In
fact this item could be anything with veggies that were brought back
fresh from the market that day.
of course comes the Fish without which a Bangali cannot survive.
Looking back I see we had fish twice a day almost every day, except on
Fridays which was a vegetarian day at our home and Sunday which was the
Chicken or Mutton Day. Some days Fish was substituted with Egg Curry but
there had to be a non-veg item on the menu every day if God or Nature
Regular Fish curries were not very spicy or
rich. Fresh fish pieces were fried with salt and turmeric and then
cooked into a gravy dish. The gravy could have infinite avatars from
jhaal (a spicy gravy) to jhol (a very soupy kind of gravy, sometimes
with vegetables). The ones that still arouse my tatsebuds are Doi-Maach
(Fish in a gravy of spicy yogurt), Sosrshe Ilish (Hilsa in mustardy
gravy), Chingri Malaikari (Prawns in a coconut milk based gravy),
Tyangra maacher Jhaal (small fish in a spicy sauce) and many many more.
Both big as well as small fishes are enjoyed and put to good use in
Bengali Cooking, the small fishes are devoured whole from head to toe
while the head of the bigger fishes are made into a delicious Muri
To wrap it all up there would be a Chaatni or a Tak,
something sweet and sour made with tomatoes in winter or Green Mangoes
in summer. There were variations to this of course with other fruits
like pineapple, a papaya and even guess what FISH. My Dida(maternal
grandma) used to make an awesome Ilish er Tak with bones and heads of
Hilsa and tamarind that was to die for.
The end would be either
with a Doi (yogurt) or some Mishti(a sweet dish) , which is what
Bengalis are famous for outside Bengal. If it was a birthday or an
occasion to celebrate there would be Paayesh (rice pudding).
Bengalis are primary rice eaters all of this would be served with Plain White
Rice and a wedge of lemon and Green Chillies on the side.
are a vegetarian and don’t eat the fish you would be served Chanar
Dalna (a Paneer Gravy dish), Dhokar Dalna (chana dal steamed cakes in a
gravy) or another Vegetarian Dish which would be gravy-ish in lieu of the Fish Curry.
elaborate 6 course meals encompassing six tastes or raasas are no longer
common in my home here in the US. There is little time for such
leisurely meals in our busy life. We still have primarily Bengali food
everyday but it seldom goes the full circle from bitter to the sweet.
But when I am back home in India or my Ma or Ma-in-law is visiting those
days are back again.
This is not a write up on Bengali Cuisine but what I am familiar with as an every day home lunch at a Bengali home
Following are links to the recipe on my blog for some of the dishes I have mentioned in this article:
Kalai er dal
Doi Sorshe Ilish
Chingri Malaikari or Prawn Malaikari
Tomato Khejur Chaatni