Bengali cuisine – how is it different from other Indian cuisines

By: Sourav

feature on bengali cuisine, benali food items, bengali recipes, rise and fish, bengali snacks“Unity in diversity” is the tagline for India. The diverse geographic, social, cultural, historical and religious features of India are stitched together with an invisible thread of unity. Indian culture, rich and versatile, is like a patchwork of colorful embroidery in which different colors are inseparably mixed. However, the color that stands for Bengal in the mélange carries off the bell. The cultures of north Indian states are somewhat similar. To say, Rajasthan’s culture has a lot in common with that of Gujarat. South Indian states have different cultures but with some similarities between them. But, Bengali culture stands apart from North Indian and South Indian cultures, by virtue of its unique identities – Durga puja, sindur khela, Baul gaan, Rabindra sangeet, dhak, white saree with red border, festival foods etc. This feature is focused on the uniqueness of Bengali cuisine. Bengali cuisine has been influenced by various other cultures since the Mughal period of Indian history. However, hold a mirror to Bengali culinary culture; you will see its own reflection.

Panchphoron, bengali cuisine, bengali food items, bengali recipesPanchphoron, a collective term for five essential spices, is a must use in most of Bengali recipes. The flavor enriched by the use of these spicy ingredients – cumin seed, mustard, black cumin seed, fenugreek seed and aniseed – distinguishes Bengali cuisine from other Indian cuisines. Most of regular food items in the Bengali household menu are both sweet and spicy in taste. Apart from salt and other spices, some sugar is added to veg and non-veg curries to sweeten the flavor. Isn’t it a specialty of Bengali cuisine?

Mustard oil is an essential cooking ingredient, found in Bengali kitchens. The pungent odor of pure mustard oil adds to the flavor of Bengali cuisine. In non-Bengali households, brand refined oils and pure ghee have replaced mustard oil. But Bengalis, even those who live in urban areas, stick to the tradition of frying vegetables, fish, meat, etc in mustard oil. Typical Bengalis residing in the rural backwaters of Bengal are in the habit of adding a teaspoonful of mustard oil to hot rice, heaped on plate. More, some mustard oil is mixed with smashed pulp of steamed potato, which non-Bengalis call aalo ka chokha.

bengali cuisine, bengali foods, bengali recipes, rice and fish If chaol and dhal is the staple food of north Indians or non-Bengalis, Bengalis live on rice and fish. Bengali cuisine is full of various freshwater fish dishes. No exaggeration to say, lunch meals without a fish item are incomplete for typical Bengalis. Fish is cooked almost every day, in Bengali kitchens. Fish, which is a big no to north Indians, is a must have on festive occasions in Bengal. Fish delicacies are offered in bhog (culinary offering) to gods and goddess, which is simply unthinkable outside of Bengal. Cooking meat and egg is strictly prohibited in the kitchens of Ramkrishna Math and Mission centers across the globe. But, fish delicacy is among the items in the bhog, offered to Thakur Ramkrishna. Fish is an inseparable part of Bengal’s culinary culture and festive celebrations.

begun bhaja, aloo bhaja, bengali recipes, bengali cuisineIf Marwaris, Gujratis and Punjabis are fond of pickles, Bengalis are in love with vegetable fries or fried vegetables (bhajas). Potato fries and brinjal fries top the list of fried vegetable items. In Bengali households, guests are entertained with rice, dhal, vegetable fries and a piece of lemon on a plate first. Then, other items are served to them. The menu of ceremonious or festive feasts includes, at least, five or six kinds of fried vegetables. Machh bhaja or fried fish is one of their culinary preferences.

luchi-aloo dum recipes, bengali cuisine, bengali festival foodsBengalis tend to binge on luchi-aloo dum, a combined delicacy, on weekends and holidays. It is unique to Bengali cuisine just as chhole-kachori is a favorite holiday food of north Indians. Non-Bengalis are familiar with aloo dum. But the Bengali recipe of aloo dum is different from theirs. The Bengali aloo dum with gravy is somewhat sweet in taste. Luchi and misti chholar dhal, another delicious combination, is common on festive days in Bengal. In every Bengali household, luchi and misti chholar dhal are made on the eighth day of Durga puja.   

bengali cuisine, jhalmuri, bengali food items, bengali recipes, bengali cutureOf the most common snacks, unique to Bengali cuisine, are jhal muri and aloo chop. The former is spicy, salty puffed rice, and the latter is made of spiced potato mash. Nowadays, jhal muri is found in the neighboring states as well, but aloo chop is still a pride of Bengal. Usually, aloo chop is eaten with muri at leisure in the evenings. Bengalis hardly spend a winter evening without chop. The season of winter is the time to satisfy the taste buds with bites of different chops – potato chop, cauliflower chop, capsicum chop, peas chop and likes.

Shondesh and Roshogolla, bengali festival foods, bengali cuisineBengalis and their culture are identified with Shondesh and Roshogolla, the all-time popular sweets of Bengal. Shondesh is pronounced as sandesh and Rhoshogolla is pronounced as rasgolla in Hindi. Hope, you do remember the dialogue Ei Koushalya didi, tumhare lie shondesh lai hu from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. Bengali cuisine is known for innumerable varieties of Shondesh. Packaged Shondesh and Roshogolla are exported to the other states of India and abroad. Nolen gurer shondesh is a special attraction of winter in Bengal.

Bengali cuisine is a history in itself. Is it possible to retell the history in a few hundred words? What do you say?

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