In India there is literally no dearth of variety, be it natural beauty, traditional clothing and attires to our absolute favourite, food. It never fails to amaze the mind (or the taste buds) about how one meat or one vegetable can get such different forms and flavours across the length and breadth of one single country. One of the culinary favourites is Bengali food. From their way with fish to warm lentil-based dals and of course, the guilty pleasure of all with a sweet tooth, Bangla deserts. Whether you are visiting the vibrant Durga Puja, a colourful wedding or just knocking on the door of a Bengali friend, if you are wondering just what you ought to try in this power-packed cuisine, we have some suggestions that might help you:
When in Bengal, I think you ought to stop keeping count of your calories, how else does one enjoy all those sweets that keep inviting you in?! Speaking of sweets, what’s the one mithai coming all the way from Bengal that we all love? Sandesh. Okay okay, I know that the rasgulla is more popular but actually sandesh goes further back. It dates back centuries when the Portuguese introduced cottage cheese or “chenna” to the Indian markets, the sellers found themselves in a fix because the excess chenna would turn sour and there would be daily wastage. Then someone struck open the idea of adding molasses of sugar, khoya (milk fudge) and cardamom powder, making the first form of this desert, makha sandesh. Today, it sells in kilos and has so many kinds!
Chingri is a form of prawn malai curry. Shrimp is sautéed slowly in coconut milk to result in silken curry. This dish works well even for those following a gluten-free diet or even a keto diet. The dish uses red chillies to bring in the spice along with the flavours of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Their blend within a full-fat based coconut milk enhances a tinge of zest within the creaminess. The end result is a sweet-aromatic flavoured curry in which sit lightly done prawns. For seafood lovers, this is a must have!
Luckily for us prawn lovers, Bengali cuisine offers one too many types! Only this time the chigri, i.e., prawn is cooked with daab which means tender coconut. The distinctive taste is lent from the mustard oil that is a key element to cooking in Bengali food. The marination and then the cooking with cinnamon sticks, garam masala, green chillies, garlic powder, amongst others. The spices seep into the freshness of the tropical fruit. The dish while appetizing in taste is also appetizing in its usual plating style within a coconut itself!
If you thought that crepes are always starrers on international menus, then we have a tiny surprise for you. India actually has their own variants of crepes! In Bengal rice coconut-based flours are made called patishpata. Dollops of sugar and jaggery make this crepe a sweet one. Pithe and patishapta are celebratory sweets in Bengal. They are prepared on special occasions such as Poush Sankranti. Though beyond the ritualistic preparation as well you can always find this treat in a restaurant because god knows we don’t need a reason for desert.
This dish is for the ones who find cooking therapeutic because it takes time and energy both in its preparation and in its cooking. Or else for the curious foodies who want to eat it but not necessarily cook it, small-scale local restaurants of Bengal might offer you this one. Forewarning though, this is an oily one. It can be made with chicken and mutton both. The meat is minced mixed with pointed gourd or parval to result in a relish-worthy dish to bite into as you break bread. The vegetable is stuffed with the meat and then laboriously cooked in copious amounts of ghee.
Sorsebata Ilish Mach
Are you really eating Bengali food unless you’ve allowed your palate to witness their magic with mustard? For some it can be a little overbearing but for the ones who enjoy its pungent taste, this one is a sheer joy. This famous delicacy is made using hilsa fish. In a region that is heavily dependent on fish for even its staple diet, its noteworthy that ilish or hilsa is actually one of their favourites. The spices merge with mustard and poppy seeds to bring you a true Bangla delight. Additionally, it has the benefit of having saturated fats and a high content of proteins.
Of course, the cuisine is famous for multiple varieties of fishes so we are looking at more than one fish items. The doi maach is essentially a yogurt flavoured fish curry. In addition to red chilli and turmeric, the fish is marinated with raisins as well. Once the cumin seeds are allowed to splatter, cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon are sautéed. The final addition of green chillies and a pinch of sugar goes to show how this cuisine and this dish in particular works like magic as it strives to create complex flavours with perfect balance. This is best enjoyed with chingiri paturi served in a banana leaf.
This one is for the vegetarians as it sees a chef create a simple “mixed vegetable” from drumsticks, spinach leaves, pumpkin, beans, brinjal, potato and radish! Yes, all those vegetables come together to serve you this savoury goodness. The masala in itself involves a number of spices and herbs coming together including the famous paanch phoron, a popular ingredient in Bengali and Assamese cuisines too. The result is a vibrant dish packed with robust ranges of flavour much like the state that it hails from. This one is enjoyed even on casual family meals so if you can get a friend to prepare it for you, I think you would find yourself enjoying the authentic state more than what you might get your hands on at a restaurant. Another popular mixed vegetable of the Bengali cuisine goes by the name of shukto.
This is just the beginning because the truth is that this cuisine is so elaborate that we could go on to discuss its deserts, its meat-based dishes, its savoury options, etc. as separate pieces. For the foodie looking to explore, this cuisine has an age-old menu that you can just delve into really deep. Go for a social gathering or is it’s called adda to chit-chat with some friends and munch on some good food. Happy hogging!
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