What is bengali food

Definition of Bengali Cuisine: Culinary Differences Between West Bengal And Bangladesh

Bengali cuisine generally involves a hot palette, using large numbers of herbs, spices, and roots to create dishes that are full of depth. However, these flavors can also be manipulated to create a finer flavor, and it is important to note that dishes vary from region to region. The areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh are interesting both for their similar qualities and for their inherent differences.

© fabulousfabs / Flickr

Today Bengal is divided between West Bengal and Bangladesh. This has been the case since the partition of Bengal in 1947 and has resulted in some small but important changes in both areas. The city of Kolkata in West Bengal became a multicultural center and thriving port, while Dhaka within Bangladesh was in some ways separate from it and independently retained traditional influences and characteristics in its culinary choices. Religions across both borders are also important factors as dietary needs differ between Hindus and Muslims. For inside information on food from Bengal and across the Ganges, check out Hungry Pilgrims and their adventures through Indian cuisine, starting with West Bengal.

Cauliflower and Lentil Dal | © Girl Interrupted Eating / Flickr

Due to Bengal's location in the Ganges Delta, where the body of the land is veined with rivers, fish is the predominant choice for those who are not vegetarians, with mutton and goat also popular choices across the region. There is greater demand for beef in Bangladesh than in West Bengal, but vegetable dishes are popular everywhere. The flavors in Bengali cuisine are distinctive and lively. The incorporation of spices and roots that are ground into pastes gives many of their sauces and meats a bold, rich flavor. For example, the Bhapa style of cooking involves fish or vegetables steamed in spices before being cooked through to be soaked in flavor. Heat is found in the liberal use of green chillies, and Bangladesh in particular is famous for some of the hottest dishes in the world. Mustard oil is also an important ingredient in Bengal as it gives a pungent taste to dishes that are specific to these parts.

The regionality of food in West Bengal and Bangladesh is important to consider, as many of the most popular dishes have different variations depending on where you are. In Bangladesh, for example, food revolves around Mughlai cuisine and takes on strong influences from Persian and Arabic cuisine. Here they use beef, which can be seen in dishes like the beef kebab, while this meat is not widely consumed in West Bengal for religious reasons. In the southern parts of Bengal, which are surrounded by rivers, there is a preference for river fish; the central parts prefer fried rice and meat, and some of the northern regions prefer vegetable curries.

Shukto | © abhinaba / Flickr

Shukto

As the only region on the Indian subcontinent that serves traditional dishes during mealtimes, Bengal is interesting in its eating habits. Generally there are around 5 or 6 different courses, although this can vary between Bangladesh and West Bengal. While both usually start with a bitter starter, it is common in West Bengal to replace that first course with shukto, a thick sauce based on vegetables and ginger. The dish is incredibly complex and contains many different ingredients, but it has little popularity in Bangladesh. 6 Ballygunge Place in Kolkata is a good place to try Shukto, along with other traditional West Bengali dishes.

6 Ballygunge Place, near Patha Bhavan, Ballygunge, Calcutta, India (+ 91) 33 24603922

Dal

Dal is a thick stew made from legumes and is widely consumed across India. It is a staple food in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. But its popularity in West Bengal is twofold, and the Dal course during meal times is regularly twice that traditionally consumed in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, they often combine dal and chutney into one course rather than distinguishing them as two separate courses. Dal is often consumed in Bangladesh during breakfast time.

Bengal Mango Chutney | © abhinaba / Flickr

Chutney

West Bengal is known for its chutney, which has a separate course for this sweet and sticky dish. There are many different types of chutney, and the sweetness provided by the seasoning is a precursor to the meal's final dessert. The often experimental use of various fruits to create the sweet and pungent flavors of chutney has been adopted and appropriated worldwide, but many of the best types are found in Bengal. Popular variants include mango, papaya, pineapple, and tomato, and the dish is eaten alongside papadas.

Lamb Biriani | © atlai / Flickr

Tehari and Biriani

Biriani is one of the oldest foods in these regions and has its own food culture that is deeply rooted in history. The rice dish can be found all over India and other parts of Asia and is prepared slightly differently depending on the location. In Bangladesh it is often made with mutton or beef, while in West Bengal there are potatoes, eggs, dal, fish or vegetables and sometimes chicken. Tehari is a variant of Biriani most commonly found in Bangladesh and is most commonly cooked with beef, onions, cardamom, cloves, and bay leaves, creating an aromatic flavor. To try some of the best biriani, you have to travel to Dhaka city and take a rickshaw to Hazir Biriani, which is celebrated across the city, to enjoy this age-old dish. Existing for over 70 years and over two generations, you may have to wait in line for some time, but it's worth the wait.

Payesh (Kheer)

This rice pudding dish is made with sticky rice, milk, and sugar. The sweetness is enhanced by adding nuts like almonds, cashews, or pistachios, or dried fruits, cardamom, and saffron for more luxurious versions. The dish is usually prepared in temples and consumed in eastern India on special celebrations such as birthdays. In Bangladesh, the dish is prepared a little differently with coconut milk and semolina, resulting in a stickier, sweeter pudding.


Author: Victoria George

Victoria George is a 41 year old journalist. Certified music expert. Travelaholic. Pop culture advocate. Introvert. Web fan. Researcher. Beer Geek. Thinker. Zombie specialist. General organizer.