Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Details

Posted on June 30, 2012

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Luchi & Cholar Daal

Note: This post was originally written on 15 October, 2012 during the Durga Puja. I’ve changed the date of publish in order that it stands as the 3rd post as I can pin it on my homepage.

An etymological explanation of our extreme Food-Fetish. Or should I simply say ‘Blame it on our genes’?

This is post is an emotional post for me, tugging at all nostalgic nerves that I have in my body. It has taken me long to gather my thoughts, photographs etc – to explain as simply as I can, the nuances of traditional Bengali Cuisine. I know Bengali Cuisine like most Cuisines is vast and elaborate, but every time someone hears that I’m from Bengal asks me ‘So what comprises Bengali Cuisine?’ or ‘Are you always cooking fish?’ or ‘Ah, I know a Bengali Sweet – Roshogolla!’

Most people I have come across are pretty much aware of Indian food. And this awareness stops at Biriyani or a Chicken Tandoori or a Butter Chicken. Or perhaps the Dosas and the Idlies which are diametrically opposite to the North Indian food category and originate in the Southern states of India.

However, this is not true. India comprises of 28 states (regional classification, officially) and 7 Union Territories (the union territories are ruled directly by the federal government, unlike the states which have their own elected governments) which are further subdivided into districts and so on. And the food is as diverse as it gets (read here) with each regional cuisine significantly differing from each region. (Map Courtesy: here)

Talking about myself – I am a true-blue Bengali or a BONG to the core, the latter being the colloquial equivalent to describe a Bengali. Born and brought up for the most part in Kolkata, FOOD has shaped my personality and character. My Bengali genes are surely to be blamed not only for my relentless creative pursuits but also my unsatiated taste-buds. FOOD is also our most important travel companion. If one thing we always agree on unanimously, then that is this phrase – ‘ WE ARE HUNGRYYYY!’ And we are proud to have been able to transfer our genes to our little ones – the Z-SISTERS!

Bengali food belongs to neither of the above categories and definitely not in between. An Indian map will certify that. Bengal is situated to the East of India and borders Bangladesh. And traditional Bengali cuisine is elaborate and vast.

Annaprashan or the ‘First Rice’

But how and why did this food fetish start? For a Bengali this food fetish begins quite early – almost at infancy as you can see below.

The first ceremony or celebration that a Bengali child witnesses is Annaprashan or the ‘First Rice’. This Bengali tradition initiates an infant of barely 5 months or more to his/her first intake of food other than milk. Dressed up in the finest traditional attire (the girl child or the boy child resembling a mini bride or a groom respectively), it is a cute little sight to watch. Provided the little ones do not break into howling (see how Li’L Z reacts)! Usually the Mama/Maternal Uncle or the Dadu/Grandfather in many cases does the honour of ‘The First Rice’ by feeding the child a spoon of Payesh/Rice Pudding.

An excerpt from an earlier post on Payesh or the traditional Bengali Rice Pudding… The only other way to explain the importance of a traditional Payesh/Rice Pudding is to compare it with Champagne. If you can understand the importance of Champagne to bring in a family celebration then you can probably understand the importance of Payesh. Or say, cutting a cake on a birthday. For a Bengali, a spoonful of Payesh is a must on a special occasion. Also, the first spoon of non-solid food that goes into a Bengali child during Annaprashan or the First Rice is Payesh.

So, Payesh is a celebrity dish that cuts the ribbon in an opening ceremony!Annaprashan platter

What follows there after is a royal initiation (shown above) into food. The first vision of ‘solid food’ comes in the shape and size and form -
♦ Drops of Ghee (traditional Indian clarified butter)
♦ Payesh (a sweet dessert made with rice, milk & sugar – traditional Rice Pudding)
♦ Shukto/Bitter vegetable preparation
♦ 5 types of Bhaja or fries – Aloo bhaja/Potato fries, Potol bhaja/Parwal fries, Kumro bhaja/Pumpkin fries, Begun bhaja/Eggplant fries, Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries
♦ Torkari or an assorted vegetable dish
♦ Daal or lentil soup
♦ Chutney, a sweet sign-off and of-course a variety of FISH preparation accompanied by Yes-you gotta-believe-me, a FISH-HEAD and a FISH-TAIL!

As I have mentioned many a times, the groundwork for the Bengali taste buds’ perpetual yearning for FOOD is already built at almost infancy!

Bengali tradition is reflected by two colours – Red & White

Traditional Bengali AttireBengalis world-wide are at this moment caught up in a festive frenzy. Every autumn a festive mood hits Kolkata as if Goddess Durga, comes to life. Thousands of Puja Mandaps are built all over the city and there are thousands of ‘themes’ on which these Mandaps are built. The lightings, the structures, the extravaganza… the atmosphere is electrifying, almost carnival-like. The Durga Pujas or the ‘Durgotsav’ as it is called continues for 5 days. Goddess Durga with her 2 sons (Ganesha & Karthika) and 2 daughters (Lasksmi & Saraswati), is believed to come down to earth from her heavenly abode in Mount Kailash. On the last day of the worship,  the Bengali married women wear their traditional white saris with red borders and perform the Sindoor Khela where the married women smear each other with Vermillion. Well, I miss all these. Though in many places outside India, Durga Pujas take place with equal zest. For example, I’ve never missed the festive spirit while we were living in Frankfurt.

Trust Bollywood to give a fantastic glimpse of Kolkata Pujo (in bits and pieces and amidst many irrelevant scenes!)…

During our Kolkata visit on our summer holidays, we visited Kumortuli – the place where the idols are made. The artisans were busy making the idols, only a few of them had been given a poach of paint. A long way to go for the Pujas at that time (below).

Bhog/Pujo Food is very special – aromatic and traditionally served in banana leaves. The picture below is from a special Pujo dinner at our home and probably shows the extent that we go to in-order to replicate the things and moments that we have grown up with! Pujor Khabar

What comprises a traditional Bengali meal?

What follows below is an elaborate and a very traditional Bengali meal – a thing that can be conjured up only in my dreams – only because in reality how many of us are being able to cook up such elaborate and traditional meals?

Rice – plain white rice is the main accompaniment to all dishes. Firstly, Rice is eaten with starters (mainly vegetables) with Ghee or Daal. Then Rice is eaten in the Main Course too, either with fish, meat or chicken. Traditionally, Bengali dishes, specially the fish, are cooked in Mustard Oil. Bengalis forget to eat their Rice only when Mishti or sweets come in!Squeezing a bit of Gondhoraj Lebu or the Bengali Lime (shown below) in Dal/Lentils, specially Mushurir Dal/Masoor Dal or Bhaja Moonger Dal/Fried Moong Dal is very unique to Bengali Lunches. These limes have their own aroma and something that I haven’t been able to find beyond the shores of Bengal. Though we have found our substitutes for many things as we lead our Bengali lives in non-Bengali shores. The closest I’ve come to the aroma of Gondhoraj Lebu is to drop in a few leaves of the Thai Kaffir Lime!

Kancha Lanka/Green Chillis, Gondhoraj Lebu/Bengali Lime and a pinch of Salt in the corner of plate is a trademark of traditional Bengali food serving!Gondhoraj Lebu, Lanka

Starters:

♦ Bhaja or Fries: Crispy vegetables deep fried in oil. Examples – Aloo bhaja/Potato fries, Potol bhaja/Parwal fries, Kumro bhaja/Pumpkin fries, Begun bhaja/fried Eggplant, Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries. Sometimes fried fish may also accompany the white Rice

or

♦ Bhaaté or mashed steamed vegetables – Examples – Kumro bhaaté/Mashed Pumpkin, Aloo bhaaté/Mashed Potato, Uuche bhaaté/Mashed Bitter-gourd
♦ Shukto: A bitter vegetable preparation using Korolla or Uuche/ Bitter-gourd
♦ Shaak: Steamed or lightly cooked leafy vegetables. Examples - Palong shaak/Spinach, Methi shaak/Fenugreek, Lal shaak/Red Leafy Vegetables
♦ Torkari/ Mixed Vegetables
♦ Dal or lentil soup: Sometimes Dal contains various seasonal vegetables or fruits in it. Very famous is Aamer Dal/Mango Lentil Soup or Amrar Dal/Dal with Gooseberry. It may also be cooked with fish pieces or fish head and bones in it!

Bori BhajaAloo BhajaBori Bhaja/Fried Lentil Balls (left) and Aloo Bhaja/Fried Potato (right)

Begun bhaja/Fried Eggplant (left) and Jhurjhure Aloo bhaja/Potato Fritters Bengali Style (right)

Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries, Beguni/Eggplant batter fried in Besan/Gramflour (left) and Mourala bhaja/Mourala Fish fritters (right)

Kumro bhaaté/Mashed Pumpkin (left) and Aloo bhaaté/Mashed Potato (right)

Begun BhajaBeguner Dorma/Stuffed Eggplant (left) and Potoler Dorma/Stuffed Parwal (right)

Aloo Potol-er TorkariChochoriAloo-Potoler Torkari/Potato Parwal (left) and Paanch Meshali Chochori/Assorted Mixed Vegetables (right)

Aam Dal against the print of Tagore's writingMaacher maatha diye bhaja Moonger Dal/Fried Moong Dal with Fish-head (left) and Aam diye Musurir Dal/Mango Masoor Dal (right)

Kaancha Moonger DalKarai Shuti Diye Moog Daal Kaancha Moonger Dal/Moong Dal (left) and Karai Shuti – Phul Kopi Diye Moog Daal/Moong Dal with Green Peas & Cauliflower

Aloo-Potpl-Kumror ChokkaCholar Dal diye Luchi/Bengali Puri with Bengal Gram Dal (left) and Aloo-Potol-Kumror Chokka/Potato-Parwal-Pumpkin Mixed Vegetable (right) is another popular food pairing. While making Luchis, a dough is prepared by mixing Maida/Flour with water, a spoonful of Ghee/White Oil and a pinch of Sugar and Salt. Small balls are made out of these dough and flattened flattened and individually deep-fried in Oil or Ghee. When Maida/Flour is substituted with Atta/Wheat Flour, it is called a Poori. And a stuffed Luchi is called Kochuri. Karaishutir Kochuri/Kochuri stuffed with mashed green peas is an absolute delicacy.

Another Bengali delicacy that I miss very much and is not available in Dubai is Posto or Poppy Seeds. Because of its addictive quality (read here) it is banned here. However, Poppy Seeds also known as Khaskhas in other parts of India is widely used in cooking. In some regions of Bengal, Posto forms a part of daily meal. Aloo-Jhinga Posto/Potato & Ridge Gourd with Poppy Seeds (below left) or simply Aloo-Posto/Potato with Poppy Seeds is one very popular Bengali preparation. Another very simple yet very delicious Posto preparation is to stir in the Poppy Seed Paste in a bit of Mustard Oil with a slit green chilli thrown in. This is known as Bati Posto (the first picture below).Posto/Poppy Seeds

Main Course

Fish is still cooked daily for main course in most traditional Bengali households. Bengali cuisine is famous for it’s Maacher Jhol or Maacher Jhaal. Maacher Jhol is where the gravy of the dish is made with ginger, turmeric, cumin powder, green chillis (the ingredients may vary from one region of Bengal to another) and Jhaal is where the gravy is hot and spicy and made with mustard paste, turmeric, chilli. Shorshe Maach/Mustard Fish is a very popular fish dish.

Shown below are various Bengali fish delicacies (starting from top left) – Chitol Maacher Muitha/Chitol Fish Dumpling Curry, Pabda Maacher Jhaal/Pabda Fish Spicy Curry, Tel Koi/Koi Fish in Oil, Rui Maacher Kalia/Rohu Fish Kalia. There are obviously many many more types of fish preparation – Doi Maach/Fish cooked in yoghurt, Bhapa Maach/Steamed Fish, Maacher Paturi/Fish marinated in different spices and wrapped in Banana leaves and then steamed.

Bengali FishSpecial mention has to be made to the Hilsa fish. The Hilsa is synonymous with Bengal and is considered the ‘queen’ of all Bengali fish. Hilsa is also of political importance. It is a serious bone of contention between India and it’s neighbouring country Bangladesh. Which Hilsa is better – the Hilsa that is found in the Padma river in Bangladesh or the Ganga river, the last phase of which flows through Bengal before it merges into the sea-waters of Bay of Bengal?

The entire month of July and August, that is during the Monsoons, Kolkata is gripped by Hilsa. Hilsa festivals and special Hilsa lunches are organised in different clubs and hotels. Each conversation revolves around Hilsa. This year had been hard-hitting for the Hilsas with the prices shooting upto as high as Rs 1,500/kg (Dhs 100/- approximately!). The fish markets in Kolkata are in itself a subject for immense discussion – perhaps better kept for another future post. The bony Hilsa is a delicacy and is prepared traditionally in many ways – the Shorshe Baata/Mustard Hilsa, Kalo Jeerar Jhol/Black Cumin Curry, Bhapa/Steamed etc.Hilsa
The discussion of Bengali fish can go on for ever. To cut it short we bring in the topic of Prawns. Bagda Chingri/Tiger Prawns and Golda Chingri/Indian Scampi go into making exquisite Bengali delicacies – Shorshe Chingri/Mustard Prawn (below right), Prawn Polao (below left), Narkel Chingri/Coconut Prawn and the famous Chingri Maacher Malaicurry/Prawn Curry where Coconut milk is used to make the gravy and is made on very special occasions.Prawns/ChingriMeat or chicken substitutes fish occasionally. Generally, Rice accompanies the fish, meat or the chicken. On special occasions, Rice can be substitued by Polao/Bengali Fried Rice. ‘Luchi’ and Radhaballavi/Paratha stuffed with green Peas may also be served. Luchi is famously paired with Kasha Mangsho/Mutton cooked on slow fire.

Sunday afternoons at some Bengali houses are still reserved for Kochi Pathar Jhol/tender Goat Meat Stew Bengali Style (all pictures below excepting the extreme below right which shows Chicken Curry) cooked likely in a Pressure Cooker. Equally important is the Mangsher Jhol/Mutton Gravy and Mangsher Aloo/Potatoes cooked in the Mutton Curry!MangshoAnd finally when Fish or Meat or chicken is unavailable, the Bengalis would also cook up a delicacy out of Eggs – the Deemer Dalna/Egg Curry!

Rice – the perfect Meal Partner

I have already stated earlier that plain white Rice is the main accompaniment to all dishes. However, different types of Rice dish are made for different occasions. Polao, the Bengali version of Pilaf is traditionally cooked in occasions and compliments splendidly with Kasha Mangsho or Mutton/Lamb cooked on slow fire, in the Bengali way.Rice PolaoAnother Rice dish is Khichuri – a combination of Rice and Lentils cooked together and is an absolute must on a typical rainy day. Unlike Khichuri cooked in other parts of India, the Bengali Khichuri is not a comfort food during illness but is an absolute delicacy when accompanied by various types of vegetable fritters (below). You may like to read an entire article on this!

KhichuriThough Biriyani is not a traditional Bengali dish, but if ever a Bengali craves for Biriyani (and a majority of Bengalis do crave for Biriyani quite often than it is required to maintain a good cholesterol level) then it is mostly Mutton/Lamb Biriyani and must be essentially cooked in the Awadhi/Lucknowi style!

Sweets/Dessert:

Sweets are a necessary sign-off for a traditional Bengali meal. You end your meal with Chutney. Chutney is a sweet, tangy paste and can be made with every conceivable fruit and even vegetables! For example – Aam/mangoes, Jalpai/Olives, tomatoes, Anarosh/pineapple, Tetul/tamarind, Pépé/papaya and various other type of fruits. Dry fruits like Khejur/dates, Kishmish/raisins may also be added to it the Chutney which is also splashed with Phoron/Mustard seeds cooked slightly in oil or Paanch-Phoron/5 seeds cooked in oil). The Bengali Chutney slightly differs from the other Indian Chutneys in the sense that hey are not eaten as dips with snacks and savouries but as a mini sweet sign-off before the actual desserts.

Papad/Big chips like flakes made up of Potatos or Dried Dal usually accompanies the Chutney.

Tomato-Date ChutneyPaanch PhoronKhejur aar Tomator Chutney/Tomato-Date Chutney (left) and Paanch-Phoron/Unique Bengali 5 Spice-Mix (right)

After the Chutney comes the formal dessert tasting! After Fish, Bengali Sweets is a quintessential Bengali topic of discussion. The choice in Mishti/Sweets is absolutely endless. This is a category that has catapulted Bengal into a different quotient of sweetness. Mishti Doi/ Sweet yogurt, Bhapa Doi/Steamed Yogurt, Payesh/ Sweet dessert made with rice-milk-sugar, Rôshogolla/Rasgulla, Rasamalai, Pantua, Lyancha, Chamcham, Chitrakoot, Chanar Jilipi, Kalakaand, Mihidana & Shitabhog, Rajbhog, Rasakadambo, Shondesh… the list is endless!

Perhaps the most famous of Bengali Sweet is the Rôshogolla or the Rasgulla (below)- inspiring me to write an entire post on it.

Rasgulla or Rôshogolla - perhaps the most famous of Bengali SweetsShondesh is another unique Bengali sweet that is not very easily available in Bengali Sweet shops outside Bengal. Prepared with Chena/Paneer or Indian Cottage Cheese along with a variety of garnishing is very quite easy to make at home. Shown below is the famous Shokho Shondesh resembling the shape of a Conch or a Shonkho.ShondeshYou’ll find a sweet meat shop in every alley and every lane in Kolkata – whether they are small locally known shops or big branded ones – a topic that will probably come revisit my blog again. Sweets like Mishti Doi/Sweet Yoghurt and ones dipped in Sugar syrup – for example Rasgulla, comes in a clay pot as shown below. The sweets that follows (clockwise starting from the Mishti Doi) – Nikhuti, Komlabhog or a type of Rasgulla made with Orange rinds giving out strong aroma of oranges; Kalo Jaam and the Bengali Rabri. This famous version of the Rabri hailing from Kolkata is a bit different from the other Indian varieties. As the sweetened milk starts boiling, a layer of cream begins to form on the surface of the milk. That is taken off and kept aside. Repeated process of the same results in the Calcutta Rabri. Needless to say this is extremely rich and creamy and is bound to be heavy on the stomach and extremely fattening!Mishti/Bengali SweetsShown below (clockwise from top left) are Mishti Doi/Sweet Yoghurt in a clay pot; Gujias, a traditional festive sweet and the Jibe Goja (Jibe means tongue and these sweets are elongated tongue-shaped ones, hence the strange name!); Pantua which is not the same as the famous Indian sweet Gulab Jamuns and Jolbhora Shondesh which literally means ‘filled with water’!

I have devoted an entire post earlier on Bengali Sweets. An except from there… Opening sweet boxes opened the floodgates of my childhood nostalgia. I started telling the Z-SISTERS everything about Bengali sweets and tried explaining to them how each sweet shop in Kolkata or a region and town in Bengal has it’s own signature sweet, a comprehensive list of which has been brilliantly done here.Mishti/Bengali SweetsApart from the never-ending lists of sweets easily available in sweet shops, some Bengali Sweets are traditionally made at home. Or rather used to be made at home. Needless to say that there are many varieties of these as well and require elaborate skills . Shown below is the Pithe Puli (left) – Pithas are primarily made from a batter of Rice flour shaped artistically with a Pur or sweet fillings. Then these Pithas are dipped in milk or other types of sweet preparation. These are specially made during the harvest season and has an incredible number of variations (read here). Taaler Bora/Sweet Palm Fritters (below right) is another festive home-made traditional Bengali sweet made during Janmashthami, the day when Lord Krishna’s birthday is celebrated.

While Pickles don’t exactly come under Bengali Sweets, it is also a dying home-art and is being gradually being outsourced to small Pickle factories and is being relegated to a small-scale industry. I am fortunate to have a traditional Mother-in-law who is holding on to the art of pickle-making so painstakingly. I have started tracing out her journey with my first post on Pickles – Pickles… Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles!PitheTaler Bora

Nitty-gritties of a traditional Bengali Kitchen

In most Bengali households the Rice is cooked in a Dekchi (shown earlier along with Rice Polao). What is a Dekchi? Sutapa, the grand-dame of Bengali food blogging (14 years into food blogging!), describes it as ‘the handleless modification of the sauce pan – the rimmed, deep, flat-bottomed Dekchi which is a hallmark of the Bengali kitchen!’ Most of the cooking is done in a Kadai or an iron Wok (shown below). The Mutton is likely to be cooked in a Pressure Cooker. The ladle that is used to cook up all the delicacies is called a Khunti and the tongs or the Sharashi helps to transfer the hot pots and pans firmly from the fire to the kitchen counter. Haata is the aluminum serving spoon that is used to serve food and you’ll be having Bhaater haata to serve you Bhaat/Rice; Daaler Haata to serve Dal/Lentils and so on. Spices are ground with a Shil Nora – a grinding stone used in most Bengali kitchens to make Masalas Pastes where one rolls the mortar back and forth on a stone slab sitting on the ground. Vegetables are cut using a Boti where  a long curved blade on a platform is held down by foot and both hands are used to cut the vegetables by moving it against the blade. The cooking oil used is mostly Mustard Oil though most modern households have shifted to other cooking mediums that are being advertised as heart-healthy! The unique Bengali spice is Panch Phoron/the 5 spice Mix (picture shown earlier along with Chutney).

Bengali Kitchens outside the Bengal shores, specially my kitchen in Dubai

Many of us who have now made our homes on the shores beyond Bengal, have substituted various things to complement our Bengali Cooking. We have adapted ourselves and learnt to make good of what is available in the local markets. Most of the Bengali friends of my generation grew up studying for exams and not entering the kitchen that much. We ate what we were served by our Mums. It’s only when we began living our own lives that we started resorting to Bengali Food as our fall back comfort food. Binging on traditional Bengali meals when visiting our parents’ homes on holidays and waiting for someone more experienced in Bengali cooking – were the only ways to experience the meals that we grew up on.

Where will you get Bengali Fish? Most Bangladeshi markets stock frozen packets of the different fish that are used in Bengali cooking. So you’ll get Koi Fish frozen fresh, packed in Thailand and flown many miles to Bangladeshi markets world wide. While we didn’t find any Bangladeshi market in Colombo, Srilanka, our stay in Frankfurt wasn’t devoid of Bengali Fish! Our stint in Colombo, Frankfurt and Dubai has taught us that if one is looking for Bengali  food products that are available outside India, they can only be found in Bangladeshi shops and Asian supermarkets selling Bangladeshi products.

In Dubai, a few Bengali fish is available in the supermarket Citi Mart near Imperial Suites Hotel, located on Rolla Road, Bur Dubai (Tel: 04-3523939). It’s quite likely that on Friday mornings you’ll bump into Bengalis who have come to do their fish-marketing. All varieties of Bengali Fish are available at the Bangladeshi markets in Backet in Sharjah. Rui Maach/Rohu fish is available at Lulu Supermarket in Al Barsha but the sizes of the fish being smaller than 1.5kgs results in a bit if disappointment in taste.

Substitutes that I’ve adapted over the years: Gondhoraj Lebu or the Bengali Lime has been the hardest to substitute so far. The closest I’ve come to the aroma of Gondhoraj Lebu is to drop in a few leaves of the Thai Kaffir Lime!

Gobindobhog or the fragrant Rice that is traditionally used in making the Bengali Payeshis a special type of rice. Wikipedia defines it as ‘Gobindobhog is a rice referenced in ancient Indian literature. It was used as an offering to the gods because it was known to be, “The rice preferred by the gods”. It is a short grain, white, aromatic, sticky rice. It is grown traditionally in West Bengal, India. It has many traditional Bengali recipes intended for it specifically. It has a sweet buttery flavor and a potent aroma.’  There is a type of rice which comes from Bangladesh – the Chinigura Rice (similar to Basmati and Jasmine rice but with very tiny, short grains, resembling sushi rice). The latter, though less fragrant than Gobindobhog Rice is easily available in Bangladeshi shops in the Sharjah Backet.

Notun Gur/Season fresh Jaggery can be perfectly substituted by using Date Syrup. One of my blogging friend Yummraj has also suggested that Maple Syrup works well as well.

Aamshotto/Aam Papar/Dried Mango Bars if not available can be substituted by Dried Apricot Bars easily available in Carrefour and Lulu Hypermarket.

Narkel Kurano/Freshly grated Coconut can be substituted almost perfectly by soaking dessicated coconut in canned Coconut Cream or in the worst case, fresh Milk! Dessicated coconut packets are available in frozen sections of most supermarkets.

The different fish available in local supermarkets in Dubai that I often use to make traditional Bengali fish preparations… Lady fish fried in batter substitutes well as Topshe Maach Bhaja, Sultan Ibrahami cooked with Black Cumin Seeds substitutes well as Pabda Maacher Jhol, Cream Dori fillets wrapped in Banana Leaves substitutes well as Bhetki Maacher Paturi. Salmon steaks cooked in Mustard Paste and Mustard Oil substitutes, well sorry there can be no substitutes for this – the Hilsa! But it works quite well. Almost! Red Mullets can be cooked like Bhetki Maach and Needle fish can be fried crispy like Mourala Maach.

Cookbooks and Bengali Food Blogs

As and when we started craving for Bengali food, we ended up learning from different cookbooks and the all-knowledgeable internet. My own archive hunts have been the following, mostly because of the extensive information available on Bengali cooking and the level of cooking difficulty had been really low. There are many more Bengali bloggers who have now become friends but they don’t introduce you to a vast array of Bengali Cuisine as is done by the bloggers I’ve listed below excepting Kalyan. I’m listing him because he’s a reflection of a typical Bong foodie!

Bengali Foodblogs:

- Introduction to Bengali Cooking by Sutapa, the grand-dame of Bengali food blogging (14 years into food blogging!) and her site Bengali Recipes on the Web
- Cook like a Bongby Sudeshna and Kalyan who’s created a comprehensive one stop site for Bengali food
- eCurry by Soma who’s demystifying the magic of Indian Cooking with quite a lot of focus on authentic Bengali recipes
- Bong Mom’s CookBook by Sandeepa whose writing connects to everyone and is doing a brilliant job of ‘passing the legacy of Bengali food to my two little daughters and all the other little ones out there who growing up in a foreign land will find a way to connect to their Bangla roots through the smell and taste of Bangla cuisine’.
- Finely Chopped by Kalyan whose Twitter introduction says it all…”They used to tell me stories to make me eat when I was a kid. Now I look for stories when I eat’. Food & travel blogger. Bengali based at Mumbai.

Bengali CookBooks:

The N.I.A.W. Cookbook – This has been an indispensable resource of recipes by Kolkata’s best ladies-who-cook (couldn’t track it on Amazon or the Net. Available in Bengal Home on Chowringhee Road, Kolkata)

I read a lot on Heritage Cooking and am specially intrigued by the recipes that were followed in the famous Thakur Bari (Rabindranath Tagore’s family) with the ladies of Thakur Bari churning up exotic dishes after having exposed to international cuisine during the times when most Bengali women hadn’t ventured out of their homes. My book shelves are stacked with some of the following Cookbooks. These offer great insight into the Art of Cooking rather than mere recipes… Thakurbarir Ranna by Purnima Thakur, The Calcutta CookBook by Meenakshi Dasgupta, Amish O Niramish Ahaar by Pragyasundari Debi (PragyaSundari Devi, a scion of the Tagore family, used to write a column in a vernacular news paper on various recipes. That perhaps was the first column of its type in the end of 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century). Again, I couldn’t track this book to Amazon or online book store but you may read a bit on the first Bengali Kitchen Queens here.

And a whole lot of books by Chitrita Bannerji, whose immaculate writing doesn’t only chalk out food guides but also cultural history by weaving intricate relationship between food, ritual and art in Bengal.

 Thakurbarir Ranna by  Purnima Thakur

 

 

Recipes and posts on Bengali Food that you’ll be finding in my blog -

All pictures of Bengali food experiences here are from my very known kitchens – either mine or Mum’s or other close Mums… and a few exceptional Dads’ as well! Quite obviously not every dish or delicacy have been captured. But I’m hoping that I have been able to tempt you to Bengali Cuisine and realise how difficult it is being a Bengali and not being a foodie!

Dear Bengali readers, Shubho Mahalaya to you all! I would love to hear from you whether a tiny bit of justice has been done to Bengali Cooking. To the rest of my dear readers – Welcome to my world of Bengali Cooking! I haven’t even mentioned what we eat for Breakfast, or for snacks or on special occasions. Keep pouring in your comments.

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here. Chappan Bhog, Bikanerwala, Puranmal are just a few examples of very good sweet shops in Dubai. Most are located on Trade Centre Road in Karama and you may find all details from the internet.

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Bengali Food Banters you’ll find in my blog:
♦ Pickles… Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles! – My Pickle Nostalgia
♦ Momos in Tiretti Bazar – The Last Chinese Remnants! – A chinese Bazar near Poddar Court
♦ Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park – An ode to Dilipda’s ‘world-famous’ Phuchka
Bengali Sweets That Came By Parcel! – Gujia, Jibe Goja, Abaar Khabo & Jolbhora
Rôshogolla (রসগোল্লা) – Bengali’s Own Sweet – An essay on the most famous Bengali Sweet

Bengali Food Recipes you’ll find in my blog: (Do click on Recipes, Reviews, Events for a complete list of all food banters)
Mutton Kassa With Red Wine And Red Grapes – Bengali Fusion
♦ Khichuri As Harbinger of Hope & Kolkata Soaked In Rains – Traditional Bengali/Indian
♦ Hot Garlic Pickle… The Pickled Diary – Episode 1 – Indian Pickle
♦ Firni or Ferni, Ramadan or Ramzan, Mallick Bazar or Karama? – Indian Dessert
♦ A Tale of 2 Cities & Naru/Coconut Jaggery Truffles – Traditional Bengali
♦ Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park – Indian Street-food/Snacks
Kaancha Aamer Chutney/Green Mango Chutney – Traditional Bengali
Notun Gurer Payesh/Rice Pudding & My Dida – Traditional Bengali
Rasgulla Macapuno – When a Filipina Turns Bong! – Dessert; Bengali Fusion
Mango Lentil Soup/ Aam Dal – The Summer Combat – Dal; Traditional Bengali
Easter Egg Curry – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion/Traditional Bengali/Continental
Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion
Yoghurt Aubergine with Pomegranate – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion
Purple Haze Yoghurt with Purple M&Ms – Dessert; Bengali Fusion
Icecream Rasgulla with Blueberry Sauce – Dessert; Bengali Fusion

Posted in: Food, Kolkata