Bengali cuisine is one of the finest blends of non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes. West Bengal is popularly known as the land of Maach, which means fish and Bhaat means rice. The essence of cooking a Bengali meal is delicately balanced between the main ingredients and its seasonings. The humblest of pulses gain an unforgettable identity because of the phoron or flavouring added at the end.
The panch phoron most popular in Bengali cuisine includes spices like cumin, nigella, fenugreek, aniseed and mustard seed. Sukto (a bitter preparation of bitter gourd, brinjal, sweet potato and plantain); ghonto (vegetables, with or without fish, cooked in milk); jhol; ambole (sweet and sour dish of fruit, vegetables or fish) and pitha (cakes of rice flour or sweet potato fried in syrup) are some of the delicacies that form part of this cuisine.
The Bengali food mainly comprises of fresh water fish and a vast range of rice dishes. It is rich for its use of subtle spices and flavours. The food of this state is predominated by the coastal location of the state, hence is reputed for its varied preparations of fish delicacies. The other chief foods are their sweet meats and confectioneries of the state that is famed all over the world.
Fish is the dominant kind of meat, and there are more than forty types of fresh water fish commonly used in Bengali cuisine. It includes the Nil (rohu), Katla, Magur (catfish), Chingri (prawn or shrimp), Shutki (dried sea fish), Ilish (hilsa). Almost every part of the fish (except fins and innards) is cooked and eaten; the head and other parts are usually used to flavour curries. Kosha (referred to as mutton in Indian English, the meat of sterilized goats) is the most popular red meat.
Bengali food is widely cooked in mustard oil as it the medium of cooking. This gives a distinct flavour to the dishes. Hilsa fish is the speciality of Kolkata which is delicately steamed cooked with spices and mustard oil to retain its flavours and tenderness. Maccher Jhol is another popularly acclaimed dish throughout Kolkata and most Bengalis take pride in its Luchi, a refined sophisticated form of puri. Sweets occupy a special place in Bengali feast or any social ceremonies. Some of the popular sweet meats are Rasgulla, Sandesh, Chum chum etc.
Food has always been a weakness for the Bengalis. They have been winners in all the delicacies they have presented to the world. Not just mutton, fish and vegetables but the varieties of confections have always overawed the gluttons of the world. A distinct culinary tradition emerged in Bengal based on the availability of local ingredients.
Mangoes, bananas, coconuts, and cane sugar grew in abundance; fish, milk, and meat were plentiful; yogurt and spices such as ginger and black mustard would season the dishes. Bengali cooking is mostly confined to the home and their dishes are carefully prepared according to recipes handed down through generations.
Most modern Bengalis have become culinary innovators and search for, and experiment with new culinary ideas. But in their hearts, they still glee traditional dishes as maacher chochori and rosogolla. The flow of tastes of a Bengali meal starts from a bitter to a sweet finish. To start with, especially at lunch, is shukto.
This is a dish that is essentially bitter, made up of neem or other bitter leaves, bitter gourd, brinjals, potatoes, radish and green bananas, with spices like turmeric, ginger, mustard and radhuni (celery seed) pastes. Rice is first savoured with ghee, salt and green chillies, then comes dal accompanied by fried vegetables (bhaja) or boiled vegetables (bhate), followed by spiced vegetables like dalna or ghonto. Then comes the fish preparations, first lightly-spiced ones like maccher jhol, and then those more heavily spiced.
After which would follows a sweet-sour ambal or tauk (chutney) and fried papads. A dessert of mishti-doi (sweet curds), accompanied by dry sweets, or of payesh, accompanied by fruits like the mango, will end the meal, with paan (betel leaves) as a digestive aid.
Bengalis are well known for their sweet tooth and take pride in gaining worldwide recognition for some of their acclaimed sweet meats.Looking into some of the prized and trendy popular Bengali dishes are:
Hilsa (ilish) Paturi or Patra ni Machi A superb fish culinary originated from Bengal. Ilish paturi is a popular and traditional way of making hilsa curry in Bengal. The banana leaves retain the flavour of the fish as well as the spices. Any other fish can also be cooked with this recipe. Eating this dish makes you nostalgic.
Chingri Maacher Malai Curry (Prawn with coconut milk)is a classic dish from the Bengali cuisine made with the combination of prawn and coconut cooked together in subtle spices to make this dish bliss to the palate. In fact in many places it is considered as an iconic dish of Bengal.
Fish in mustard oil Macher Kalia with Aloo is a traditional Bengali fish dish made with fish cooked in delicious gravy with potato cubes.
Kosha Mangsho is a classic mutton preparation from the Bengali cuisine. It has an excellent taste and unforgettable aroma and accompanied with paratha or rumali roti.
Macher Jhol is a traditional dish from the Bengali cuisine. It is a spicy fish stew served with rice.
Bengali Cholar Dal A classical dal preparation from Bengal with channa dal and garnished with coconut and sweetened with jaggery, served with soft luchis.
Bengali Eggplant Fry Begun/ Eggplant/ Aubergine/ Brinjal is a popularly used vegetable in Indian cooking. Bengali eggplant fry is a side dish that can be eaten with rice, chapattis or just as a snack. For preparing, coat spices over the eggplants with spices and deep fry until done.
Jhal Muri – Spicy Puffed Rice Salad Jhal muri is trendy Bengali chaat or fresh salad that is spicy, chatpata and made of puffed rice.
Rasmalai Rosh malai (Bengal sweet dessert originating in India) and is often served after a meal. The name Ras Malai comes from two parts in Hindi: "Ras" meaning "juice/juicy" and "Malai", meaning "cream".Ras Malai consists of sugary white, cream or yellow coloured balls (or flattened balls) of paneer soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavoured with cardamom.
Rasgulla It is said that the famous Bengali "Rasgolla" was actually called "Gopal Golla", probably discovered by a confectioner named "Haradhan" from "Phulia". It has been nomenclatured by the Paul Chowdhurys of Ranaghat. A variant of this item was the "Sponge Rasgolla" discovered by "Nobin Moira". The dish is made from ball shaped dumplings of chhena (an Indian cottage cheese) and semolina dough, cooked in light syrup made of sugar. This is done until the syrup permeates the dumplings
Unearthing the popular dishes of West Bengal can go on and on as it has a vast variety of dishes in its kitty, but you could also get hold of other Bengali dishes apart from these from my website at: https://www.vahrehvah.com/west-bengal, it a worth trying most of them.
Enjoy Cooking! Keep Smiling…