Bengalis as a community are known to find pleasure in food. Even the average Bengali will be able to give you a thorough lecture on the exact proportion of what spices should (or should not) be present in a chilli potato curry, and with extreme confidence at that! Their tastes are often simple yet singular. The wide ranging array of Bengali food is mouth-watering; ranging from the spicy ‘Machher Jhol’ (Fish curry) as a complement to the main course , to ‘Payesh’ (Sweetened rice-milk pudding) as dessert. Bengalis will never compromise when it comes to matters of the tummy. After all, ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’.
Having taken this to heart, Bengalis pay the utmost importance to food-breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-night snacks as such. Food is served heartily this side of the Ganges as everyone here is a foodie at heart and a ‘Babumoshai’ in thought. And dare I say they are toughest among critics as well!
A typical Bengali meal can qualify as a dietician’s nightmare any day and consists of items rich in taste (‘Chingri Machher Malaikari’), indulgence (‘Nolen Gurer Roshogolla’) and sinfulness (‘Mishti doi’ anyone?).But don’t be scared! Let us take a look at some of the dishes that the average Bengali eats.
(1) ‘Bhaat’ (Steamed rice): The first thing served on your platter- a steaming ladleful of hot rice, its aroma being smelt 3 houses away; with a mysterious vapour rising in the sky in its wake. A dash of salt and a slice of lemon are thrown in on the side (for good luck maybe!). This is their staple diet, their food for all seasons and maybe a cause of their paunch. It’s good for digestion purposes as well as it keeps the stomach cool and has a good water content which is extremely essential for the humid climate in India and most places of Asia too where people eat rice.
(2) ‘Saak’: This is a dish served as a starter to your meal along with rice. It mainly consists of the fried leaves of many plants cooked in various ways. One should always eat a spoonful of this dish as it is high in dietary fibre, roughage, and vitamins (especially Vitamin C). Moreover, it acts as a wonderful appetizer. Whether it’s ‘Laal Saak’ with a hint of ‘Kasandi’ to heighten its taste or ‘Methi Saak’ with a green look and bitter aftertaste, these come in a variety of flavors and are considered a must on the menu.
(3)’Ghonto’: The literal translation of this Bengali word would be ‘chaos’ or ‘cacophony’. In the gastronomic sense, it symbolizes a mixture of sweet potato, brinjal, jhinga (ridged gourd), ’potol’, ‘seetaphal’ (Pumpkin) and foliage bursting forth into a rich array of greenish-yellow colour and bringing a taste meant to make your taste buds tingle in a way that only Bengali food items can.
(4) ‘Shukto’: This dish acts as the unifying factor of a Bengali meal. It tastes best when had with rice. It is basically an array of assorted vegetables (brinjal, sweet potato, ‘potol’, etc. ) cooked in a special mixture of milk, poppy and mustard seeds that enhance its flavor manifold. Does it taste bitter, sweet, pungent or salty? Try some to be sure!
(5) ‘Bhetki Maacher Paturi’: Bengalis simply CANNOT do without their daily dose of fish. A dedicated Bengali always prefers fish to other non-veg fare. In this culinary marvel, the fish is de-boned and cut into square pieces, dipped in a special paste and wrapped tightly in banana leaves which are typically tied up with string. These are then steamed for an appropriate period and served hot, smoking and ready to eat!
(6) ‘Shorshe Ilish’: The ‘Ilish’ (or Hilsa fish) is considered to be the king of fish. Many Bengalis vouch for it blindly based on its superior taste. This is a fish preparation where the pieces are prepared in a special curry of mustard seeds which heighten the flavor and give it a golden-yellow cover. By personal experience, it has been known to leave all people partaking of it licking their fingers for good!
P.S. : This item is also healthy as it is a rich source of Omega 3 fats; considered to be good for the heart.
(7) ‘Payesh’: A good meal simply cannot end without a fabulous dessert!
Here, ‘Payesh’ is the key. It is similar to ‘Kheer’ except that it contains rice. It is a mixture of milk, sugar, rice and sometimes ‘Gur’ (jaggery, for the uninitiated) in just the right proportions- thick, creamy and succulent. It acts as a very good digestive as well.
(8) ‘Roshogolla’: This is a boiled Bengali sweet dish available everywhere and sundry. A perennial favourite of all Bengalis, it comes dipped in sugar syrup and seems milky white (the pure ‘Kheer’ variety) or a rustic brown (‘Nolen Gur’, anyone?). Almost all Bengali meals end with this round ball-like-item which you are supposed to grasp (not squeeze) and put into your mouth, sticky syrup and all.
Chew, sit back and enjoy friends, you have tasted a food fit for the ages!
(9) ‘Sondesh’: A dry usually square-shaped sweetmeat differing widely in appearance and taste. It is basically ‘Kheer’ flavoured with a variety of things such as jaggery (‘Nolen Gur’) in wintertime, mango during the summer months and coconut, almonds, nuts, cashew nuts, and what not added to it. All these contribute to the essential flavor of the dish and make it a mouth-watering condiment.
From the traditional to the trendy, every Bengali has a say here in matters of the heart. And food is the closest that it gets. So, sit back, close your eyes and let your taste buds do the talking when it comes to Bengali food.
This article is written in a light-hearted manner and is not meant to be offensive on any account to any Bengali person or otherwise.