Kolkata – our “The City of Joy”, the ancient British Capital of India offers our taste buds a beautiful array of various kinds of mouth-watering cuisine. Food in Bengal has been much influenced by its rulers through history…Whether it’s Mughlai from the Turkish rule during early 13th century, or the British who ruled thereafter for two decades who introduced bakeries and the famous morning tea (without which a Bengali cannot start his day), the Chinese who adapted their cuisine to match Indian taste-buds, the Portuguese who introduced the Cottage Cheese or “Chaana”, which now is the base for most famous Bengali sweets and not forgetting the Marwari’s who may be held responsible for the mouth- watering street food that Kolkata has to offer.
Bengal is also known as the Land of “Maach and Bhaat” which simply translates to “fish and rice” both of which are a staple diet for any Bengali. More than 40 kinds of freshwater fish are used in Bengali cuisine of which Rohu (Ni), Katla, Magur (Catfish), Chingri (prawn/shrimp), Shutki (dried fish), and IIish (hilsa) are the most consumed by Bengali’s. It is said that every Bengali has a sweet tooth; sweets are a part of their daily diet the reason why Bengali sweets are unique and a delight for every sweet lover. In fact having a sweet after my meals is a habit I am still trying to get rid of.
We can now explore the world of local cuisine and will suggest the Top 10 local dishes which required to be tried by anyone who is visiting Kolkata.
We now know that fish is a part of the Bengali staple diet, this dish is a must try for every fish lover. The fish which is cleaned and marinated with turmeric and garlic, added to the curry or the “Jhol” which consists of green chillies, potatoes, tomatoes and onions. This traditional spicy “Machher Jhol” is eaten with steamed rice.
A full course Bengali meal is incomplete without this traditional vegetarian dish which compromises of the first course. It is a combination of unconventional healthy vegetables like bitter gourd, drumsticks, eggplant, sweet potatoes and Bori (dried crispy dal dumplings or badhi) sautéed in mustard oil and “Panchphoran Bhagaar”. Milk is added to sweeten and thicken the gravy.
This rich mutton curry is famous for its spice and richness. Mutton pieces and potatoes are cooked with a combination of fresh spices. The curry consists of tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic to which hung curd is added to give it tanginess. Served with steamed rice this is again a must have delicacy of Bengali cuisine.
A go to dish for any Bengali household, an example of how a few ingredients can create a simple dish. It is a combination of potatoes tossed in a spicy and thick “Posto Paste” (poppy seeds/khus-khus soaked in water) and served with puri or luchi (fried puri like breads which usually accompany most of the Bengali potato recipes).Variations include using onion, Ridge gourd, pointed gourd (potol/parwal), ladyfinger, cauliflower etc. along with aloo.
Bhetki Machher Paturi
A side dish which is an essential part of a traditional Bengali thali , the Betki Machher Paturi is a simple piece of fish (sheephead) wrapped in a banana leaf with a paste (mustard seeds, coconut, green chillies) ,which then is slowly steam cooked in mustard oil.
Cholar Dal (Bengal Gram Dal)
Bengali style “Yellow Chana Dal” prepared during special occasions. This vegetarian recipe is a slightly sweeter version, with spices like cinnamon and bay leaf, pieces of coconut are added which gives it the Bengali twist.
Llish Maach/Sorse IIish/IIish Bhapa:
The various styles in which the Hilsa fish is prepared are unique to the Bengali platter. It can be prepared as a Jhol , steamed in bottle gourd leaves, cooked like a saag with vegetables, raw mangoes adds a tangy flavour to this fish ,biryani with this fish is also a favourite among locals.
Bhaja or Fries
These are basically crispy vegetables deep fried in oil. Vegetables like Aloo bhaja (potatoes), Bhaigun bhaja (eggplant), Uuche bhaja (bitter gourd), Kumro bhaja (pumpkin) have to accompany an authentic Bengali thali. In a lot of cases fish is also deep fried and served as a starter for a full course Bengali meal.
Now that we have covered most of the Bengali savoury dishes, we cannot forget the sweets which are unique to the Bengali platter. “Mishti” literally translates to the word sweet, this sweetened curd with only three ingredients (cream, yogurt and sugar/ jaggery) served in a clay cup would bring a smile to your face at the end of a wholesome Bengali meal.
Shondesh / Sandesh
A gift by the Portuguese “Chaana” or cottage cheese, is churned out of sweetened milk is a staple in every Bengali household. The Sandesh can be made in various shapes and flavours which range from Abar Khaabo, Kheer Kadam, Kachagolla, Nolan Gur Sandesh, etc. To keep up with the modern times, the sandesh adapts itself to the seasonal fruits.
The above would be the list of the ten most sought after authentic Bengali dishes; hopefully I have included your favourite dish too.