Nothing can come between food and Bengalis!
The way to a Bengali’s heart is truly through the stomach. Bengalis are pretty famous for eating literally with their hands. And why not! True Bengali food cannot be relished with spoons and forks. With a variety of dishes from rice to lentils to fish (with the bones), it becomes quite difficult to eat only with the help of spoons and forks. If a Bong does not lick each of his fingers after a meal it is to be understood that he has not truly enjoyed the food.
A ‘Bong’ foodie, born and brought up in the city of joy, in a traditional Bengali family, who can know better than me the joys of a delectable Bengali dish? From childhood my taste buds have been titillated by various Bengali dishes prepared by the best cook, my mother. Unfortunately for my mother, her son-in-law is not a lover of fish, but that doesn’t stop her from displaying the magic of her hands to her ‘jamai.’
Coming from the heart of a true Bengali, these are some of the dishes that are all time favourites…
Chingri Maacher Malaikari (Spicy Bengali Prawn Curry with Coconut)
No special occasion in a Bengali household is complete without ‘Chingri Maacher Malaikari’. This is one dish that is a bit tricky to cook and the real flavour comes only when prepared with the perfect ratio of spices. Cooked in coconut milk with very mild spices, this is best served with rice. The velvety gravy is the highlight of this dish, which makes it ‘finger lickin’ good’. This preparation fills the entire house with its enticing aroma that waters our mouths.
Ilish Maach bhapa (Hilsa fish)
In West Bengal, there is no substitute for ‘Ilish Maach’. Any preparation with Ilish becomes Bengal delicacy. This dish is a gravy prepared with mustard seeds paste and usually served with rice. This dish is a little tangy in flavour. A preparation of Ilish usually doesn’t require much of spices as the aroma of the fish itself is enough to make the dish exquisite.
Jhinge Aloo Posto (Ridgegourd and Potato in Poppy seed Paste)
‘Posto’ is an all time Bengali favourite, whether it is cooked with cauliflower or potato or ‘jhinge’ and the list can be quite long. Jhinge aloo posto is a traditional Bengali vegetable preparation where in the ridge gourd(torai or jhinge) and aloo (potatoes) are cooked with poppy seeds and green chillies, generally served with rice. Jhinge (Ridge gourd) has got immense nutrition values and the high water content in it. Poppy seeds help to keep your brains calm. Whenever you go to a Bengali restaurant, a thali will always have jhinge aloo posto as a must item.
Doi Maach or Fish in Yogurt Sauce
A masterpiece of Bengali cuisine, this is a simple, but typical Bengali dish with very little spices– the flavour of the fish is the star of the dish. “Doi” is Yogurt or Curd and “Maach” is Fish and when the mix of the two is perfectly blent, there are very few dishes that can beat this simple preparation. Rohu fish is the perfect for cooking Doi Maach. Doi maach is a very authentic Bengali preparation served typically at lunch with rice not only on festive occasions but also at home as a change from the daily routine.
This is my brother’s favourite dish and whenever he is home, nothing can stop him from asking my mother to prepare it as a welcome gift. Shukto is a mix of vegetables with an emphasis to the bitterness, a preparation where instead of hiding the bitterness, it is the taste around which the dish evolves. The bitter taste is said to be good for cleansing the palate and also for letting the digestive juices flow and so no doubt it is a good start off to the meal to follow. This typical recipe is a wake-up call to the piqued taste buds, so that what follows is more enjoyable.
Potoler Dolma or Stuffed Pointed Gourd
This quintessential Bengali delicacy has borrowed its name from Mediterranean cuisine. Dolma generally refers to Turkish food where stuffed vegetables (mostly with spicy rice) and little pouches of stuffed grape leaves enjoy a special place. Although conventionally, the vegetable is stuffed with fish keema (minced fish), people often experiment with chicken, paneer (cheese) and even nutrela (soya bean) stuffing.
Luchi Aloor Dum
This combination is a classic Bengali breakfast. Luchi is a deep-fried flatbread made of bleached wheat flour and aloor dum is nothing but dum aloo. With guests at home, traditional Bengali families love to serve this combo for breakfast, though they are also prepared for lunch and dinner. This dish revives fond memories of my maternal uncle’s place as my grandmother never failed to prepare it for breakfast during our stay.
Moving on to a few Bengali sweet dishes without which Bengali cuisine is incomplete…
Mishti Doi – Sweet curd served in earthen bowls.
Mitha Dahi is a popular dessert in the states of West Bengal and Odisha. It is prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either guda/gura (brown sugar) or khajuri guda/gura (date molasses), and allowing the milk to ferment overnight. Earthenware is always used as the container for making Mitha Dahi because the gradual evaporation of water through its porous walls not only further thickens the yoghurt, but also produces the right temperature for the growth of the culture.
A tip: To enjoy the best flavour of mishti doi, try buying it from Mrityunjoy Sweet Shop in Chandannagar (in Hooghly District, West Bengal).
Paatishapta is actually a rice flour crepe with coconut and jaggery fillings. The softness of the crepe and the sweet filling inside melts in the mouth to leave a yummy essence. People often experiment with the filling. I clearly remember once my mother had made a salted curry filling turning it into a mouth-watering snack.
Nolengurer Ice Cream
An ice cream made out of Gur (jaggery, a natural sugar with health benefits, also derived from sugarcane). Every year during winter, jaggery is prepared in Bengal by boiling the sap of the date palm. The liquid product (known as nolen gur) is used to prepare sweets (sandesh, rosogolla etc). With ice cream it makes a fantabulous combination and has gained immense popularity in the past few years with many Bengali restaurants including this in their menu.
The restaurant Bhojohori Manna in Hindustan Road, Kolkata serves this dessert in delicate earthen bowl enhancing the flavour even further.
There’s a saying in Bengali that bongs use their hands till the wrists (‘kobji dubie’) to savour the delicacies. And, why not? What with the plethora of palatable dishes to choose from, I often wonder how anyone can stay away from such a tempting cuisine. So, Eat, Taste, Love… like a bong!
To know about my top favouite places to eat all the above in Kolkata, read 5 Best Places To Eat In Kolkata