This was originally posted here.
Bengali by Passion
I always feel excited whenever I think of my favorite cuisine ie. BENGALI CUISINE. My Bong friends would definitely agree to this because I can remember in childhood, I was always eager to share my lunch box with them. My interest behind mingling with them was simply to relish the true Bengali staple delicacy “Macch Bhat” which they used to bring along with another Bengali speciality Bengali dal, bhaja and aalo seddo (chokha). Mostly a basic Bengali meal consists of rice, pulses, vegetable and fish.
Mostly a basic Bengali meal consists of rice, pulses, vegetable and fish. Their jhol (thin) and jhal (hot) is a stew made in shorsher tel (mustard oil) seasoned with phoran cooked with ground chillies for red appearance and ground mustard for yellow appearance.
The language too has its own charm, pronouncement of O are often heard like for example Jabo, Aunno, Khabo, Nomoshkar, Dhonn o bad, Bhalo, Subho etc. Whenever, I use to hear “tumi jol khabe”? I always had a big smile on my face with a thought that, Why Bengalis say like this, how anyone can eat water? “Ami bhalo acchi” is the reply of my friend Debal, whenever I asked, “How are you brother?? I asked Debolina’s Mother, Das Gupta aunty ,who used to live in the same apartment in which we lived – , She told me that they believe in eating, so they love to eat anything and everything whether it’s chai – cha or pani they use khabo….the phrase “Khaddo rasik Bengali r Bangaliana”, says it all…
I was born and brought up in Bokaro steel city, a small city in Jharkhand. Earlier it was a part of Bihar. In British era, Bihar was separated from united provinces with West Bengal and Orissa on 1 April 1912. This happened after the British “divide and rule” policy. Orissa and Bihar share many cultural and linguistic similarities with Bengal. Bengalis like rice and fish if he or she is not vegetarian. Otherwise Vegetarian stuff also has their own importance in Bengal. They believe in freshly grown products. Bihar Maithili who belongs to the same linguistic have common liking for Maach Bhat. Generally, Bihari’s prefer rice with vegetable delicacies but they do enjoy fish and meat on weekends too.
Sounds are inevitable part of city’s life which occupy our senses quite strongly . It comes from the busy streets or markets. Sundays in Bokaro – Feri wale (Kashmiri people with woollen stuff), Fishermen roaming on the street with the fishes (in the bamboo basket) on the bicycle etc were easily seen all day. I always use to look for the hawker who use to sell mihi dana- a very thin sweet boondi, I loved it a lot. Fishermen from Purlia, Chandrapura and Jaina Mor (these small town has many Bengali communities) came to sell rui, katla and mangur in bamboo baskets, full of different variety of fishes. Selecting a good fresh fish was like an art which my dad knew very well. He always used to first check the eyes, gills and fins of the fish, and then after proper inspection he proudly told us that gills of a fish should always be bright and red in color and that is how one can tell about the freshness of the fish.
Rui, Katla, koi, Mangur, bhetki, ilish(hilsa), puti, topshey, chanda, khoira, mourala, chingri etc – there is no end to the varieties of fish available. Fish is always linked with happiness and during auspicious occasions in the region. Hilsa fish and its oil were as valuable then as they are now.
Apart from fish, khassi (goat meat) murgi (chicken) dim (eggs) are also commonly consumed.
My friend Rana Kanishka agrees on this, during our years in Kendriya vidyalaya No-2, we bunked many classes; we use to go to Laxmi market several times but always with different interest. From there our ways use to separate. He would he straight away run to the video game parlor and my legs followed to a shop called Desh bandhu. Their mishti doi is to die for and were served in mitti ka kullah. A nearby shop called ‘Calcutta sweets ‘ also used to sell some high end Bengali sweets. Rasmalai of Sweet Valley, City center is still the most famous sweet in Bokaro.
Uses of Gota Moshla (whole spice) Boti ( cutting instrument), Chulah (food cooked on stone charcoal/ wood / cow dung) Sil Nora (stone grinder) signifies the beauty of the Bengali & Bihari cuisine which reflects in their preparation too. Cha, lebu, lanka, boti and these words have different meanings than what one can think of.
Fresh greens like Sem, sojne, potal, bori, begun, phool-gobhi, mulor etc. are the vegetables found in every Bengali kitchen (Rannaghor).
Panch phoran is also widely used in the Bengali cooking. It consists of – jira, mouri, shorshe, mangrila (kaalo jire) and methi dana.
The ratio of the panch phoran should be -Jira -2 part / mouri 2 part / shorshe 1 part/ mangrila (kaalo jire) 1 part / methi dana ½ part.
I have been lucky enough to know some amazing traditional Bengali specialities through my early days in Oberoi hotel. I remember Chef Avijit Ghosh who has been my inspiration. He always said Ashwani let’s make this for the buffet aalo posto, khosa mangsho, suktho, macher jhol, paturi, galda chingri malai curry, and many delicacies, we cooked together for the “La Rochelle, Palms and 360 buffets.”
Following are few items, which I feel that have made my childhood memories unforgettable:-
Dal Bhat – A staple food always remains same. Bengaliss like their dal either kacha or bhaja. One can have this with aalo bhujia, chokha, fried papad, dhania and aam or amla chutney. Mostly mug aur mosur dal is tempered with phoran. Usina chaawal (parboiled rice) or Arwaa chawal (the long-grained raw rice) are preferred.
Fish curry – Fish is coated with turmeric paste and salt, then is deep fried in mustard oil till it get crisp. Curry is prepared with yellow mustard, peppercorn, cumin, garlic, ginger red chilli, turmeric paste in the same oil in which fish was fried with phoran.
Shingara – A salted savoury stuffed with potatoes, garlic and peanuts which use to served with tomato and date chutney. Addition of kaalo jire added value to this Bengali chutney.
Ghugni chat – Every shopping complex in Bokaro has the thela of ghugni chat in the evening. They are shallow fried Potatoes tikki topped with cooked ghugni (white mutter), tamarind chutney, curd and seasoned with their own special masala.
Aalo chop – Potato masala patty, batter fried topped with black salt and cumin masala.
Aalo posto – A new age baby potatoes preparation tossed with poppy seed paste ginger and chillies.
Cholar dal – Chana dal tadka is a very popular preparation in every house in this region. I remember my mother cooked it in best way and we all use to enjoy it with parantha. At wedding this dal is a must in Bihar and cooked in the same way like Bengali does. Along with this small chunks of coconut that goes well with luchi.
Khichuri – A bhog, an offering to Goddess ”Maa Durga” in Maha Ashtami is cooked in many ways. It’s a regular feature of Saturday lunch. A famous saying is -”Khichdi ke char yaar- dahi, papad, ghee aur achar”, aur ye Khate hain har Shanivaar. This is the tradition which we followed strictly. “Ise khane se aap ke grah cut jaatey hain.”
Payesh – Kheer, Rice cooked in milk. “Mukhe bhat “(Annaprasan ceremony), payas is the first meal of a new born child in Bengali Hindu.
Bengalis follow goddess like Durga Ma and Kali Ma. They have immense respect for women. They nurture their daughters with a higher sense of gender equality. And it’s Boudi who unites the family. A lady dominated state rule by the women of the house is matter of pride to understand the need of the culture. One more thing I want to share that ‘Bengali’ mother in law never gives her cooking secret to the son’s wife as she would fear losing her son’. Well, this is something about which I won’t say anything.
It is my humble endeavour through this post to showcase my passion towards this sweet language and sweetness of Bengali cuisine is this article…”sesh paate mishti mukh. “Dessert for a full Bengali meal, “rasogolla aur misti doi…how can I forget to mention about rasogolla when i talk about Bengal. Others being sandesh, khirkodom; ‘payesh’ is blended with ‘nolen gur’. Nolen gur, in itself is treated as a desert, as it carries a fragrance and flavour of aristocracy and delicacy.Beauty and craziness of Nolen gur was seen in the Big B’s moive Saudagar also. During winters, ‘pithea’, ‘parisapta’ are the most gorgeous sweets.
During Durga puja,’narkel-er naaru’,’sil-er naaru’, has been the traditional sweets for centuries, which has been handed over from generation to generation. Adding on to the list is lengcha and sitabhog. One can feel the warmth, affection, care, love n sweetness in these sweets. And this write-up cannot be complete if I don’t mention about the gota paan which the bongs enjoy after their meal.
In the end of the article, I must admit that “Bengali khawar jonne bache’…Bengali lives for eating…..