The Big Bong Theory!
Okay, so what comes to your head first when you think of Bengal – fish and rice, mouthwatering mishti (Bengali for sweets) and the yummilicious street food? While you are not wrong, these are classics in Bengali cuisine, there is a lot more to Bengali food! We bring to you the little gems that adds to the richness of this cuisine!
Kolkata during Durga puja is a treat for all your senses, consider yourself blessed if you happen to be in the east during this pious time. While you seek blessings from the goddess, don’t forget to dig into some yummy bhog food. Most Durga pandals serve meals (bhog) to all those who visit the pandal. A traditional meal comprising mostly of – A khichuri laden with ghee, begun bhaja, a tangy-sweet tomato chutney, mix vegetable chorchori (sabzi) and payesh (milk kheer) for dessert. A perfect way to end this meal would probably be with a nap.
The essence of Bengali cooking is delicately balanced between the main ingredients and its seasoning. Seasoning is done with a spice mixture of five components unique to Bengal namely aniseed, mustard, fenugreek seed, cumin seed and black cumin seed. The spices are lightly roasted and then ground to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle to create Panch Phoron . Sometimes the spices are added whole. Use your own proportions for spices and keep a jar handy. Use it in biryanis and pulaos and keep people guessing about the magic ingredient that makes it so aromatic.
When it comes to fish there are more than 40 types of fresh water fish available, so it’s difficult to decide what to taste and not. But if you are in Bengal then ilish is a must try. Ilish or hilsa as it is more popularly known is found in the ganges. What gives it a distinct identity is the texture of the meat which is creamy as opposed to other fish, which are flaky. However one has to contend with a million bones so don’t eat it in a hurry, go slow and savour it. Try an Illish Sorshe which is fried ilish cooked in a typical mustard based curry or a Doi illish which has a yogurt base. Or you could go for a fish paturi, which is ilish steamed with fresh spices in banana leaves –a lot like patrani machhi, but packed with the flavours of West Bengal! Hilsa is pretty expensive and the best way for you to get a good sampling of it is to look around for an ongoing Hilsa food festival at restaurants specializing in Bengali food.
Kasundi is nothing but a spicier, more pungent Bengali version of mustard sauce, the sway it has on the cuisine of this region is commendable. Kasundi is essentially made in batches and stored in bottles in every Bengali household; it is also the ingredient that makes you keep coming back for yet another Calcutta roll. Mostly used to flavour Bengali curries, you can also use it as a condiment, a dipping sauce, or as a spread in your sandwiches. For some variety you can try a mango, tomato or even a begun kasundi – all of which I can vouch for!
Shondesh in all its variants is among the most popular Bengali sweets. The basic shondesh has been considerably enhanced by the many famous confectioners of Bengal, and now a few hundred different varieties exist, but what we insist you must try is a nolengur sondesh. Finely ground fresh chhena, is sweetened with Date palm jaggery to make these delicious sweets. This aromatic jaggery is made by collecting the fresh sap of Date Palm Trees on foggy winter mornings and you can smell nolengur being made from miles away. This is unique to Bengal, especially in the winters, however if you are lucky you might just find it at a a few select Bengali sweet shops. If not you could try other varieties like kacha golla, abar khabo, jolbhora or indrayani.
Try these and you are sure to fall in love with Bengali food. Liked it so much that you want to try your hand at Bengali cuisine? Traditional, popular, rare or fusion we have a mixed bunch of awesome recipes, all of which are going to take you right up to the City of Joy!