The coastal area stretching the Bay of Bengal in the south to the borders, the rivers of the state, the fertile soil and the diverse climate have shaped the Bengali food style in a unique way.
The cuisine of West Bengal is mostly based on the availability of local ingredients. It is mainly centered on fish, lentil and rice, but there is a wide variety of side dishes which adds richness to the Bengali cuisine. The range of food materials in moist and fertile Bengal is exceptionally wide, ranging from cereals, tubers and rhizomes, vegetables, green pot herbs to a variety of spices and fish.
The great river system, heat and humidity in combination with the fertile soil are so ideal for the abundance of rice and vegetables here. Mangoes, bananas, coconuts, and sugarcane grow in abundance; fish, milk, and meat are plentiful; yogurt and spices such as ginger and black mustard would season the dishes.
Bengal has two distinct styles of cooking. Rice is the staple food in both East and West Bengal. East Bengali Food represents the cuisines of Chittagong and Dhaka and lays emphasis on dal and is strong on fish. The food of West Bengal, as in Kolkata (Calcutta) or the Parganas, is distinguished by the liberal use of poppy seeds (khus khus).
East and West Bengali cooking differ both in the choice of spices and the way in which the dishes are prepared. The common thing is use of mustard in three different ways – fried in oil, carefully crushed leaving a pungent paste and as a cooking medium.
Bengalis also eat flowers like those of pumpkin, banana, raw jackfruit, water reeds, tender drumsticks and peels of potato or pumpkin.
Fish on the plate:
Fish is the main food of Bengal and there are more than forty types of fresh water fish available here that it would be difficult for you to decide what to taste and what not. It includes the Nil (rohu), Katla, Bhekti, Magur (catfish), Chingri (prawn or shrimp), Carp, Rui, Shutki (dried sea fish), Ilish (hilsa). Almost every part of the fish (except fins and innards) is cooked and eaten; the head and other parts are usually used to flavor the curries.
The regional preferences are according to the availability. East Bengalis prefer fish from big rivers, and the West Bengalis prefer the fish bred in tanks or from estuaries, like mangor and tapsee, but the river fish hilsa is a universal favorite. Fish, and especially fresh water fishes are cooked in diverse styles in West Bengal by steaming, frying, boiling, and stewing with vegetables and spices giving unique flavor to the dish. Mustard oil is the medium of cooking these dishes. This is to give a distinct flavor in the dish.
Prawns and crabs are also favourites among the people of West Bengal. Prawn curry with coconut milk is a wonderful delicacy. Khashi (referred to as mutton in Indian English, the meat of sterilized goats) is the most popular red meat.