Friday, February 3, 2012

bengali cuisine

Bengali Cuisine

An Introduction

Bengal or, as she is lovingly referred to, "Sonar Bangla“(Golden Bengal), is made up of the Indian state of West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal). The people of Bengal farm the fertile Ganges Delta for rice and vegetables and fish the regions myriad rivers. If you haven't yet visited this uniquely beautiful land and tasted its unique cuisine, we shall take you for a ride in the myriad cultural cuisine that Bengal has to offer. Be prepared to experience a gastronomical delight of one of the most varietal cuisine in India.

The Historical Influences

Bengali food has inherited a large number of influences, both foreign and South Asian, arising from a turbulent history and strong trade links with many parts of the world. Originally inhabited by Dravidians and other ethnic groups, and later further settled by the Aryans during the Gupta era, Bengal fell under the sway of various Muslim rulers from the early thirteenth century onwards, and was then ruled by the British for two centuries (1757–1947). It also saw a fair share of immigrants from various parts of the world - most prominently Jews, Chinese and Afghans who settled down in their own distinct communities in and around Kolkata.

Rule of the Nawabs

Bengal (before its partition into eastern and western parts) has been ruled by Muslim rules since the Delhi Sultanate in early 12th century. However, for over five hundred years the center of Muslim rule in Bengal was centered in Dhaka. Trade routes going from Delhi to Dhaka traversed the entire width of today's West Bengal but seems to have little influence beyond that. West Bengal came under Muslim influence only when Murshid Quli Khan became the governor of Bengal and moved the capital from Dhaka to the newly founded city of Murshidabad in the late 17th century.

Christianity and other European influences

The Christian influence came to Bengal a few hundred years after its arrival on the Western borders of India. While the religion propagated in the populace, the region remained isolated from the political and religious centers of Christian India.

Rise of Kolkata

Kolkata was founded by the British, and came into prominence as the original capital of British India. The city quickly became one of the largest and richest in the world, completely overshadowing Dhaka. After partition, Kolkata continued to wield an outsize influence in the cultural and food habits of West Bengal. Its offices, ports and bazaars attracted many communities from the rest of India, most notably the Marwari community, millions of whom have made the city their home for three generations. Their influence has been, in particular, in the sweet shops (e.g. Ganguram's)and street foods of Kolkata and West Bengal; many famous sweet shops in the state have Marwari origins.

Cultural Influences

Bengali food today has some broad (though not so distinct) variations - Traditional, Mughal, Anglo-Indian and Chinese.

Mughal influence

Islam arrived in Bengal probably around the mid-thirteenth century, coming into force with the penetration of the Muslim rulers from the northwest. Dhaka (the present-day capital of Bangladesh), in particular, expanded greatly under Mughal rule. The partition of India in 1947 resulted in a large migration of people to and from present-day Bangladesh, resulting in a much stronger divide along religious lines. Bangladesh today shows a much greater Muslim influence than West Bengal.

Anglo-Indian or Raj cuisine

Anglo-Indian food isn't purely the influence of the British; Bengal was once the home of a French colony, and also hosted populations of Portuguese, Dutch, Armenians and Syrians. These collective western influences are seen in the foods created to satisfy the tastes of the western rulers. The result is a unique cuisine, local ingredients adapted to French and Italian cooking techniques—characterized by creamy sauces, the restrained use of spices and new techniques such as baking.

Chinese food

The Chinese of Kolkata originally settled into a village called Achipur south of Kolkata in the late 18th century, later moving into the city and finally into its present home in Tangra at the eastern edge of Kolkata, which still houses over 100,000 ethnic Chinese.Chinese of Kolkata form a substantial and successful community with a distinct identity. With this identity came Chinese food, available at almost every street corner in Kolkata. They were mostly Cantonese tradesmen and sailors, bringing with them monosodium glutamate and sweet corn. The cuisine is characterized as much by what is missing - mushrooms, for instance, are not found in Bengal - as by what is there, such as a far greater use of pork than any of the other cuisines. As the Chinese opened restaurants for Bengalis, they spiced up the bland Cantonese sauces with sliced chillies and hot sauces, creating unique dishes such as sweet corn soup, fried rice, (noodles), Chickenand dishes.

Geographic Location

Most of the Bengal region is in the low-lying Ganges–Brahmaputra River Delta or Ganges Delta. The Ganges Delta arises from the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers and their respective tributaries.

West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south.

It shares an international border with Myanmar and Bangladesh and state borders with Bihar to the west, Orissa to the southwest and Sikkim to the North.

Bengali Bazaar (A Typical Bengali Market)

Anaj Bazaar (A Vegetable Market)

The variety of fruits and vegetables that Bengal has to offer is incredible. Markets are usually open air ones. This scene is from the busy Sealdah vegetable market in Calcutta. A host of gourds, roots & tubers, leafy greens, succulent stalks, lemons & limes, green and purple eggplants, red onions, plantain, broad beens, okra, banana tree stems and flowers, green jackfruit and red pumpkins are just some of what you'll see if you visit!

Maachher Bazaar (A Fish Market)

Visitors enjoy a tour of Calcutta's fish markets like this one. They are fascinated by the lively koi (climbing perch), the wriggling catfish family of tangra, magur, shingi and the pink-bellied Indian butter fish, the pabda. Among the larger fish, rui (rohu) and bhetki weigh upto eight kilograms. Baskets of pink and silvery ilish (hilsa) match the shine on the glistening blade of the fishmonger's boti. And the fish itself is eaten from top to tail!

Inside The Bengali Kitchen

With the shopping done, the scene shifts to the ranna bari (cookhouse). The storage, cooking and eating areas in a Bengali home were a separate unit and the domain of the womenfolk. This barrack-like cookhouse was a row of rooms running parallel to a wide airy veranda often used as the dining space. In an orthodox Bengali home, fish and vegetables were cooked over separate fires, rice over another and meat, if cooked at all was done in a portable bucket fire outside the kitchen. However, recipes that were once cooked on these cowpat, wood or charcoal fires have now been adapted to emerge almost perfect from the gas, electric and microwave ovens that are in use today.

Here are some essential items you are sure to spot if you ever take a peek into a Bengali kitchen :

The staple food, rice, is bought by the sack and stored in huge containers. Pure golden mustard oil, that pungent Bengali cooking medium is usually stored in zinc lined tins. Large square tins are usually used to store the favorite Bengali snack food - muri (puffed rice). Achaars (pickles), spices, dals and ghee are kept in various sized bottles and jars on a shelf. And you will find many baskets, large and small, lidded and unlidded strewn all over the floor to store vegetables that just arrived from the market.

Shorsher tel (Mustard Oil) is the primary cooking medium in Bengali cuisine . Mustard paste (Shorshe Bata), Holud (Turmeric), Poshto (Poppy Seed), Ada (Ginger), Dhonia (Coriander, seeds and leaves) and Narikel (ripe Coconut usually desiccated) are other common ingredients. The Kalonji (Onion Seeds) and 'The Pãch Phoron is a general purpose spice mixture comprising of Radhuni (Carum roxburghianum seeds), Jeere (Cumin), Kaalo Jeere (Black Cumin), Methi (Fenugreek) and Mauri (Anis). This mixture is more convenient for vegetarian dishes and fish preparations.

Among the cooking vessels, the karais (woks) where most of the cooking and frying is done, the tawa (griddle) on which rotis and parotas are made, the handi - a special large pot for cooking rice and the handleless modification of the sauce pan - the rimmed, deep, flat-bottomed dekchi are all hallmarks of the Bengali kitchen. And of course you will also find the pressure cooker which is indispensable to any Indian kitchen.The Sil Nora (Sil Batta) for making pastes for masala’s and the quint essential Boti to cut right from vegetables to meat. As for the other utensils you absolutely can't do without the hatha (ladle), the khunti (metal spatula), the jhanjri (perforated spoon), the sharashi (pincers to remove vessels from the fire), the ghuntni (wooden hand blender) for puréeing dal and the old wooden chaki belon (round pastry board and rolling pin).

Vibhino Mach er Prakar (Various Types of Fish)

Hilsa (Bengali: ইলিশ Ilish) is the most popular fish to Bengalis. Its the national fish of Bangladesh and extremely popular in West Bengal. Each year a large number of fish is caught at Padma-Meghna-Jamuna delta at Bay of Bengal. Hilsa is a sea fish but it lays eggs in large rivers. After being born the young Hilsa ( known as Jatka ) then swim back to sea. That is when they are caught, before they swim to the sea. The Hilsa found in West bengal, India are tastier traditionally and are exported to several other countries. The Hilsa fish is full of tiny bones which require trained eaters/hands to handle.

In Bengal, hilsa can be smoked, fried, steamed, baked in young plantain leaves, prepared with mustard seed paste, curd, brinjal (eggplant), different condiments like jeera and so on. It is said that people can cook hilsa in more than 50 ways. Hilsa roe is also popular as a side dish. Hilsa can be cooked in very little oil since the fish itself is very oily.

In many Hindu Bengali families two Hilsa fishes (Joda Ilish) are bought on special auspicious days, like some pujas. It is considered auspicious to buy two Hilsa fishes on the day of Saraswati Puja (The Goddess of Learning and Beauty), which takes place in the beginning of Spring and also on the day of Lakshmi Puja (The Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity) which takes place in autumn. Some of them give Hilsa fish as an offering to the goddess Lakshmi, without which the Puja is sometimes thought to be incomplete.

Bhetki, another special fish of Bengal used mainly for making fish fry, mustard preparations and other Bengali preparations.

Koi also known as the climbing perch. It is found in ponds. The uniqueness of this fish is that during monsoons it climbs up the coconut trees which are near the pond and then jumps from there. Usually used for making Tok (Sour and tangy) preparations.

Festival Specialities

Durga Puja

Durga puja is celebrated in the autumn months of September/October. According to the Hindu solar calendar, it falls on the first nine days of the month of Ashvin.

In any Bengali Puja after the prayers, Bhog is served irrespective of religion, caste and creed. A typical Bhog is served on Sal Pata consisting of Khichudi (Khichdi), Labda (Vegetable Curry), Beguni (Slices of Brinjal fried in Gram Flour Batter), Tomato Chutney and a sweet usually Roshogulla (Rasgulla).

The bhog is first served to the Goddess and then is mixed with the food and then served to the devotees.

In Grander Puja Bhog may also consist of Aam er Chutney (Green Mango Chutney), Chor Chori (Mixed Vegetables), Nolen Gurer Narkel Naru (Coconut Laddoo’s made with Date Molasses) and Bhapa Doi (Steamed Sweetened Curd).

Kali Puja

Kali Pooja is celebrated on the Amavasya or the no moon night in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November). This date of Kali Pooja coincides with Diwali, the North Indian New Year or the Festivals of Lights.

According to legends once the demons named Shambhu and Nishambhu grew in force and pose a challenge to Indra, King of Gods, and his Kingdom of Heaven. Gods sought protection from Mahamaya Durga, the Goddess of Shakti or Power. At this stage Goddess Kali was born from Durga's forehead as Kal Bhoi Nashini to save heaven and earth from the growing cruelty of the demons.

After slaughtering the demons, Kali made a garland of their heads and wore it around her neck. In the bloodbath, she lost control and started killing anyone who came her way. There was chaos all around. To stop her, Lord Shiva threw himself under her feet. Shocked at this sight, Kali stuck out her tongue in astonishment, and put an end to her killing spree. The well-known picture of Kali Ma shown with her tongue hanging out, actually depicts the moment when she steps on Lord Shiva and repents.

That momentous day is celebrated ever since as Kali Pooja. Performing the Puja with faith devotees seek protection against drought and war and blessings of general happiness, health and prosperity. Kali Poojan is a tantrik puja performed only at midnight on Amavasya.

If Kali Puja does not fall on a Tuesday or Friday, a Patha (Young Lamb) is slaughtered (or else Pumpkin) and offered to the God, and then for Bhog one is served Patha Mangsho er Jhol (Lamb curry without any Onion and Garlic) and Khichudi (Khichdi).

Poush Mela

Poush Mela (Bengali: পৌষ মেলা) is an annual fair and festival that takes place in Santiniketan, in Birbhum District in the Indian state of West Bengal, marking the harvest season.

During this festival one makes Peethe (A Rice Flour Dumpling filled with Kheer and then put in Payesh).

Bangla Khabar er Bishesh (Speciality Bengali Foods)


Deem er Devil / Egg Chop : Hard boiled egg coated with a spicy potato mash, egg washed and rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried. Served with Dhone Chutney (Coriander Chutney).

Bhetki Mach er Chop : Fillets of Bhetki fish coated with mashed potatoes and coriander chutney, egg washed and rolled in bread crumbs and shallow fried.

Singada : Like the North Indian Samosa, only smaller, filling can vary right from potato, cauliflower, and peas to mutton mince.

Moglai Paratha : A stuffed bread made of whole wheat flour, stuffed with Masala Mutton Kheema, shallow fried and served with Potato Curry, Onion Rings, Coriander Chutney and Lemon Wedges.

Chicken Kabiraji: Chicken Joints having a coating of fluffy egg whites and bread crumbs served with Coriander Chutney, Onion Rings and Lemon Wedges.

Mochar Chop: Banana Flowers mixed with mashed potatoes, rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried.

Vegetable Preparations

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. Shukto is also a culinary experience for whoever eats it and a culinary achievement for whoever cooks it. In fact a Bengali cook is judged by his or her shukto preparation.

It Consists of Bitter Gourd, Ridge Gourd, Raw Bananas, Brinjal, String Beans, Potato, in a Poppy Seed and Mustar Paste with a Bengal tempering of Panch Phoron, Bay Leaves and Hing.

Doi Potol : Doi Potol or Pointed Gourd cooked with curd is a rich recipe with thick gravy, usually served in special occasion as a vegetarian alternative to spicy meat dishes. Doi potol demonstrate the richness of Bengali Cuisine to the fullest.

Thor Chhechhki : Banana Stem flavored with panch-phoron or whole mustard seeds or kala jeera. Chopped onion and garlic can also be used, but hardly any ground spices.

Jhinge Aloo Poshtu : Ridge Gourd and Potatoes cooked in a Poppy Seed Paste flavoured with Panch Phoron and Green Chilles.

Dhokar Dalna : Dhokar Dalna, is one of the pillars of Niramish(Vegetarian) Bengali Cuisine, just like Shukto. The lightly spiced lentil cakes or dhoka are fried and then simmered in a gravy made with tomatoes and ginger, spiced with cumin and coriander. This dish traditionally is a purely satvik dish, sans any onion or garlic like most Bengali Niramish(vegetarian) dishes. Bengali widows were not allowed to eat onion or garlic and the Bengali vegetarian cuisine is mostly their contribution, that explains why it is satvik.

The dhokas are such a delight and the gravy is so fragrant that you wouldn't even miss onion or garlic in here. Enjoyed best with plain white rice, the dhoka sure brings joy, though it actually means "to cheat".

Encho er Dalna : Raw Jackfruit cooked in a medium thick gravy seasoned with ground spices, especially garam masala and a touch of ghee.

Mochar Ghonto : Finely Chopped Banana Flowers cooked with both Panch Phoron and ground spices. Dried pellets of dal are often added to the ghonto. Ghee is commonly added at the end. Some ghantos are very dry while others a thick and juicy.

Cholar Dal : Cholar Dal narkel diye or cholar dal with coconut is a very popular bengali dish and is a fixed item on the menu on wedding feasts or during Durga puja bhog. It is mostly cooked on special occasions and that could be the only-son's-getting-the-visa-day to the only-son's-homecoming-day. Usually it is not an everyday dal though you could have it everyday and there is no one stopping you. Made with Chola Dal and Coconut, has a light sweet taste to it, best eaten with Luchi or Pulao.

Bati CharChari: Usually a vegetable dish with one or more varieties of vegetables cut into longish strips, sometimes with the stalks of leafy greens added, all lightly seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds and flavoured with a phoron.

Non Vegetarian Preparations

Shorshe Ilish: A spicy Hilsa fish preparation made with Hilsa fish and mustard paste. It is pungent if the mustard paste is not cooked well and can hit your throat if you eat too much of it.

Bhetki Paturi : Bhetki fish marinated with Mustard Paste, Ginger Garlic Paste, Green Chilly Paste, Mustard Oil, Wrapped in Plantain Leaf and then kept in pan till the leaves are browned well.

Chingri Mach er Malaikari (Prawn Malai Curry) : Prawns cooked in a spiced up Coconut Milk Curry.

Daab Chingri : Prawns flavoured with panch phoron and cooked in a tender coconut shell.

Rui Mach er Kaaliya : A very rich preparation of Rahu Fish using a lot of oil and ghee with a sauce usually based on ground ginger and onion paste and garam masala.

Pabda Macher Jhal : Literally, hot. A great favorite in West Bengali households, this is made with Indian Butter Fish, first lightly fried and then cooked in a light sauce of ground red chilli or ground mustard and a flavoring of panch-phoron or kala jeera. Being dryish it is often eaten with a little bit of dal pored over the rice.

Ilish Macher Dim Diye Ambol: A sour dish made with Hilsa Roe, the sourness being produced by the addition of tamarind pulp.

Mourola Mach er Bhaja : A very small fish like sardines, deep fried.

Tangra Macher Kaalo Jeere Jhol : Tangra fish cooked with kalonji. Very liquidy gravy and light flavour. Usually had when a person is sick.

Muri Ghonto : dry dish made with fried fish head (known as maacher matha or muro in Bengali), potatoes, very little rice and myriad spices. Don't turn up your nose, it smells nothing but heavenly and tastes more so.

Murgir Jhol : A simple Chicken Curry cooked with potatoes and lots of gravy.

Kasha Mangsho : Mutton Sauteed with spices and masalas with very little addition of water. Best had with Roomali Roti or Luchi.

Lao Chingri : A simple preparation made with Bottle Gourd and shrimps.

Potol Dorma : Parwal stuffed with mutton mince, or fish mince or grated vegetables, cooked in a spicy red gravy.

Luchi : Deep fried Flat bread made with a mixture of refined flour, water and ghee.

Karausutir Kachori : Deep Fried Round Flat bread made with a whole wheat flour and has peas as a filling. Ideal for breakfast when served with Potato Curry and Jalebi.

Radhaballavi : It is a stuffed deep fried bread. It is stuffed with lentil and little spices. It is a must on the menu of every ceremonies such as marriages, birthdays etc.

Bengali Sweets

Roshogolla (Rasgulla) : The dish is made from balls of chhena (an Indian cottage cheese) and semolina dough, cooked in sugar syrup.

Roshmalai : Ras malai consists of sugary, cream to yellow-colored balls (or flattened balls) of paneer soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavored with cardamom.

Mishti Aloor Pantua : When translated in english would mean - Sweet Potato Balls in Sugar Syrup. It is a variation of such pantuas, where we substitute the regular semolina, ghee, milk and khoya with sweet potatoes.

Chom Chom : Like Rasgulla but dryer made with Cottage Cheese, Refined Flour, Cardamom Powder, Condensed Milk, Saffron and Sugar.

Sita Bhog : Known as Sita Bhog as Goddess Sita liked it, made with a mixture of Rice Flour, Refined Flour, Cottage Cheese, Cardamom Powder, Rose Essence and Sugar. Made in the shape of long rice grains and served at room temperature.

Lal Mishti Doi : It is prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either gura (brown sugar) or khajuri 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. Very often the yoghurt is delicately seasoned with a hint of elaach (cardamoms) for fragrance.

Bhaapa Doi : Bhapa Doi is an unsweetened Bengali dessert which is essentially steamed yoghurt. It has the texture and consistency of soft cheesecake. It has a sweet, mild taste.

Pathishapta : Patishapta is actually a rice flour crepe with coconut and jaggery fillings.

Puli Peethe Payesh : Rice Flour Dumplings with a filling of Rice Kheer and then put in thickened sweet milk (Payesh)

Sandesh : It is created with milk and sugar. Some recipes of Sandesh call for the use of chhana (curdled milk) or paneer instead of milk

Rajbhog : Saffron flavoured Rasgullas with a dry fruit filling.

Chenna Jilebi : Fresh chhena is thoroughly kneaded and rolled up into shapes similar to pretzels, before being deep fried. The fully fried chhena pretzels are then soaked in a sugary syrup. Chhena jalebis are served either hot or chilled.

Kachgolla : Like Rasgulla but less sweet, and coated with desiccated coconut.

Kalakand : Sweet made out of solidified, sweetened milk and cottage cheese.

Chenna Payesh : Kheer Made with Cottage Cheese.

Potol Mishti : Steamed Parwal, with a filling of Mawa, Cardamom Powder, simmered in Sugar Syrup and then covered with Silver Foil.

How Bengali Cuisine Differs from other Indian Cuisines

An abundant land provides for an abundant table. The nature and variety of dishes found in Bengali cooking are unique even in India. Fish cookery is one of its better-known features and distinguishes it from the cooking of the landlocked regions. Bengal's countless rivers, ponds and lakes teem with many kinds of freshwater fish that closely resemble catfish, bass, shad or mullet. Bengalis prepare fish in innumerable ways - steamed or braised, or stewed with greens or other vegetables and with sauces that are mustard based or thickened with poppyseeds. You will not find these types of fish dishes elsewhere in India.

Bengalis also excel in the cooking of vegetables. They prepare a variety of the imaginative dishes using the many types of vegetables that grow here year round. They can make ambrosial dishes out of the oftentimes rejected peels, stalks and leaves of vegetables. They use fuel-efficient methods, such as steaming fish or vegetables in a small covered bowl nestled at the top of the rice cooker.

The use of spices for both fish and vegetable dishes is quite extensive and includes many combinations not found in other parts of India. Examples are the onion-flavored kalonji seeds and five-spice (a mixture of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, kalonji, and black mustard). The trump card card of Bengali cooking probably is the addition of this phoran, a comination of whole spices, fried and added at the start or finish of cooking as a flavouring special to each dish. Bengalis share a love of whole black mustard with South Indians, but the use of freshly ground mustard paste is unique to Bengal.

All of India clamors for Bengali sweets. Although grains, beans and vegetables are used in preparing many deserts, as in other regions, the most delicious varieties are dairy-based and uniquely Bengali.

Common Bengali Cooking Styles

AMBAL : A sour dish made either with several vegetables or with fish, the sourness being produced by the addition of tamarind pulp.

BHAJA : Anything fried, either by itself or in batter.

BHAPA : Fish or vegetables steamed with oil and spices. A classic steaming technique is to wrap the fish in banana leaf to give it a faint musky, smoky scent.

BHATE : Any vegetable, such as potatoes, beans, pumpkins or even dal, first boiled whole and then mashed and seasoned with mustard oil or ghee and spices.

BHUNA : A term of Urdu origin, meaning fried for a long time with ground and whole spices over high heat. Usually applied to meat.

CHACHCHARI : Usually a vegetable dish with one or more varieties of vegetables cut into longish strips, sometimes with the stalks of leafy greens added, all lightly seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds and flavoured with a phoron. The skin and bone of large fish like bhetki or chitol can be made into a chachchari called kanta-chachchari, kanta, meaning fish-bone.

CHHANCHRA : A combination dish made with different vegetables, portions of fish head and fish oil (entrails).

CHHENCHKI : Tiny pieces of one or more vegetable - or, sometimes even the peels (of potatoes, lau, pumpkin or patol for example) - usually flavored with panch-phoron or whole mustard seeds or kala jeera. Chopped onion and garlic can also be used, but hardly any ground spices.

DALNA : Mixed vegetables or eggs, cooked in a medium thick gravy seasoned with groung spices, especially garom mashla and a touch of ghee.

DAM : Vegetables, especially potatoes, or meat, cooked over a covered pot slowly over a low heat.

GHANTO : Different complementary vegtables (e.g., cabbage, green peas, potatoes or banana blossom, coconut, chickpeas) are chopped or finely grated and cooked with both a phoron and ground spices. Dried pellets of dal (boris) are often added to the ghanto. Ghee is commonly added at the end. Non-vegitarian ghantos are also made, with fish or fish heads added to vegetables. The famous murighanto is made with fish heads cooked in a fine variety of rice. Some ghantos are very dry while others a thick and juicy.

JHAL : Literally, hot. A great favorite in West Bengali households, this is made with fish or shrimp or crab, first lightly fried and then cooked in a light sauce of ground red chilli or ground mustard and a flavoring of panch-phoron or kala jeera. Being dryish it is often eaten with a little bit of dal pored over the rice.

JHOL : A light fish or vegetable stew seasoned with ground spices like ginger, cumin, corriander, chilli and turmeric with pieces of fish and longitudinal slices of vegetables floating in it. The gravy is thin yet extreamely flavorful. Whole green chillies are usually added at the end and green corriander leaves are used to season for extra taste.

KALIA : A very rich preparation of fish, meat or vegetables using a lot of oil and ghee with a sauce usually based on ground ginger and onion paste and garom mashla.

KOFTAS (or Boras) : Ground meat or vegetable croquettes bound together by spices and/or eggs served alone or in savory gravy.

KORMA : Another term of Urdu origin, meaning meat or chicken cooked in a mild yoghurt based sauce with ghee instead of oil.

PORA : Literally, burnt. Vegetables are wrapped in leaves and roasted over a wood or charcoal fire. Some, like eggplants (brinjals/aubergines), are put directly over the flames. Before eating the roasted vegetable is mixed with oil and spices.

TARKARI : A general term often used in Bengal the way `curry' is used in English. Originally from Persian, the word first meant uncooked garden vegetables. From this it was a natural extension to mean cooked vegetables or even fish and vegetables cooked together.

Vernon Coelho

Ihm Mumbai


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