Bengali Cuisine is a culinary style originating from the West Bengal state of India. Rice is the staple food in entire Bengali Cuisine. They use fuel-efficient methods like steaming food in a small covered bowl nestled at the top of the rice pot. Bengali cooking includes a combination of whole spices, fried and added at the start or finish of cooking as a flavoring special to each dish. A pungent mustard paste called Kashundi is a dipping sauce popular in Bengal made from freshly ground mustard seeds.
Fish is the dominant kind of protein in Bengali cuisine and is cultivated in ponds, lakes and fished with nets in the freshwater rivers of the Ganges. Almost every village in Bengal has ponds used for cultivating fishes and at least one meal a day is certain to have a fish course. The most popular form of meat in Bengal is mutton (goat meat) where khashi (castrated goat) or kochi pantha (kid goat) are the most common forms of goat meat. Some delicate dishes are cooked with rewaji khashi, a goat that has been specifically raised on a singular kind of diet, to encourage the growth of intramuscular fat, commonly known as pardah. Pork is commonly eaten in West Bengal especially in the Santal tribes of the Darjeeling district and is quite popular in urban regions of West Bengal. Chicken is also preferred steadily in popularity over the last few decades after the advent of poultry farming. Eggs from both chicken and duck are quite popular and Duck meat is often found in menus of almost all Chinese restaurants. Turkey meat, Emu meat, Quail meat and Rabbit meat are also available to buy raw and the delicacies of these meats are popular in the food joints.
There are gourds, roots and tubers, leafy greens, succulent stalks, lemons, green and purple aubergine, shallots, plantain, broad beans, okra, banana tree stems and flowers, green jackfruit, red pumpkins, uchhe / korola (bitter gourd) and nim (Neem) popular in the shobji bajar (vegetable markets). Bengali’s are fond of using leftover bits of vegetables like peels, roots, stems and other bits that are usually disposed. Shorsher tel (mustard oil) is the primary cooking medium in Bengali cuisine although mungphalli tel (groundnut oil) is also used, because of its high smoke point. Use of shada tel which refers to sunflower oil, soybean oil and refined vegetable oil, which is a mixture of soybean, kardi and other edible vegetable oils is gaining prominence gradually.
A unique characteristic of Bengali food is the use of a cutting instrument, the boti (also called the dao in some regional dialects). It is a long curved blade on a platform held down by foot; both hands are used to hold whatever is being cut and move it against the blade. A korai (wok) is a universal cooking vessel for most Bengali food for making sauces, frying/stir-frying etc. The dekchi (a flat-bottomed pan) is used generally for larger amounts of cooking or for making rice. Bengali Cuisine also has a lot of influence from Mughlai Cuisine, Chinese Cuisine, North Eastern Cuisine, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh along with Anglo Indian cuisines.
A few popular dishes in Bengali Cuisine are:
- Ombol / Aum-bol / Tok refers to a sour dish made either with several vegetables or fish, especially fish bones
- Bora refers to anything that has been mashed and then formed into rough roundish shape and fried, generally in mustard oil
- Bhaja refers to anything fried, either just after it has been salted or dipped in any kind of water-based batter
- Bhapa refers to fish or vegetables steamed with spices
- Bhate refers to any vegetable that has been put inside the pot in which rice is cooking, and it has been cooked along with the rice
- Bhorta refers to any vegetable which is boiled, then mashed and seasoned with red shallot, fresh chilli, mustard oil/ghee and spices
- Chorchori refers to 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 flavored further
- Dalna refers to mixed vegetables or eggs cooked in a medium thick gravy seasoned with ground spices and a touch of ghee
- Jhol refers to a light fish or vegetable stew seasoned with ground spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, chilli and turmeric
- Korma refers to a curry kind qurma, of Mughlai origin which means meat or chicken cooked in a mild yogurt-based sauce with ghee
- Pora refers to literally burnt where vegetables are wrapped in leaves and roasted over a wood or charcoal fire
- Poshto refers to anything cooked with poppy seed paste as the main flavoring agent
- Torkari refers to a curry of any of the vegetables
- Shukto refers to a palate cleanser which is made with a lot of vegetables including at least one bitter vegetable, simmered with a hint of sugar and milk to bring out the bitterness of the fresh vegetables
- Shak refers to a kind of green leafy vegetable like spinach and mustard greens often cooked till wilted, touch of oil and tempering of nigella seeds
Doi (curd / yogurt) forms a major part of Bengali cuisine after a meal and before a dessert. Sweets occupy an important place in the diet of Bengali’s and at their social ceremonies. The sweets of Bengal are generally made of sweetened cottage cheese (chhena). Some important sweets of Bengal are Shondesh, Roshogolla / Rosogolla, Naru (laddu), Roshmalai, Cham Cham, Pantua, Pitha along with many other varieties of sweets. Chat food dishes of Bengali Cuisine are world famous and often remembered for their tangy flavors. A few famous items are puchka, jhal muri, moa, kachori, pakodas and rolls.