A spiced-up Tale
If not the only, then perhaps the Bengali people are one among those with extra-sensitive taste buds in the whole of the Indian Subcontinent. Our journey begins with this much of information but before it’s too long, we shall be able to figure out the labor and ingenuity that rules the average Bengali kitchen. For gourmets, it’s all the more elaborate.
A tactile approach to food is what we can comment on the Bengali cuisine. Evident from the phrase Kobji dubiye khaowa (Up to one’s wrist in food) and picking of the items at the market, the former phrase also stands to denote gluttonous indulgence; it also denotes the out-of-the-world taste that the Bengali cuisine delivers.
Bengali recipes revolve around a few particular styles that take into account the basic tastes as well as a combination of all of them. From the essentially sour ambol made with vegetables or with fish in addition with tamarind pulp to the pora (burnt or roasted items) examples are galore, but instead of wording, it’s better to put down the categories in which Bengali food is broadly classified.
- Bhaja: A name assigned to fried items; ranges from potatoes and brinjals to fishes. Apparently, Fried Rice also got the new name of Bhaat bhaja from this concept.
- Bhapa: This is the name given to the recipes that are steamed with oil and spices.
- Bhatey: A recipe comprising of mashed boiled vegetables seasoned with mustard oil or ghee and spices.
- Chacchari: Let’s place it as the Bengali equivalent of the Chinese Chop-Suey; it mostly comprises vegetables, spices and sometimes, the skin and bones of large fishes.
- Chyanchra: Almost like the above one, it’s the fish-head and the fish-oil that marks the difference.
- Chenchki: The recipe makes use of small vegetable pieces or peels flavored with five kinds of spices along with chopped onion and garlic.
- Daalnaa: Mixed vegetables or eggs in medium-thick gravy and seasoned with ground spices and ghee.
- Dom: Potatoes cooked in covered pot over a slow heat.
- Ghonto: Literally meaning a hotchpotch, the recipe embraces almost all kinds of vegetables (chopped or finely grated) and cooked with spices, though non-vegetarian varieties are also found.
- Jhal: The Bengali for hot (as in taste), it’s made with lightly fried fish, shrimps or crabs in a light sauce of red chili or mustard powder with appropriate flavorings.
- Jhol: A stew, though not the English one. Comprise fish or meat and vegetables and seasoned with ground spices and whole green chilies.
Till now, we spoke about the pure Bengali recipe; however West Bengal, being a place of mixed cultures, molded many of the outer world recipes as per the Bengali taste. Worthwhile are the Kaliaa, Koftaa and Korma, the roots of which lie in the Muslim culture; even the English left their fingerprints through the preparation of mixed vegetables that slowly adopted the name of Tarkari, which means vegetables in general. But that’s another story and hopefully to be covered in the near future.