The cuisine of Bengal is as rich and distinct as the state itself. The rule of Nawabs has deeply influenced Bengali food which is a combination of subtle and fiery flavours. There are certain European influences also like the snack food tradition and foods like chops and cutlets that are British in origin but are prepared and served in most Bengali households.
West Bengal is famously known as the land of maach (fish) and bhaat (rice). Bengalis share an irrevocable relationship with these two foods that are a staple in almost every household. Since countless rivers surround the state, fresh sweet water fish are a major attraction with rohu, pabda and koi being the popular ones. Interestingly, there are more than forty types of fresh water fish that are popularly served in Bengal.
A much-loved local delicacy in Bengal is an oily fish known as 'Hilsa' or 'Ilish'. The tenderness of the flesh, unique taste and silvery appeal make it the 'queen of fish'. In fact, hilsa holds great cultural importance in Bengal and a pair of hilsa fish (Joda Ilish) is usually bought on auspicious occasions. On the vegetarian platter, one would mostly find tubers, gourds and roots. Vegetables like plantains, potatoes, water lily roots, brinjal and beans dominate the menu.
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Bengali cuisine is a blend of sweet and spicy flavours. The delicate balance between the main ingredients and the seasoning plays a starring role. The simplest of meals gain an exquisite identity on adding 'phoron' or a traditional mix of pungent spices. The 'panch phoron' is used generously and it includes a combination of five spices - cumin, nigella, fenugreek, aniseed and mustard seed.
What sets Bengali curries apart are the distinctive flavours of mustard oil, poppy seeds and turmeric with sweet undertones that warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace impart. Luchi is a deep-fried bread that is preferred here and is prepared using both refined and whole-wheat flour. Mishti Doi, a kind of sweetened yogurt with rich notes of jaggery is a usual accompaniment. All said and done, the robust fish curries and the sinful Bengali sweets easily steal the spotlight.
We bring to you the best of Bengal. Here are the top 10 traditional recipes that you'll absolutely love.
1. Dimer Dhokkar Dalna and Luchi
Recipe by Chef Madhumita Mohante
2. Bhapaa AlooRecipe by Chef Joy Banerjee
The humble potato tossed in local flavours of panch phoron
, coconut paste and mustard oil. Simple yet satisfying! 3. Chingri Malai CurryRecipe by Chef Avijit Ghosh
Palatable prawns are cooked in hot spices and then bathed in the creamy flavor of coconut milk. Chingri refers to the river prawns. (Recipe video)(Buy interesting seasonings to revamp your daily cooking on SmartCooky!) 4. Sorsebata Ilish MachRecipe by Chef Avijit Ghosh
'Hilsa' fish is the highlight of the local cuisine. The fish is marinated with turmeric and delicately simmered in a mustard-poppy seed paste along with the five-spice mix (panch phoron). (Recipe video) 5. Bengali Lamb CurryRecipe by Chef Marut Sikka
Lamb marinated in the comforting flavour of yogurt and cooked in mustard oil along with mustard seeds, almonds and castor sugar that adds a sweet undertone. 6. Doi MaachRecipe by Chef Aditya Bal
Doi machch is a comforting fish curry. Tender chunks of fish are cooked in the soothing flavor of yogurt along with mild spices. It tastes best when served with plain rice. 7. Baigun BhajjaRecipe by Chef Girish Krishnan
Pan fried eggplants, sizzling with aromatic spices. Served with a freshly made, tangy tomato chutney. 8. PatishaptaRecipe by Chef Lalita Chakraborty
A Bengali dessert prepared in the form of thin crepes stuffed with a delicious coconut and jaggery filling. 9. SandeshRecipe by Chef Niru Gupta
Bengali desserts are great charmers with chenna or fresh cottage cheese as one of the primary ingredients in most of them. Here's how to make the ultimate melt-in-the-mouth sweet. (More Bengali Recipes) 10. Chor ChoriRecipe by Chef Aditya Bal
A vegetarian delight, chor chori is a fresh mix of vegetables like potatoes, brinjal, cauliflower and pumpkin flavored with the famous 'panch phoron'.