Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dining in Bangladesh - Bengali Gastronomy

I'm no connoisseur on Bengali dining, but there's one thing I know, and that's what to do with my hands during a meal (besides washing them before meals). Eat with your right hand, as the left hand is considered "dirty" (left hand is used to service your toilet needs). Of course you can break bread or hold your fork with the left, but the one that feeds you is your right.

Bengali dining introduced me gradually to the generics of Indian continent's culinary. The dhals, the rottis, the chapatis, and a general preference to vegetarianism.

Bengali Cuisine Overview

This is from wikipedia on Bengali cuisine:

With emphasis on fish and lentils served with rice as a staple diet, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle (yet sometimes fiery) flavours, its confectioneries and desserts, and has perhaps the only multi-course tradition from South-Asia that is analogous with the likes of Japanese, French and Italian cuisine in structure.

From the culinary point of view, a key influence to the food came much later, when Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Avadh was exiled to Metiabruz, in the outskirts of Kolkata. He is said to have brought with him hundreds of cooks and masalchis (spice mixers) who, on his death, dissipated into the population, starting restaurants and food carts all over Bengal.

Bengalis also excel in the cooking of vegetables. They prepare a variety of the imaginative dishes using the many types of vegetables that grow in the country 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.

Fish is the dominant kind of meat, cultivated in ponds and fished with nets in the fresh-water rivers of the Ganges delta. Almost every part of the fish (except fins and innards) is eaten; the head and other parts are usually used to flavor curries. The head is often cooked with dal or with cabbage.

Bengali people are primarily rice eaters, and the rainfall and soil in Bengal lends itself to rice production as well.

Luchi (circular deep fried un-leavened bread) or Porothha (usually triangular, multi-layered, pan fried, un-leavened bread) are also used as the primary food item on the table. It is considered that wheat-based food came in from the north and is relatively new in advent. Both Luchi and Parothha (paratha) could have stuffed versions as well, and the stuffing could vary from dal, peas etc.


This is followed by shaak (leafy vegetables) such as spinach, palong chard, methi fenugreek, or amaranth. The shaak can be steamed or cooked in oil with other vegetables such asbegun (eggplant). Steamed shaak is sometimes accompanied by a sharp paste of mustard and raw mango pulp called Kasundi.


The đal course is usually the most substantial course, especially in West Bengal. It is eaten with a generous portion of rice and a number of accompaniments. Common accompaniments to đal are aaloo bhaate (potatoes mashed with mustard oil), and bhaja (fritters). Bhaja literally means 'deep-fried'; most vegetables are good candidates but begun(aubergines), kumro (pumpkins), or alu (potatoes) like french fries, or shredded and fried, uchhe, potol pointed gourdare common. Machh bhaja (fried fish) is also common, especially rui (rohu) and ilish (hilsa) fishes. Bhaja is sometimes coated in a beshon (chickpea flour) and posto (poppyseed) batter. A close cousin of bhaja is bôra or deep-fried savoury balls usually made from posto (poppyseed) paste or coconut mince. Another variant is fried pointed gourd as potoler dorma with roe stuffing.

Another accompaniment is a vegetable preparation usually made of multiple vegetables stewed slowly together without any added water. Labra, chorchori, ghonto, or chanchra are all traditional cooking styles. There also are a host of other preparations that do not come under any of these categories and are simply called tôrkari - the word merely means 'vegetable' in Bengali.
Now, most of the dish seen in this post do not have names or labels.
Acknowledgement: Wikipedia’s entry on Bengali Cuisine.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

New Alamin Hotel and Restaurant. This hall is for their male customers only. Females are sequestered at a separate cloistered cranny at the side of this hall.

Chicken is a relatively new entrant in Bengali cuisine, but I had to have something that's "familiar".

This is a mint-flavored post-meal confection, served with a toothpick to somehow "freshen" your breath from all the spices. This is free, and a common feature in most meals across the sub-Indian continent from India to Bangladesh and Nepal.

This was a snack served bread at a very small store in Sonargaon. This is served with cha (tea).

There wasn't a proper breakfast to be had early in the morning, and I wasn't too happy with the hotel restaurant's paratha so I ventured outside and bought some bread (notice the accompanying spicy sauce). Sprite seems to be the most common soda, not Coke.

Fish is the dominant meat.

Gosh, what were these? I tasted each but wasn't too happy.

Milk-based dessert! Delicious! Anyone can offer a name?

This was my border-crossing bus' free meal consisting of roti, dal and a not-too-sweet banana.

Parata and Egg omelet with chili


Trotter said...

Hi Eye! At sight, all looks yummy, but I notice that you were not so happy with some of them... Sorry, I can't help with the names... ;)
Just two notes more: That male/female separation is far from what I'm used to... and, being right handed, I wonder how would I manage to use the left hand for the purposes they say it is intended... ;)

Recovering from the flu and other viruses, Blogtrotter Two is looking at views, palaces and gardens in Algiers... Enjoy and have a great weekend!

eye in the sky said...

Me too. I almost can't do anything without my right arm, thus i have to be conscious how I use it or wave around when in muslim-dominant country.

And I didn't want the locals staring at me with disdain coz I ate with my dirty hand. lol

pamatayhomesick said...

i try also to eat in bangla resto here in kuwait...suprisingly i drink a lot of water..:)

eye in the sky said...

I don't even dare get into one. Wala lang akong choice in Bangladesh.

Trotter said...

Hi Eye! Re-visiting here, I found it funny that the dominant "meat" is "fish"... ;)

After four posts, Blogtrotter Two is leaving Algiers 2009... Enjoy and have a great week ahead!

eye in the sky said...


Because "fish" actually has "meat", and the fishes are out to prove that "meat" shouldn't be synonymous to the flesh of their non-amphibian "brothers". LOL