The Bay of Bengal skirts the coast of the eponymous province of northeastern India, cantering around Calcutta.
Bengali cuisine’s staple food is boiled rice. The main protein source for the population here is fish. The sea acts as a “cold storage” for this valuable food. It is always fresh in the market place by necessity, as even the most primitive cooling method (crushed ice) is expensive. Plantains, potatoes, other tubers, beans and water lily roots are eaten more here than anywhere else in India.
Northern and southern Indians like hot and spicy curries. In Bengal, curries are sweet and succulent, softly flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace. There are variations on curry blends, and in fact, in India and Bengal stores hardly ever sell curry. Each household has its own blend that women grind and blend daily for fresh and focused flavour.
Chutneys, particularly mango and mustard chutney is a staple of Bengali cuisine.
Marinated shrimp stuffed with coconut and boiled is a specialty people cherish.
In general, Bengali cuisine is simpler than northern Indian cooking, but equally flavourful because of the freshness of ingredients and use of less potent spices.
The favourite bread here is Loochi (puri elsewhere) and is prepared using both white and whole-wheat flour. Mustard seed oil and gingili (sesame seed oil) are used for cooking. Dal is a poplar sauce hereabouts.
Sandesh, rasgulla, gulab jamun, puddings and dum aloo,(potatoes, almonds, raisins and yoghurt) are popular desserts, but generally, fresh fruit concludes meals.
Loochi, fried eggplant and dum aloo, or fish and vegetable curry with rise and dal and seasonal fruit are popular everyday meals.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu