Spotting Bengali Food

Mallika Basu - Spotting Bengali Food

Posted 15th October 2006

calcutta-kitchen.jpgAs the days go by, I am spurred on to help identify real Indian food from mass produced junk. As a Bengali from Kolkata, I think it’s a good idea to start with a bit on the cuisine from back where I belong.

Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the capital of West Bengal, the Indian state to the east of the country, beside Bangladesh. Better known for Mother Teresa, the Black Hole and Eden Gardens, its varied and delicious food often gets overlooked.

Shame. In Bengal, food is of utmost importance. Everything else comes second. As Simon Parkes puts it in “The Calcutta Kitchen”:

Once, a good friend told me, “what you’ve got to remember about us Bengalis is that we’re only really interested in three things: educating our children, reading books and food.” And in some ways that’s it in a nutshell.

Bengalis are also obsessed with their bowel function, but I don’t want to gross you out.

Udit Sarkhel, the co-writer of “The Calcutta Kitchen” has identified some real stand out qualities of Bengali food. Here are my top five, in his words:

  • Bengalis are inveterate eaters of fish, and no good meal would be complete without fish or prawns
  • Mustard is used as greens, as ground seeds and as a pungent, pure oil which is the principal cooking medium
  • Ginger, cummin and chilli are the other spice mainstays; garlic is more of a flavouring of East Bengal, now Bangladesh
  • Sugar is used a lot in savoury cooking
  • Spice combinations are important , primarily garam masala and panch phoron

This Thursday, 19th October, Udit and Simon are speaking at a Bengali food evening at the British Museum. A must for food lovers and other curious beings. I believe some of their recipes will be dished out as finger foods after the talk. Tickets are still available if you want a more hands on Bengali food lesson.

11 responses to “Spotting Bengali Food”

  1. Shohini says:


    I came across your site while looking for an easy maacher chop recipe and was instantly inspired.

    I’m forwarding the link to all my girlfriends who grew up on our mother’s wonderful Bengali cooking and now just don’t have the courage to adopt the recipes as our own. As you said, good Indian cooking and the working women need not be strangers.

    No more shamefully assembling lasagnes while craving yummy aloor dom and puris!

    Best wishes,
    Ottawa, Canada

  2. Mallika says:

    Down with lasagne! Only kidding, I do cook a whole lot of stuff but Indian is where the heart is.

    Thanks so much for dropping by and leavign a comment. I hope you and your friends have fun and full tummies with my recipes.

  3. […] It’s in moments like this that I am almost tempted to call Spice-Tandoori-Balti-Taj-Mahal-whatever down the road to eat anything, just anything, that has chilli and turmeric powder in it. My colleague suggested curry porridge, his very own special recipe. It sounded quick, easy and… utterly revolting. Cod it is! It’s going to be painful writing my last cooking from cookbooks recipe as I take the first hesitant bite into my dinner, but here goes. The last recipe I cooked this week from a cookbook was from The Calcutta Kitchen. […]

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  5. piu says:

    hi mallika ,
    nice article..but where r the recipes??

  6. […] is very important to Bengalis. Traditional feasts are carefully structured rituals consisting of numerous dishes, […]

  7. Maninas says:

    Hi Mallika! I bought this book yesterday. I must admit it was the sweets section that swayed me and I simply could not resist it!
    Have you got it? And what do you think of it?

  8. Mallika says:

    Hey Maninas – I do like it, if not for any other reason I know through friends the two authors. The recipes are a little bit complicated but that’s just what you get from an experienced chef! Try the kosha mangsho recipe in it – it ROCKS!!

  9. Excellent! I am indeed impressed to know about Udit Sarkhel’s achievements. I used to know him very well while he was at the Dadar Catering Institute, Bombay India – 1979 -1982. Congratulations, Udit!!I hope to be able to savour your delicacies sometime.

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    Spotting Bengali Food » Quick Indian Cooking

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