The Ethos of Bengal

The average Bengali who might not even have heard of Irishman George Bernard Shaw, however, seems to live by Shaw’s quote “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” While most Bengalis like to argue on random facts of life, I am sure no Bengali will argue with me when I say “Bengalis do not eat to live; but live to eat.”


Be it the occasion of a marriage or the auspicious Durga Puja or even the unobtrusive occasion of a new car; we Bengali’s do not actually need an excuse for a good grub. Even as I write I am sure there are at least 100 or more feasts going on in and around Kolkata, and I am honestly not exaggerating. The British custom of ‘get together’ has been strikingly redefined in Bengal. While it used to be a formal gathering for the upper class, it has now turned into an event where on being invited our only incentive to attend it is the Menu.


Be it the majestic Chingri Macher Malai Curry (a rich curry made out of prawns and coconut milk) or the humble Panchmeshali Chochchori (mixed vegetables cooked with Bengali spices), Bengalis sure know how to relish even the minutest crumb of their dishes. A recent survey showed that a majority of Indian food connoisseurs have their roots in Bengal. If you were to take a trip around the city of joy, you will be amazed at the variety of food that the streets have to offer; Punjabi, Mughalai, Chinese, South Indian, you name it. The continental food of Park Street requires a special mention, for the eateries there date back to more than 150 years. That’s not all; Park Street also is the place to be at the time of the year-end festivities. Even the indigenous breed of ‘Indian Chinese’ was invented right here on the very heart of my city, Kolkata.


When you talk about the ‘Banglair Bhuribhoj’ (the great Bengali feast) how can one forget the mention of fish? Bengal is undoubtedly the ‘Fish Capital’ of India. To Bengalis fish is not merely a food item, but the symbol of the intellectual and cultural Bengali. The fish delicacies of Bengal are just as famous around the globe as the Parisian platter. Mach bhaja (fish fry), Macher jhol (fish cooked in a light gravy), Macher chop (fish chop); the very inclusion of the word ‘mach’ (fish) makes the food item a necessity to us Bengalis.


Bengalis are mostly non-vegetarians. Even mutton has its share of popularity when it comes to the Bengali platter. Rich mutton dishes are something that symbolise the social stature of a Bangali babu. While speaking of non-vegetarian food one cannot deny the poultry its due importance for its generous contribution in the Bangalir Bhuribhoj. Nevertheless there are treats for the vegetarian people as well. the delicasies of kach kola (raw banana) and eychor (raw jackfruit) such as the dalna (curry) and kofta (balls), can give the non vegetarian food items a run for their money any given day.


Now we all know just how popular street food is among the youth; in Bengal the scenario is no different. When one goes out to stroll in the streets of Bengal, he is sure to be enticed by the sights and smells of the roadside eateries. The amazing varieties of teleybhajas (fritters) just make you give into the guilty pleasures. The ‘roll’ phenomenon in Kolkata especially is widespread and growing by the day. My vegetarian friends should not be disappointed; for them there is a wide range of chops, cutlets and chaats to choose from. The favourite tea-time snack is unmistakably the ‘Shingara’, the Bengali adaptation of the Samosa, which is strikingly different in terms of taste from the latter. The pungent, hot and tangy phuchkas (golgappas) and jhalmuri (a mixture of puffed rice and other savouries) is the favourite of all Bengalis ranging from the kids of 5 to the elderly 95.


The sweetness in the Bengali language is only because of the amazing variety of sweets that we have to offer. The amazingly soft, sweet and delicious ‘rasogolla’ was invented in a kitchen of Kolkata. Now, what is common between Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Sonia Gandhi and me? Now, now before you set the horses of your imagination free let me clarify, I am talking about the ‘Mishti Doi’ (sweet yougurt). Its smooth and rich texture accompanied by its irresistible aroma makes it so popular amongst the elite class and the middle class alike. If i try to explain how ”sweet” scenario in Bengal is, it will probably surpass my lifetime, so. i leave it to a your imagination.


We Bengalis believe in looking at the better side of life. Our motto in life is: “eat, drink and be merry” to which we adhere to rather seriously. So if you really love to eat and savour every crumb of your food come over to Bengal. Even if you are dyspeptic, boring or just plain uninterested, let me assure you…a trip to my Bengal will change your opinion about food altogether.


Suhasini Mitra



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