Despite being culturally lively and simply delicious, these lesser-known Bengali dishes have started to lose their authenticity and dwindle over time
Bengal is a confluence of rich culture, traditions, and food. With culinary influences from the Mughals, British, French, and more, Bengal has always been a mixed bag with a combination of subtle and fiery flavours.
Bengali dishes are known for their unique blend of spices, herbs, and flavours that make every preparation a delight for the senses and a gateway to food paradise.
The graceful balance between the main ingredients and the seasoning plays a pivotal role. While popular dishes like Luchi, Rosogolla, Mishti Doi, Kosha Mangsho and Maacher Jhol (fish curry) have put Bengali cuisine on the culinary map of the world, there are many other delicacies that deserve equal praise and attention. Most of the recipes are simple and soulful which voices that a dish does not have to be high on complex spices to be tasty.
Amidst its rich culinary heritage is a treasure trove of lesser-known but incredibly delicious traditional dishes. From “Shorshe Ilish,” a delectable fish preparation where Hilsa fish is marinated in a mustard paste and cooked to perfection to “Dhokar Dalna,” where lentil cakes are simmered in a thick and aromatic gravy of tomatoes, ginger, and spices to “Chital Macher Muitha” in which fish balls made from Chital, a freshwater fish, are cooked in a flavorful curry – these delightful dishes make for a memorable gastronomic experience.
These lesser-known traditional dishes of Bengal are a testament to the region’s culinary prowess and are sure to tantalize the taste buds of anyone lucky enough to savour them.
In this space, we have shared the most outstanding but lesser-known Bengali dishes that you definitely need to try out once.
Mochar Ghonto – a culinary delight
‘Mocha’ is the Bengali name given to the Plantain flowers or Banana blossoms. In this dish, banana flowers are plucked, diced, boiled and then heartily cooked in spices and grated coconut.
The vegetarian delight has been popularized by the zamindars over the years and further variants were added with the inclusion of prawns, vadas and even fish. It’s best served with steaming hot rice and biulir daal and since it’s a dry sabzi, one can make it as fiery as they want.
Thorer Chechki – a separate fan base among Bengalis
Can you think of a single part of the banana plant that Bengalis don’t put to some culinary use? ‘Thor’ is the innermost core of the banana stem that develops only after the banana plant bears fruit. The dish has a separate fan base among Bengalis and when cooked, its crunchy and mushy texture is most satisfying to eat.
The banana stem is finely diced and prepared with spices and coarsely chopped coconut burrs. It is then garnished with green chillies and coriander leaves.
Muri Ghonto – a signature dish
Muri Ghonto is one of the signature dishes of Bengali Cuisine and is quite popular during auspicious occasions like birthdays, annaprashan, marriage ceremonies, etc. Known to be originated from the land of rivers during the early days of ancient trade routes, the exotic side dish has two popular versions, one from Bangladesh and one from West Bengal.
It is a spicy fish head stew prepared with fragrant lentils like moong daal or rice like gobindobhog, kalijeera or basmati, and slowly braised in a melange of spices and aromatics.
Kochur Loti – robust flavours that are loved
This dish is quite popular among Bengalis who have originated from Bangladesh. ‘Kochur loti’ or Colocasia stem is the creeping horizontal stems of taro plants that are used as a vegetable and simply cooked with mustard paste, couscous paste, kasaundi or with plain onion seeds.
One can use some grated coconut to enhance the taste as well. And, if you prefer the non-veg version then you can cook it with shrimp and fish head for that more robust flavour.
Labra – a delicious delicacy
For those of who you think Bengali cuisine is dominated by non-vegetarian dishes, think again! Labra is a typical Bengali mixed vegetable dish (like Jain or Sattvic veg) where fresh seasonal vegetables from late autumn, are stewed together with ginger paste and Bengali five spices (paanch phoron).
Any typical Bengali Puja bhog is incomplete without this delicacy—from Durga Puja and Laxmi Puja to Saraswati Puja. This slobbering and comforting vegetable mishmash is best enjoyed with rice and even khichuri (khichdi).
Echo Er Kofta – umami flavours to be enjoyed
‘Echor’ or raw jackfruit is a great ingredient and substitute for meat that often gets ignored in mainstream cooking. Also known as vegetarian mutton (gach patha) in Bengali households, it can easily mislead others if cooked well with a generous dose of spices and onion.
Echo Er Kofta is a tasty preparation made using jackfruit balls that are deeply fried and then cooked in a nutty paste, cream and chillies. The umami flavours of the koftas are balanced by the sweetness of the cream and the heat of fresh garam masala and green chillies.
Chital Macher Muitha – a perfectly seasoned dish
It is a pure Bengali delicacy prepared with Chital fish (Indian knife fish). The word ‘muitha’ comes from the word ‘mutho’ which means fist in Bengali.
The fish is deboned and shaped into small balls using bare hands and then deep-fried like nuggets. The fish nuggets are then simmered in onion-tomato gravy along with dry spices. It is a spicy, flavoured and slobbering dish that goes perfectly with steaming rice and even basanti pulao too.
Sorshe Narkel Chingri – classic flavours
Sorshe Narkel Chingri is a classic Bengali dish that is ideally served with steaming hot rice. The preparation of the dish is quite different from the regular Chingri Bhapa even though the core ingredients are almost the same.
In this dish, giant river prawns (golda chingri) are cooked in a pungent yet sweet paste of mustard seeds, grated coconut, yoghurt and green chillies. There are no other spices apart from basic seasoning and tempering the mustard oil with nigella seeds to add that extra edge of Bengaliness.
Dhakai Porota – a century-old delicacy
Dhakai Porota is a century-old delicacy and was once one of the most famous Bengali old-school street food of the undivided state of Bengal. It is a tricky recipe that requires infinite patience and expert-level skills to ace the perfect flakiness.
Even though it is called porota, it hardly resembles one and is more like a luchi or poori, puffed up like a football with layers that will remind you of laccha paratha. It has multiple layers overlapping each other in such a way that it remains distinct and is not merged and then fried uniformly. It is best enjoyed with cholar dal or aloo dom.
The lesser-known traditional dishes of Bengal offer a culinary adventure that goes beyond popular favourites. These hidden gems showcase the depth and diversity of Bengal’s gastronomic heritage. Exploring these lesser-known delicacies opens up a world of new tastes and experiences.
So, go ahead and be the gastronomic adventurer – indulge in these delicious traditional dishes, and discover the true essence of Bengal’s culinary magic.
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