A taste of West Bengal, from curries to Kolkata street food

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveler (UK).

There is a Bengali expression “ami machh bhat Bangali” which means “I am a typical Bengali who eats fish and rice”. Located in the Ganges delta, Bengal, a historical region located between present-day Bangladesh and India, is ideal for growing rice. As for the “fish” element, fishing was a main activity here, and in the northeastern Indian state of West Bengal, fish is said to represent prosperity.

Various cultures have left their mark on the cuisine of Bengal. The Nawab and Mughal dynasties introduced marinated meat, as well as the use of saffron and ghee. These flavors have found their way into dishes such as biryani, korma and Kolkata’s famous street foods including kati rolls – flatbreads wrapped around various fillings and chutneys. They also introduced milk, cardamom and sugar in their desserts, and today West Bengal is known for its range of sweets.

Those arriving from Europe also brought their cuisines. The Christian community introduced the tea ritual, while baking became widespread after the arrival of the British, as did cutlets and pound cakes. From the 18th century onwards, West Bengal became home to large numbers of Marwaris (an ethnic group from Rajasthan) and Chinese; the former introduced a range of vegetarian dishes, while the latter spiced up Cantonese dishes with hot sauces and chili peppers, with chilli chicken and chow mein becoming state favorites.

Bengali cuisine is full of colors. During Durga Puja, the biggest festival of West Bengal, Goddess Durga is offered a bright yellow khichdi (a preparation made from rice and daal) accompanied by various vegetable curries prepared without onion or garlic. But whether it’s the contrasting shades of fruit and vegetable markets or the jars of yellow turmeric and pink rock salt lining home kitchens, you can expect vibrant hues all year round.

Three West Bengal Dishes to Try

1. Kati rolls
A fresh paratha flatbread fried on one side and filled with charred chicken and sliced ​​onions. It’s drizzled with tomato sauce, chili sauce and a squeeze of lime, rolled up and served hot.

2. Shorshe maach
White fish fried with turmeric and salt, then simmered in a paste of mustard seeds and chili peppers. Served with steamed white rice, it is a common dish in most homes and restaurants.

3. Pushka
Also known as panipuri, this beloved street snack is a thin, crispy puffed sphere filled with spicy potato and tangy tamarind water. A puchkawala prepares them fresh, one by one, and they must be eaten whole.

Published in the March 2024 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UNITED KINGDOM).

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