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Bengali Food [split from LA]

Thanks suvro that brought a lot of questions up for me, if you don't mind to helping answer--I don't mind responses from others also.

Is that the restaurants here? Or is Bengali food of East Bengal actually, " much more oily, and most gravies taste the same with the same muddy texture"? Especially their home cooking? How does it compare to restaurants in Calcutta and West Bengal? You mentioned home cooking. Is Bengal part of South India? I always thought there were a lot of cultural similarities between South Indians and Bengalis, but I didn't think Bengalis considered themselves apart of South India.

Thanks for the recc-ies . . . Happy belated Independence Day for India . . .

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  1. Hi apple7blue. I am happy to answer the question - even if a day late.

    Q. Is that the restaurants here?
    A. I suspect so - though I have never been to Bangladesh, so cannot compare with restaurants there serving food today. I have one more point of comparison - UK. My cousin who lives in Birmingham says that the food in the Bangladeshi restaurants there is also very oily. And my wife's nephew who lives in London also has similar sentiments, though he is not a Bengali. His wife is Bengali and so I trust their judgment about food in the Bangladeshi restaurants there.

    Q. Or is Bengali food of East Bengal actually "much more oily...."?
    A. The original population of East Bengal (now Bangladesh) consisted of Hindus and Muslims. During the birth of India and Pakistan in 1947, great migrations (and killings, sadly) happened and today Bangladesh is primarily Muslim with a much smaller Hindu population. The food now in Bangladeshi restaurants is primarily Muslim versions - so without first hand experience, I would not be able to say what it would be in homes in Bangladesh.

    Q. Especially their home cooking?
    A. See above

    Q. How does it compare to restaurants in Calcutta and West Bengal?
    A. Interestingly growing up, there were practically NO Bengali restaurants in Calcutta because Bengali food culture did not lend itself to eating out - most people went out for Chinese or Indian Mughlai food. Now there are many restaurants in Calcutta serving home style food - and the 2-3 times I have eaten, it has been quite close to the pure clean flavors of most home cooking - quite an impressive feat considering it takes a lot of effort to prepare even the simplest dishes. I will give a couple of standard menus below and links to a few restaurants in Calcutta - the menu will look quite unlike anything you will see in any Indian restaurant in North America, or even UK.

    Q. Is Bengal part of South India?
    A. No. It is eastern India. There are some similarities in food between Kerala and Bengal (primarily use of coconut in cuisine, fresh fish, etc.) but they are vastly different cuisines. Similarly Andhra cuisine (Hyderabad) is very spicy hot and different, while Tamil food (Madras/Chennai) is again very different. I don't have much experience with the fourth South Indian state Karnataka (Bangalore) cuisine - but I doubt it has much overlap with Bengali cuisine.

    A typical lunch menu would go something like this:
    rice - the main starch with all items (usually the parboiled thicker grain - not the Basmati)
    some fried item - either vegetable or fish - vegetable will be in some batter or like fish marinated in turmeric and salt only
    a leafy green - usually there would be several variants - spinach, mustard greens, and several other variants whose English versions I don't know (in Bengali - pui, kolmi, lal, danta, etc.)
    a dry vegetable preparation
    a wet vegetable preparation (both in case of festive occasions - but more likely one of these two on a daily basis)
    fish curry - there are probably 20 different types of fish consumed in equal (or almost equal) proportions - so each family would rotate the type of fish on a daily basis - each fish can also be cooked in multiple types of gravy preparations - so the variations are endless - most fish would not be fillets (except one called bhetki) - they would be bought whole, or cut into parts
    a lentil preparation (in some households this comes early - in ours it comes last)
    a chutney preparation - again lots of variations ranging from tomatoes to raw mango to raw papaya to pineapple to plum etc.
    on festive occasions this will be supplemented with sweet curd - known as mishti doi - and a sweet - again Bengal is well known for its sweet tooth and often each block in a city would have its local sweet shop selling at least 20 variants of sweets

    Bhojohori Manna - chain - great food - menu at http://www.bhojohorimanna.com/bhojoho...

    6 Ballygunje Place - even though this is a Calcutta restaurant chain, looks like their website points to the one location in Bangalore - the menu is at http://www.6bp.in/starter-maincourse....

    Oh Calcutta - this belongs to a branded group that also runs several other cuisine restaurants - see the brand website at http://www.speciality.co.in/aboutus.php - does not have menu unfortunately

    Aheli - this was the first Bengali cuisine restaurant to open in the Peerless Inn in Calcutta - they don't have the menu, but the Inn's website is at http://www.peerlesshotels.com/Kolkata...

    Hope this answers your questions. Probably more than you asked for! :-)

    4 Replies
    1. re: suvro

      The thing about forums is that you can answer a week later. It definitely not more than I asked for. Thanks for the great reply. I lived in London and Bangladeshi seemed to run the majority of the Indian restaurants. From what I hear, they do so in Japan also. They were mostly serving Mughlai food--all those that I been to were actually.

      1. re: suvro

        Greetings suvro, luckyfatima - where can I find authentic Bengali recipes from both sides of the border ?

        1. re: osho

          Hi Osho, I recommend these two books:

          http://www.amazon.com/Bengali-Cooking...

          and

          http://www.amazon.com/Rannaghor-Benga...

          The first contains recipes and food-culture info from both sides of the border.

          The second is purely a cookbook but contains simple and good recipes from West Bengal. It has recipes for all of the iconic dishes.

          1. re: osho

            There is a cooking show on one of the Calcutta TV channels - at the end of the video they give the recipes - you can watch many episodes and see what recipes you like. The show is called Ranna Ghar (Kitchen in Bengali) - http://www.mypopkorn.com/lifestyle/re...

            Another web source for many Bengali recipes is http://sutapa.com/

            If you want to buy books, then besides the one that luckyfatima mentions, I also like Meenakshi Dasgupta's book - see http://www.amazon.com/Bengal-Cookbook...

            Or search in Amazon for "Bengali cookbook"

        2. Some thoughts on Bengali foods:

          I don't know much about West Bengali food, but a few things distinguish it for me: mustard oil is one. From what I understand, mustard oil used to be more widely used in North India, but not so much any more, except with Bengalis who make all of their wet curries (jhol) with it. It has a very strong and distinct taste, and suppose you were to make a wet fish curry without it, it wouldn't really have that Bengali taste. The second thing that stands out to me is the use of pastes of mustard seed and white poppy seed (posto). You see whole mustard seeds in the rest of India, typical tempering seasoning, but in Bengal (and Bangladesh), you will find preparations of veg/fish actually cooked in fried ground mustard paste. White poppy seeds are used roasted and ground in small quantities very extensively in Pakistani and North Indian Muslim and Hyderabadi Muslim cuisine to give perfume and denseness to many kababs and curry gravies. However, in Bengal you find that a whole curry paste base may be 1/2 ground mustard and 1/2 ground white poppy seed, rather than the single teaspoon in the other Muslim cooking. I would bet a lot of money that unless a Bangladeshi resto has a special Bangladeshi menu (many do) there are none of these mustard seed or posto pastes in their faux-Mughlai tikkas and creamy curries. It is not Bengali food that they serve. Look out for some Bengali dishes common on this type of resto menu though: rizala, a rich wet "curry", and fried paabda maach or pomfret. I have never been to L.A. but I have seen this type of resto in Dallas, Queens, NY, and London, so I am guessing it would be the same formula.

          The Mughlai type food in those London restos and other Mughlai restos run by Bangladeshis in my opinion does not resemble the cuisine in Bangladesh. It is a restaurant genre of food not found in anyone's home and that style of food is the same whether the resto owner is Punjabi or Bangladeshi, all those tandoori dishes and chicken tikka masala and butter chicken and all...Bangladeshi cuisine has the Mughlai influence because the portion of India that became Bangladesh had the same Muslim influences as Southern Hyderabad and other parts of North India...note that Dehli Muslim food is not the same as Lahore, not the same as Lucknow, not the same as Hyderabad, because you have the Transoxianan Muslim influence but expressed differently with the local contraints of these diverse regions. Same with Bangladeshi food: So you have the haleem (though Bangladeshis eat their haleem with muri or puffed rice, which is unheard of in say, Lahore) and biriani, pullao, and fried onion, yoghurt and garam masala gravies. But you also have a lot of distinct indigenous dishes like the love of fish and more fish, especially ilish (hilsa) and all these shrimp curries and fish curries and also greens (kolmi or water spinach mentioned by shuvro comes to mind). To me this food tastes nothing like the rest of North Indian Muslim or Pakistani food and is distinctly Bangladeshi.

          Apparently there are huge cultural and culinary distinctions between West Bengalis (known as ghotis) and Bangladeshis (Bangalis) but to be honest I don't know enough about West Bengali cuisine to give details of salient differences. But I will say that the distinction is not strictly Hindu vs. Muslim because there are millions of Indian Muslims in Indian West Bengal who are culturally ghotis and proud Indians, and not Bangalis, and also there are Hindus who came from what is now Bangladesh who are Bangalis. Also, barring beef, Hindu Bengalis eat a lot of meat, of course fish but also mutton and chicken. I recall reading that Bengal is one one of the regions where even many Brahmins eat meat or at least fish (Kashmir is another such region). Someone told me before that a main ghoti vs. bangali contention is which people think ocean fish is superior to river fish.

          About the oily thing, Indian resto sort of faux-Mughlai Punjabi food is creamy...but authentic Pakistani/North Indian home food is not at all creamy but appears to be oily by American standards. You can actually see oil floating on it, especially in Muslim cooking. So perhaps if they are serving more traditional dishes, they will seem oily.

          4 Replies
          1. re: luckyfatima

            Not entirely correct. Yes - mustard oil was a salient feature of Bengali cooking (I am a Bangaal - not ghoti - my ancestors immigrated from erstwhile east Pakistan; but I have a lot of ghoti friends so I know about their cuisine also). But of late people have reduced their use of mustard oil (because of adulteration) as they have reduced their use of ghee for health reasons. So it is not uncommon to find gravies cooked in non-mustard oil. Mustard oil will still be used in special dishes such as "tel koi" and "begoon pora". But you can't say any more that mustard oil is one of the salient features of the Bengali cooking.

            The use of mustard seed and poppyseed paste is indeed as you say - much larger proportions than in other regional cuisines of India. But the vast majority of dishes do not use that. More likely in fish and meat preparations the sauce base is made of onion and ginger paste.

            The difference between river (actually more correctly freshwater) fish and sea fish is NOT the distinguishing feature of bangaals and ghotis. In general. very little sea fish is consumed in West Bengal. Most of the fish are caught in fresh water sources - rivers, ponds, lakes, even rice paddies. The main exceptions are pomfret and hilsa, though the latter is anadromous - spawns and dies in fresh water, but lives life in salt water - and is caught in rivers. Nutritionally, sea fish is better than river fish, but the most nutrition is from eating whole fish including the head - and in Bengal, unlike any other region, there is a large consumption of smaller variety of fish that are cooked and eaten whole - ranging from koi, pabda, bata, parshey, morola, magur, puti, topshey - the variety is practically endless.

            There are some other distinctions between ghoti and bangaals - the former use more sugar in their cooking - so many of the dishes will taste sweeter than customary to bangaals. The ghotis are also more likely to cook with posto, cook chochhoris, labras, etc.

            All of this is sadly getting lost - because today's generation is NOT learning cooking from their mothers and grandmothers, and also the subtle distinctions are getting lost.

            1. re: suvro

              Very interesting, thanks for the corrections and expansions. I must say that the few West Bengalis I know are still mustard oil fanatics and that is why I mentioned that. They are not living in India, though, so maybe that is why they retain that usage.

              Oh, hey, I also realized that panch phoron wasn't mentioned above. That's the prototypical Bengali seasoning, besided gorom mashla, since we are talking about Bengali food.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                I am too. Everytime I go to Kolkata, I bring 2 tetrapacks (the plastic packages) of mustard oil, because the ones we get here are not very good. Recently, I have run out of this - and have resorted to buying from the Bangladeshi store in LA because the Indian grocery stores do not carry good brands. But I use it sparingly - mainly for some fish dishes, sometimes raw on baigan bharta (begoon pora) and in some tuna tartares.

                Incidentally, mustard oil has some interesting chemistry. It has erucic acid, which is a low grade nervous system toxin. As a result, all mustard oil sold in US has to have the label "for external use only". I don't see that in the mustard oil I buy at the Bangladeshi grocery store - so I am not sure how they bring them in. The Australians tried growing a low erucic acid mustard variant, because mustard oil has good fats like olive oil, but it did not succeed. The Canola oil is from rapeseed, a variant of the mustard family, and that is why it is healthy. Because of the name rapeseed, the Canadians branded it as Canola. Finally, the pungency of the mustard oil is from a compound called allyl-isothiocyanate. That is what makes it so flavorful to those that grew up consuming it. Mustard oil has a low smoking point, so unfortunately not much heat capacity.

                1. re: suvro

                  Wow, really interesting info. Thanks. I know some people swear by the health properties as well as antiseptic properties of mustard oil, so maybe there is a lot more to that.

          2. With regard to restaurant food in the UK, the vast majority of "Indian" restaurants are owned by Bangladeshis (although there are more Pakistanis the further north you travel - representing a different pattern of immigration here). That said, the food in the vast majority of cases has little to do with any regional cuisine of the sub-continent and can be taken to be "restaurant creations". Of course, there are exceptions where individual chefs are trying to stand out from the crowd - but, the "stand outs" are more about refining a cuisine ("modern Indian", if you will), than trying to reach backwards towards something more like homely "authentic" food.

            1. I am off to Whitechapel Food Market in London on Saturday to talk to Bengali market traders and photograph fish which they import especially and various foods. Can't wait!

              10 Replies
              1. re: Foodlexi

                Will the piccies be on view anywhere?

                1. re: Harters

                  I had taken some pictures of the fish available in my father's neighborhood fish market in Calcutta in January 2009. These pictures with captions of the names can be viewed at http://picasaweb.google.com/suvro2006...

                    1. re: suvro

                      These are great pictures. Would you mind very much if I use them on my website http://www.whatamieating.com? It is a free on-line food dictionary. I have about 550 Bengali food terms, though I would love to increase thisl I have just been photographing Bengali fish in East London where there is a large Bengali community, but the fish were all frozen and so the pictures are rather dull - unlike the ones you have posted!

                      1. re: Foodlexi

                        Sure - you have my permission for using them.

                        1. re: suvro

                          @suvro - Many thanks indeed. How would you like me to acknowledge you under the images?

                    2. re: Harters

                      I have been working on identifying them...... The pictures are not great as they were all imports from Bangladesh and frozen. Adobe has been helpful in injection a little colour into them, but hey are not the same as the pictures by Suvro on this thread..

                      1. re: Foodlexi

                        Wonderful thread-Thanks to everyone for their detailed even scholarly contributions (!)

                        1. re: Sam Salmon

                          Best bengali food in toronto is swagata's kitchen. For menu just send them an email: swagataskitchen@gmail.com

                          1. re: Sam Salmon

                            Sorry for the belated response to this nice comment Sam Salmon. I have now updated the Bengali food list on http://www.whatamieating.com with a lot of help from wonderful Suvro. If you are interested in seeing any of the foods he sent me yet more pictures after a recent visit to Kolkata and has added the Bengali script to all my phonetic entries. The Bengali list is in pretty good shape now. It is used by a group of medical workers, nutritionists and so on at The London Hospital who are conducting a study of diet and disease in a Bengali population based in the East End of London and for whom they have had great difficulty working out what they are eating. They know now!!

                    3. http://ishitaunblogged.com/2012/10/15...

                      Someone posted this blog post in a Bangla language learning forum I participate in on Facebook. I thought I would share it since it is rich an deliciously detailed about West Bengali (mainly Kolkota) cuisine.

                      1. Hi apple7blue,

                        Late picking up your thread. If you feel inclined to study the history of Bengali foodways, as opposed to just the cooking, you can look at the discussions in GournetIndia.net, "Foodways of West Bengal", Cooking of the Rarh Gentry.

                        First, you have to imagine that Bangabhumi, east and west, is an enormous tract of very diverse land. Western Bengal occupies an area as large as the UK and Banladesh is as large as the state of Iowa or larger, 55K square miles. Western Bengal has more than 80 million people of diverse origins, and Bangladesh, >180 millions, also very racially diverse. Many soils, varied topography, many climates, and settlement patterns, history, conflicts, animosities and hierarchies, all have contributed to dietary differences, preferences and so much more.

                        The last 50 years have seen epochal changes. The landscape that supported a particular type of settlement pattern, a particular type of agriculture, and which produced a certain basket of goods/produce has been altered beyond recognition. Whole classes of vegetation and vegetables have become commercially unavailable. In Bangladesh, in my childhood, 166 types of freshwater fish were commonly sold in markets; these were pre-pesticides days. Molluscs were included. Today ONLY FOUR types of cultured FOREIGN FISH are to be found in DHAKA markets, in addition to sea fish, that are also being fished out of existence!

                        Tomatoes, once only a seasonal vegetable available for a few weeks a year in winter, and a sour aromatic delicacy given the name "sour eggplant", is today an indisensable vegetable in the Indian subcontinent. Onion and garlic, shunned in Vaishnav western Bengal, in ALL castes, today are alliums that make or break governments in a trice! There is so much to be written, that I should perhaps take this in parts, if you have the interests. Bangla is one of the most important language groups in the world and it is useful for people here to understand this vital segment of humanity other than as mere animals.

                        Please do not fall into the facile "ghoti", bangaal, trap. A. It is very insulting, to someone of my age and social extraction. You never use the terms kike, dago, etc, do you? So, NO such epithets please, it is used by street scum and people who are unschooled in proper behavior. Bengal is BANGABHUMI. NO ONE has a monopoly on the name Bangladesh, it belongs to all of Bengal. Western bengal is Rarhdesha and Gauda, eastern bengal is Purva Banga, and let us just leave it at that for a working definition. There is much more to Bengal, which belongs to many more ethnic groups than just the bengalis, and they too have their foods, their cuisines, and their own claims to this beautiful, troubled land.

                        Understand that so many of the foods I have grown up with are already extinct and cannot ever be revived. This Bhojohari Manna, and Anjan Chatterjee and Co. are somewhat debasing the whole concept of Rarhi cuisine. In such matters, the palates and standards of those old-school people like me, define the standards, sorry to say. I am sure Neogi and Anjan will not be able to gainsay our claims, because the last of us curmudgeons are not unknown. Our families, et.al., our identities, are all known, and there is a tight little group of kolkata rarhi brahmans, kayasthas and vaidyas that used to be the sum of the older society. Sad but true. There is a defined North Kolkata kayastha cuisine, there is a Nadia/south 24 Pargana brahman cuisine, there is a Vaishnava cuisine, there is a cuisine of the brahmana widows, there is a bengali Muslim cuisine of Metiabruz, of the 24 pargana, Hugli peasantry, of Murshidabad, of the Canning, Bashirhat, Nyazhat area, and so forth. It is only ignorance that allows Calcutta journalists with no education writing in Calcutta newspapers to spout forth on topics that they know nothing about.

                        India is seized by the parvenu, and the among the saddest denouement is the parading of idiocy and ignorance as sagacity and profound knowledge of her traditions, dressed up in shiny suits and absurd dresses that look like clown suits on monkeys.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: GTM

                          You should really write a book, GTM. I checked out your Rarh gentry thread.

                          Amar ekta proshno ache :D

                          What is the difference between kosha and bhunno?

                          1. re: luckyfatima

                            Namaste Fatimaji,

                            Being a pedantic bore, please let me fill you on the context which is all-important. I think you will have gathered a little from Chitrita Banerjee's book, and some from what was written in the Rarh threads. Both terms deal with goat meat, just to let the Chowhounds know we are speaking of a dryish preparation. We shall get to "bhunno" qua East Bengal Muslim later, which today means anything you choose, a gravied dish, but with scant gravy, and I shall explain the procedure.

                            Let us start with the Rarh gentry. Meat was eaten, IF at all, solely as the remnant of a sacrificial goat, which was very young, uncastrate, and therefore extremely tender. No difficulty in it becoming quite tender just being seethed in its own juices, a sort of braise, and there is not a "falling off the bone" preference in this particular case, but the need for a chewiness, not too much though.

                            The clerical classes were in close contact with the Muslim rulers and were the interface with the rest of the population, in fact. Therefore, these folk were tempted to imitate the foodways and other lifestyles of their bosses, much as similar administrative officials in the 19th and 20th centuries also brought in British and European influences into the BENGALI HOME.

                            However, these Kayasthas, not being brahmans, could get away with a little, but not too much wobble with their dietary experimentation. So, they went as far as onions, ground on a separate mortar, and on fried onions. Ginger was Kosher already! No garlic, though. Someday, I should offer you an insight into the orthodox brahman itchen, and especially the Vaishnava kitchen, including the Shrivaisnava rules. It fill you all with amazement, since these are strictly adhered to today by some of the most brilliant minds who today are controlling ALL the computer and mathematical advances that are driving the US and world economy. NO kidding here!! No Moringa drumsticks, no Lagenaria, no garam masala, no white eggplants! Much more.

                            Anyway, the early sacrificial meat was cooked very simply as sacred offering, bhog. Ginger paste, asafetida, fresh cassia leaf, turmeric and gur, salt, some mustard oils, coriander seed paste rubbed in, jeera and peppercorn tadka, and maybe cassia bark too. No chilies etc. Very delicious. NO chilies or foreign veggies in food. I am cooking my food today, and no "foreign" masala or chilies there either!

                            Cumin seed & black peppercorn, asafetida, cassia leaf, 1 cassia bark tadka, parboiled rice in, turmeric, then parboiled whole green mung beans, salt, sugar, add raw eggplant when appropriate, cook to tenderness. Ready. Eat with kefir. That is real brahman cooking, appropriate for bhog offering with a tulsi leaf on top. Just to let people know what real home cooking might look like. See the same patterns?

                            Now, the clerks wanted something better! The young goat was macerated with finely ground ginger paste, a thickener of gravy and a tenderizer.Add a tiny amount of coriander seed paste. Pastes definitely do make a difference and I am giving you the originals, so that you can change to your convenience. Turmeric paste, quite a bit, as flavoring too!!! Red pepper paste. Small amount of fresh plum tomato chopped or yoghurt, and small amount red onion small dice, very minute bit salt now, and brown sugar or cane gur, quite a bit [Rarhi food is sweet and your Miansahib will faint!!]. MUSTARD oil, big, big splashes, a major flavoring agent! Vigorously mix and set aside for an hour while you do the following:

                            Quarter of halve Yukon Gold type potatoes and lightly pan fry and set aside. Prepare Bengali garam masala which is green cardamom, lightly crushed, cassia bark, clove; also a cassia leaf which are tasteless here but a major flavoring there. Sliced onions for our infamous bereshta! Garlic cloves coarsely chopped. Sugar!

                            When the onions are almost golden, and not too much onion in quantity compared to Mughlai food, say 1 cup bereshta for 1-11/2 g meat from neck, putt, shoulder, shanks, bongs, esophagus, tongue and all the odd bits that scare the daylights out of people that will not accept that beings do not arrive in boneless cubes from their mother's wombs! No raan please, what a waste when you boil it! Your husband will have a hearty laugh when you show him the bit about the esophagus, and gurda, and other unmentionables.

                            When the onions are turning color,you can quickly caramelize a bit of sugar on the side of the pan. An extra touch. Add the garlic to stop the caramelization and very lightly brown.

                            No garlic paste because no garlic allowed to be ground on any mortar! So this is a cultural artefact dictating cooking technique!

                            Push garlic up and fry the garam masala; you can add pinch of cumin seed if you want to vary flavors. Be very careful that garlic remains very light brown, it should not darken and impart a bitter flavor.

                            Drop in the meat and marinade, and cover. Water will release and should be enough to half cook the meat. How to control the level of heat will depend on what your goat is, breed, age etc.!! Also, what your vessel is! Handi is excellent, Romertop even better for the sondhi aroma. You can take out the "watery mess" and finish carefully on a heavy Allclad or copper clad type pot or sauteuse. The next day is even better as flavors will meld but not really necessary. You can add potatoes or not, really not useful.

                            Then begins the process of carefully drying up the protein and sugar rich liquid. It will keep caramelizing at the base of the pan and you allow a skin to form, smell for the correct aroma developing, the raw gingery smell gone, and the browing meat aroma developing but not too strongly. You need to balance your experience and control the heat, the quality of the pan and your general awareness at this time.

                            Gently mix that caramelizing layer in with the liquid, and keep repeating. Do not break up the meat. This is why boneless thigh is bad. It turns dry and powdery. Seena is good, neck is good. Bony fatty pieces with gristle take to this process with delight. Cartilage is a delight to eat with chapatis, and odd bits add textural interest, too, do they not? Imagine biting into the tail, and wondering, Hmm, what could that be? Then, imagine you have invited a very beautiful, polite young American lady, of the ingenue persuasion to try a Bengali meal, and she has just experienced this tail. Imagine her cascade of emotions, from shock, horror, joy, titillation [she cannot identify and has guessed wrong!] she cannot run from the table and continues to eat politely while her face turns from red to ashen to red again. Smile evilly at your spouse. All your hard work has been amply rewarded! God is delighted as well. Suitable entertainment for the Almighty!

                            OK, back to nice: you need to judge not to overcook and to leave a coating of gravy. The Bangali jhol takes off from a lesser degree of caramelization and just adds boiling water, cup by cup and builds up a light salaan, very thin. Aloo is present there.

                            Here you just stop at the right point, when the garam masalas begin to smell aromatic and fried. You may have wanted to add a little desi ghee to help with sticking, but not too much as you want the mustard oil, ginger and gur flavors to retain their faint yet distinctive identities. No oniony salads with this one, or suit your tastes. Luchis, jasmine rice or fresh thin chapatis are all good.

                            Here is the real difference between KOSHA and BHUNNA.

                            Bhunna in the East Bengal mode kosha-s the masala paste with repeated additions of water. This is something Kashmiri Muslims do as well, and is a characteristic of the Muslim cooking. You will find a very interesting distinction: in true Rarhi fish jhol, the black masala is left almost raw and NEVER subjected to the bhunna type repeated kosha, and the almost-raw flavor is a hallmark, and to get it right is an art. Also, the Hindu cooking eschews in general the kosha of the masalas, and you have seen the adoption of the caramelization technique which a pure borrowing from a particular strand of Islamic cookery. I have emphasized earlier that the Afghans, who arrived the earliest, followed closely by the Turks, who were closely related to the Mughals, firmly eschewed this spicy rich cooking style and their influence also shows up in Hindu Bengali home cookery, modified in characteristically interesting ways, just as "English" cooking has been bowdlerized beyond recognition! I want to show you a fanstastic Scotch eggs made to the Bengali ayastha taste, and now chop house fare. My foster mother was strictly orthodox and would never eat a morsel of what she cooked. I used to eat all this stuff when young but now have become like her, enjoying cooking for others, but unable to touch most restaurant food, or much of this stuff. We become our mothers eventually! Sad, but so true. I copy her styles precisely, though! Been doing it since age 2!

                            I will add another post later for bhunna with a youtube clip. Kosha does not have too many pasted masala of the cumin coriander type, and you are trying to dry up the juices so that they caramelize with the sugars and smell toasty: a wonderful Maillard that brings out the range of complex Maillard flavors and glazes the meat. If you had some good fat on the meat, you need the fat to remain a bit toothsome so that your teeth enters the membrane surrounding the fat and sort of "crunches" the fat. Ask your husband. It should NOT become custardy in this preparation or it loses its reason for being. Texture manipulation is very important in our cooking. We choose cuts of meat carefully, and use gristle and sinew to good effect. There are "Indian" cookbook authors, very rich and famous, who have no idea of meat cookery. Ask your husband again how carefully animals are fed, exercised, the types of diet, the weight at slaughter, the hours hung, how nives are sharpened, how musulature is understood. I get very upset at the supercilious nature of some chefs who seem to think that none but they understand anything about cookery and good food and only Japanese chefs or this and that can create mystique. We have not even begun to plumb the finer points of meat cookery and sadly one has to have the palates to appreciate what good food is. I dont drink wine, so a 1 penny wine or a million dollar bottle is the same to me. People are strange about Rasika etc. because they have no idea about precise meat cookery. When absolute knaves like Sanghvi become "authorities" on food, I know India is sunk. There a couple of excellent Pakistani TV cooks, 2 or 3 ladies and one Pathan, who are very good. How good technique-wise I can't say, but seem to be good. We should have them here for an extended tour. We shall get to bhunna in a bit if you are not yet sacred off!

                            A restaurant style kosha; I shall translate if you need:

                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDpoS...

                            Moving the onions wounds the epidermis, cells and releases the cell sap, speeds the Maillard, speeds bereshta!!!!!! You see Fatimaji?

                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a07Qx...

                            Another West Bengal Kosha, a late [note this history, since ground garlic is by now OK!] Hindu dish, but broadcast from Dhaka by a great East Bengali cook, Alpana Habib.

                            1. re: GTM

                              I will print this out and try one of your meat preparation descriptions. Onek dhonnobaad. Red pepper paste here means ground rehydrated dried red chiles? Or ground fresh red chiles? The man in the linked video also used red pepper paste.

                              I have one halal butcher in the area who knows his meat well and I will ask him for a good mix of goat. The others just kind of hack at things and don't have any training, I do know what you mean. I can't discern what kind of goat it is, only that it is mild with no "heek" or unpleasant goat smell that mutton bears in some other locales.

                              An aside, I noticed the man in the video kept saying degchi as dechgi...

                              1. re: luckyfatima

                                Fatimaji,

                                Red pepper paste: if you have good whole pepper like Korean, dry CA, or anything nice and aromatic than hot, or whatever heat you prefer, simply deseed, devein, remove stalk and either steep in boiling water for some hours or just boil for a while. Depending on the variety and other factors, you will get fat, hydrated peppers that you can grind in quantity and freeze. easier on the blender, too, up to a certain point. You can use the water, if it tastes ok. You now have Mexican base, chilaquile base, a sort-of balti base to be made, and fun things to be prepared from this paste including South Indian foods. So, a bit of work here is not just for the meat.

                                Your Halal butcher, if from Pakistan, will understand gardan, seena, bong, durust [shoulder], chaamp with and w/o bone [how they cut ribs, and putt [ back loin]. Your goat will be a Boer mix, about 60-80 lb liveweight, 30-40 lb dressed, which the Pakistani will call a "dawat weight". Home weight for them is 13-14 kg. If he is Middle Eastern, he still will have a Bangladeshi assistant to help him out with his South Asian customers. That young man will usually be a very sweet guy, much more helpful than anyone else. Generally, we try to avoid the Spanish type of goats from the south and go for the farm-raised ones.

                                That TV anchor is a low class twit, an abomination. Dechgi gives away his bacground but his demeanour is very offensive if you can read Bangali body language, tone and manner of speaking. Be-aadabi is a bad word in Urdu, and you will find him consistently using "tum" to master chefs, something low-class Bangalis try to do with people they think below their "class" or the "servant class". They are climbers, and understand that they are utterly loathed and proscribed from certain circles, and this is a life sentence. It has nothing to do with birth but character.W e have the mass criminalization of life in India, and you can see it in the face and cockiness of worthless, uneducated creatures like these.

                                The Bangala language has an interesting distinction between illiterate, nirokkhor, and uneducated, ashikkhito.

                                The former is extremely benign and gentle in tone, carrying tones of pathos and pathos. It implies a soul who merely happens to be unlettered owing to poverty. The meaning is very clear. Fate has been unkind. It prays to the listener to offer a thought, a prayer for the person in question and not leave without such a benediction. Bangala is exquisitely nuance.

                                The next word, ashikkhito, is as harsh and plangent with condemnation as the former breathes benediction. It says, here is a person who is aware of what a human being should KNOW but deliberately flouts them for his own selfish ends. He violates RTA, the natural order of things and deserves to be cursed because he violates dharma.

                                This man is is ashikkhito. he continually humiliates those who are senior to him, not just in age, but also in talent, and in hard work. He thinks that because they are "cooks" and he supposedly a white collar guy, he can "tum" them and they are supposed to "aap" him.

                                Incidentally, those who are seriously khandani, never use "tum" even with their children or with their spouses, let alone anyone else. Perhaps in the conjugal chamber, but nowhere else, that I can attest. But Fatimaji, you might chance to read a play by Rabindranath titled Jalshaghar. You are seeing the last of a generation or of a culture. When we are gone, an entire class of food, foodways, recipes, knowledge, etc. will just vanish. And that is just a matter of 2 or 3 years more, if that.

                                1. re: GTM

                                  Fascinating info on ashikkhito versus nirokkhor.

                                  I can understand these videos, at least the recipe parts, I get lost in the chit chat with Alpana Habib, although I enjoy watching anyway. She has a very clear accent. I speak/understand some Bangla but I am very far from the point of enjoying Tagore in the original form.

                                  I am going to try your recipe this weekend. We do get fresh turmeric and the international hypermarket. I have seen it used in pickles or taken for health benefits, but it never occurred to me to just grind it and use it in cooking as one would dried turmeric, so I am excited to try that out. Fresh ground turmeric is what you meant by turmeric paste? Or did you just mean to mix dry holud with water like Alpana did with the shukno morich, so as to prevent a burned effect? Is that part of the 'lighter' bhunno as opposed to adding dry moshla which would yield a more roasted effect?

                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                    Dear Fatimaji,

                                    For real stone-ground taste, the hard rhizome is soaked in water and pisaoed on the sil-batta or on a stone wetgrinding machine. The next best would be to make a thick slurry with turmeric powder, but if you just put turmeric powder on the washed meat, with chopped tomato, onion, coriander powder, etc. the water in the meat, along with the ginger paste [please make fresh] will be sufficient to blend all these dry spices into the meat as you mix with your hand. This vigorous mixing is very much a part, as it wounds the fibers of the flesh and makes the meat somehow more tasty. You add quite a dollop or more of the mustard oil and mix again. You will smell the fragrane arising and feel the texture under your hands, just as there is change in chapati dough. Of course, the change will be far far less extreme than in the latter! In Bengal, unlike the Malays, we hardly employ fresh turmeric which has a very assertive flavor of its own. When you are comfortable with the taste of this kosha mangsho, do use fresh turmeric and see what changes occur and whether they are to your liking. Use that as a second experiment, when you have this technique under your belt.

                                    Bajia's orma is a great place to try the raw turmeric rhizome. She is a sweetie, in every possible respect, inside and out. She is the greatest!!

                                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJZH7...
                                    English Version : lacks the "khuleh haath se tel dalein"!! Little daughter doesn't know the kickers yet, or does, and keeps mum!

                                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnaQI...

                                    the charming Bajia who otherwise would drive me nuts with her kitchen IS the ideal brahman wife with her cleanliness and caring!!!!!! Watch the oil and her lovely voice and nonchalant remark, khulen haath se dalein!!

                                    1. re: GTM

                                      Oh yes! Where is my mind? How could I have forgotten about dried whole turmeric which is pounded into powder! I will make do with the store bought powder I have, in that case.

                                      I do like Bajia and have made this qormah recipe before, and it came out well. She says in the video "safai nisf imaan hai," (cleanliness is half of faith) which is a sunnat of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Indeed she has a very tidy kitchen.

                                      1. re: GTM

                                        So I made kosha mangsho today using a sort of amalgamation of all of your recommendations, particularly from the the kayasth style recipe, and with inspiration from Alpana Habib.

                                        I marinated the bone-in goat botees in a paste of ground ginger, turmeric, a few soaked rehydrated dried red chiles, and some coriander seeds. In mustard oil fried some onion until just turning golden, and sprinkled powdered gur on that just as it started to turned color/after the moisture from the onions was gone. As I had used a khule-haath quantity of oil, there was no need to fry the gur separately and I could tell it got caramelized. The gur immediately made the onion color change, though. I suspect that I real Bengali would use a bit more sugar, but as you said above, my husband would not appreciate that and say it was too sweet.

                                        When the onions were still light but golden, I added in some garlic and the whole garam masalas (tezpatta, cassia, elaichi, and laung), and when the garlic appeared to be colored, I added some chopped tomato and stirred that for a moment. Then in when they meat-marinade, which I stirred continuously until all of the onions were broken down and everything had become a golden paste. I then added some water, a little at a time, as you instructed, and then covered the pot and let the meat cook for some time. While the meat was cooking, I peeled some potatoes and added potato wedges in the pot so that their cooking time would end exactly when the meat finished. The kids like potatoes, so I had to include them. I know you recommended frying the potatoes, but I just added them that way.

                                        The kosha gravy was very delicious. Aside from the mustard oil and pinch of gur, all of the rest of the ingredients are those which I use regularly. But somehow the pale golden onions (as opposed to brown-red, or 'just going golden' which are two color indicators I reach before adding wet ingredients), plus the sprinkle of gur, and marinated meat with ginger/turmeric/chile (as opposed to fried ginger, and adding powdered spices directly to oil) yielded a very different gravy than the saalans I usually make. I also usually add the dried whole garam masala to the oil before I add onions, but adding with the garlic was a difference.

                                        It's hard to say that I achieved exactly what you had in mind, but it was a hit with the family and I liked it as well!

                                        Thanks for taking the time to share. It's much appreciated.

                                        1. re: luckyfatima

                                          Behnji,

                                          God bless your hard work and Allah ka shukr it was enjoyed by your family. Nothing to do with me at all.

                                          Now I might have miscommunicated a bit: the initial marinate is seen as crucial, where all the chopped onion tomato, mustard oil, gur, ginger paste, bit of salt, turmeric, chili powder, are all added , and macerated together with the meat. This starts off the unique Bangali flavor, which is very mild and quite typical and distinguishes it a bit from any north Indian . What happens as you will notice is that the ginger is never fried and with the "maakhano" technique of rubbing everything well into the goat meat, elements of the raw ginger and rawish mustard oil taste persist although in faint, slightly mutated form.

                                          As you will now from North Indian cooing, they start with FRYING ginger garlic paste every single time. This is not liked by us. Do you see another friend from the Northern Muslim repertoire but in a form adapted to the Kayastha household? The great zamindars used to have both Muslim bawarchis and excellent European, Maung or Goan chefs, preparing what was called "khana", sumptuous feasts,e very night to entertain the British officials. These were like the 5-star hotel banquets used today to bribe government officials and meant for exactly the same purposes in the days when such facilities were rare. Each zamindar household in Calcutta tried to outdo the other, the great houses of Pathuriaghata, Shyampukur, Fariapukur etc. in North Calcutta were the cynosure of all eyes. They were among the earliest from whom the British had purchased the land for the Fort William, and had included the family of the man who became the soul of the Hare Krishna movement, the Duttas of Hatkhola. Obviously, these families profited enormously by their sagacious alliance! I do wish you could have seen the insides of these fairlylands, even today in a state of utter decay: astonishing Chinese porcelain, carelessly being broken by sweepers and so much that is heartbreaking. But such is the nature of impermanence.

                                          Back to the garlic: the great party or dawat traditions of Muslim cooks would include in their mise, fried onions, fried garlic paste, along with other things. The browned garlic you see is the substitute of the fried garlic paste.

                                          So next time, if you will make this, you can leave out the gur in the marinade, but mash together all the other things, including the raw tomato and onions. That will allows a pool of liquid to collect in the meat and the ginger and other things to work their magic. A true maceration begins, and the whole mess goes into the handi, This is cooked without frying with the bereshta part, the garlic, garam masala and caramel, until the proteinaceous liquid begins to form. I beleieve the fairly long slow cooing allows a complex Maillard reaction to occur. There are several long dissertations on the Maillard reaction suggesting that a LOWER temperature intially allowing the development of the aldehydydes, and the other fractions is important. They suggest that is why adding water to sugar and then caramelizing slowly gives a wider range of flavors. The same is happening here. The sugar + salt is pulling meat juices out in the slow cooing, the raw onions are becoming a soft paste, the bereshta is melting down, and then in the final analysis we are making the Maillard layers appear carefully on the bottom of the pan, and gently incorporating them into the body of the meat, repeatedly.

                                          Now, one more suggestion, if you please. Hold the khuleh haath oil in the beginning: allow the meat to release fat, and not too much oil. In Bengali meat jhols, the beauty is how light they are, and this is THE BASE for a meat jhol/salaan, but is being carried to a deeper bhuna. So when we are going to that level, and the smell becomes really toasty, to prevent sticking as the sticky meat juices create stickiness, it is far better to star adding ghee. Ghee is a tasty addition, and so much healthier than oil, silly nutritionists be ........ When ghee is not cooed to death, it is health-giving and adds inimitable taste to the dish. You might add a pinch of roasted cumin powder to the dish at the end, but not necessary. As you know, working with any recipe a number of times to make it your own is the way to go! Happy eating. And you have to have the good bones from front shank, shoulder, ribs, and neck for this one. Throw in some kidneys and you are good to go.

                                          1. re: GTM

                                            Ok, ami abaar try korbo!

                                            I am familiar with the background of kayasths and their relationship with the Muslim elite. I think I might have a UP cookbook which features some kayasth recipes, actually.

                                            1. re: luckyfatima

                                              The UP Kayasths, e.g. Mathurs, especially those near Delhi, have a VERY elaborate cuisine based upon the Mughal court and modified according to their own set of circumstances. Bengal Kayasthas developed their cooking completely independent of the north Indian Kayasthas with whom they had no social, cultural, linguistic, or marital contacts worthy of note.

                                              The Bengal Kayasthas are as interesting a group being of diffuse identity and incorporating a huge slab of Bengalis in their midst, except for the uppermost Kulin and Maulika branches of east and west Bengal. Same with the Bengali Brahmans and Vaidyas. Each of these have cuisines that have yet to be fully explored, let alone recorded. This mass of homogenization of the past 30 years is sweeping everything away. The modern generation has neither time nor opportunity to learn the old ways, and the landscape of food plants is being completely changed for good.

                                              The food plants and seasonality that I have experienced growing up, and the space required in rural kitchens to prepare the food is gone for ever. This winter, I sent an intern to Nadia district to research the sugar date palm. We were unable to locate th types of cane jaggery that were our staple food in the early 60s. We spoke to old seedsmen and they confirmed several of our most common vegetables were extinct, no seed being found anywhere. Our most treasured bananas were not to be found, being repalced by tissue cultured plants of the Dwarf Cavendish type, once the most expensive, "foreign" variety on the market.

                                              Interestingly, our native varietals of North and South India, for melon, radish, eggplant, tomato and many vegetable crops, exist in their "pure " forms ONLY in the USDA Germplasm banks thanks to seed collecting missions through 1938-49. These have been regularly regrown, but some have been contaminated, especially the melons. Otherwise, we have no other place to go to to recover Indian varietals.

                                              To give just one example, a common saying in Bangala, for "the same old same old" is " the same banana flower stalk, dal vadis, and Moringa greens, and Moringa greens, dal vadis, and banana flower stalk" implying repetiveness. Therefore, these are symbols of such everyday dietary items as to "bore people to death", right? Well, guess what? Today, these things are very rare in the lives of most urbanites! I asked some Dhaka friends and they had rarely tasted such, which used to our staff of life growing up in rural West Bengal! And they are the same age as me. The next generation, rural or urban, east or west Bengal, will find these foods exceedingly alien and bizarre!

                                              1. re: GTM

                                                My MIL has told me more about the Kayasths of Awadh because that is a community she grew up with.

                                                Who is responsible for the disappearance of agricultural diversity? I have (very superficially) followed Vandana Shiva and the campaigns against GM foods and the death of biodiversity in India. Are the phenomena you speak of connected to that issue?

                                                Just last night I attended a Chowhound dinner at a Nepalese-Indian restaurant. The menu had a small Nepalese selection and a large generic 'Punjabi hotel' selection. One of the diners at our table was inquiring and the owner insisted that ALL of the foods on the menu were Nepali. My co-diner asked which ones were specifically Nepali and the owner said "Butter chicken, tandoori chicken, all are eaten in Nepal." I just sat quietly. I have no doubt that butter chicken and tandoori chicken have become popular in Nepal with some people, especially in major tourist centers like Kathmandu and Pokhara. I suppose one could say they have become Nepali in the sense that this pan-Indian food based on 'Punjabi hotel' cuisine is found in metropolitan areas in PK, BD, widely across India, and even in Nepal (and perhaps Bhutan!?!) and made by local people so it belongs there even though it is very modern and not indigenous. But I do agree that this culinary shift makes traditional food suffer since it can supplant it.

                                                "To give just one example, a common saying in Bangala, for "the same old same old" is " the same banana flower stalk, dal vadis, and Moringa greens, and Moringa greens, dal vadis, and banana flower stalk" implying repetiveness. " eTa kaemon bola hobe? How would one say that phrase?