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Bangladeshi cuisine (Bengali: বাংলাদেশের রান্না) is the complex and diverse national cuisine of Bangladesh and a part of South Asian cuisine. It is dominated by the traditional cuisine of the historical and cultural region of Bengal, which has been shaped by the area's riverine geography and cosmopolitan history. The country's culinary influences reflect historic trade links with North India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia; as well as its heritage of European rule.
Rice is the main staple of Bangladesh and is served with a wide range of curries. Sublime Bangladeshi dishes exhibit strong aromatic flavours; and often include eggs, potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines. A variety of spices and herbs, along with mustard oil and ghee, are used in Bangladeshi cooking. The main breads are naan, paratha and roti. Dal is the second most important staple after rice.
Freshwater fish is a distinctive feature of the country's cuisine. Indeed, as the saying goes- fish and rice make a Bangladeshi. Major fishes include the ilish (hilsa), pabda (butterfish), rui (rohu), pangash (pangas catfish), chitol (clown knifefish), magur (walking catfish), bhetki (barramundi) and tilapia. Meat consumption includes beef, mutton, venison, chicken, duck, squab and koel. Vegetable dishes- mashed (bhurta), boiled (sabji) and leaf-based (saag) are widely served. Lobsters and shrimps are often prevalent.
Gourmet pulao is served during feasts and festivals. Different types of Bengali biryani include the Kachi (mutton), Tehari (beef), Ilish Pulao (hilsa) and Murg Pulao (chicken). Kebabs include sheekh, reshmi, shashlik, tikka and shami varieties.
The country is home to a huge array of Bengali desserts and confectionery, ranging from pan-fried or steamed rice cakes (pitha) to halwa and sweets made from fruits and sweetened cheese. Black tea is widely consumed as the national beverage and offered to guests as a gesture of welcome. Popular snacks include samosas and rolls. The phuchka is a major street food. The Bakarkhani of Old Dhaka is a legacy of Mughal imperial cuisine.
The 2,500-year old civilization in the Ganges delta was highly developed in agriculture. Ancient Bengali diets included honey, dairy and vegetables. Eastern Bengal historically influenced the development of cuisine in the eastern Indian subcontinent. The region was an administrative and commercial bastion in South Asia during early Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms; Muslim sultanates and the Mughal Empire. The British Empire ruled the region for nearly two hundred years between the 18th and 20th centuries, during which the Bengal Renaissance shaped the emergence of modern Bengali cuisine. The Partition of Bengal in 1947 resulted in the separation in West Bengal from the Muslim-majority East, causing many shifts in demographics and culinary styles. Today, as opposed to the largely vegetarian cuisine in West Bengal, there is a greater emphasis on meat in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi cuisine incorporates a large number of cosmopolitan influences, a legacy of the region's historic trade links with Arabia, Persia, Portugal, Britain and Burma. Mughlai cuisine developed in Bengal after the establishment of the province of Mughal Bengal in 1576. The British introduced tea in Chittagong and Sylhet. The Portuguese in Dhaka developed cheese.
Islamic dietary laws are prevalent across Bangladesh. Halal foods are food items that Muslims are allowed to eat and drink under Islamic dietary guidelines. The criteria specifies both what foods are allowed, and how the food must be prepared. The foods addressed are mostly types of meat allowed in Islam.
Bengali Keta (Bengali Culture of Eating)
Bangladeshi people follow certain rules and regulations while eating. It includes hospitality and way of serving as well. This is known as Bengali Keta. The culture also defines the way to invite people in weddings and for the dinner as well. The gifts are given on different occasions. The Bengali Keta includes the way of serving the utensils in a proper manner.
In Bangladeshi cuisine, some foods are popular across the entire region, while others are specific to a particular area.
Western Region: Mainly known as Khulna and Jessore areas; and very close to the West Bengal of India (the second highest region of Bengalis in the world). The cuisine of these areas are known as authentic Bengali recipes. Mug dal with hilsha fish head, dalna, chachari, luchi-payesh, hilsha with mustard etc. are very popular in both the part of Bengal.
Northern Region: The Northern part of Bangladesh has a strong influences of Eastern Indian states mainly Assam & Manipur. The main characteristic of this foods is they are mainly sweet and lots of uses of banana throats, raw papaya fruit, raw mango, urad lentils & grilled or smoked vegetables.
Central Region: Capital Dhaka city & its territory region are the central region, where fresh water fishes are much more popular & due to different ruling period the cuisines of this region is versatile. Old Dhaka area is famous for the Nawab Awadhi cuisine. In the Old Dhaka different types of kebabs, nans, bakhar-khani, kachchi & pakki biriyani, haleem, mutton bhuni kichuri & specially mentioned mutton tehari are popular across the country.
Eastern Region: Sylheti’s people are mainly rice and fish eaters and their choice and method of cooking is distinctly different to non-Sylheti’s. Traditional dishes will include sour dishes such as tengha (or tok) cooked with vegetables such as Amra, Defal, Olives (Belfoi), Dewwaa, Amshi, Mango Choti (Aam Choti), Kul (Boroi), Hatkhora (or Shatkora), Ada Zamir (Ada Lembu), and any other sour lemon-like tasty vegetable. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the 360 disciples mentioned earlier, not only brought with them their distinct cultures but also brought distinct cooking styles of their own. These included many types of meat dishes including chicken.
Southern Region: The Southern region of Bangladesh also includes the tribal areas who have their different style of cooking methods & ideas. Other than that the most southern part of this region is mainly influenced by the Arakan cuisine. Dry fish (shutki), bamboo shoots, sea fishes, and many more are the specialty of this region. They also use lots of spicy flavors & coconuts in their food preparations.
- Riverine Areas: Bengali's main staple food sweet water fishes comes from this riverine region. Every rivers of Bangladesh are fulfilled with thousands of types of fishes. Hilsa, Ilish, Rui, Katol, Koi, Papda, Boal, Citol, Magur, Sing, Mola, Dhlea etc. are favorites to all. Bangladesh's "Padma's Hilsa" is famous all over the world.
- The staples of Bangladeshi cuisine are rice, which is common component of most everyday meals and, to a lesser extent, "ruti" (an unleavened whole wheat bread).
- Lentils/Pulses (legumes) of at least five dozen varieties; the most important of which are Bengal gram (chhola), pigeon peas (oror or red gram), black gram (biuli), and green gram (mung bean). Pulses are used almost exclusively in the form of 'dal', except 'chhola', which is often cooked whole for breakfast and is processed into flour (beshon).
- As a tropical country wide varieties of green vegetables & fruits are available in Bangladesh. A host of gourds, roots and tubers, leafy greens, succulent stalks, citrons and limes, green and purple eggplants, red onions, plantains, broad beans, okra, banana tree stems and flowers, lotus roots, green jackfruit, red pumpkins, and mushrooms are to be found in the vegetable markets or kacha/sabji bazaar.
- Local & hybrid chicken, beef & mutton dishes are favorites across Bangladesh, as well as bird dishes such as group duck & pigeons.
Rajshahi & Northern Part: Rajshahi mangoes are considered to be the best in the country. Sweet dishes are also popular. The Northern parts of the country is also renowned for growing Pineapple, Guava, Watermelon, white or sweet melon, green bell apple, wood apple (kotbel), tropic grape, jujube (kul/boroi), pear, litchi, carambola (kamranga) etc.
Chittagong and southern region: Ziafat or Mezban feasts are popular throughout the area where characteristic "heavy" dishes—dishes rich in animal fat and dairy—are featured. Saltwater fish and seafood are quite prevalent in these areas.Shutki (dried fish) are more available here than in other parts of the country. Bangladesh's Southern region is also popular world wide for its fisheries industries with over 100 types of fishes export every day from this region.
Barisal and Khulna: Piper chaba is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae. It is called "Chui Jhal" in Bangladesh. Chui Jhal is originally the twig of a Piper chaba. It is a very expensive spice in Bangladesh, has great medicinal value, and tastes somewhat like horseradish. People in Khulna, Bagerhat, and Shatkhira cut down the stem, roots, peel the skin and cut it into small pieces and cook them with meat and fishes, especially with mutton. They love the spicy pungent flavor of spice all year round. A wide range of sweet water fishes are available in this region which are highly famous all over the country.
Cooking medium and spices
Mustard oil and vegetable oil are the primary cooking mediums in Bangladeshi cuisine, although sunflower oil is also used. However, depending on type of food, clarified butter (ghee) is often used for its aromatic flavors.
Bangladeshi food varies between very 'sweet' and mild to extremely spicy. It resembles food in other parts of Asia. There are also slight similarities with South East Asian and North East Indian food customs. The most common condiments, herbs and spices in Bangladeshi cuisine are garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, ghee, coriander, cumin, dry bay leaves, chili pepper, and chili powder.
The pãch poron is a general purpose spice mixture composed of fenugreek seed, nigella seed, cumin seed, and black mustard seed. This mixture is more convenient for vegetarian dishes and fish preparations.
The use of spices for both meat and vegetable dishes is quite extensive and includes many combinations. The combination of whole spices, fried and added at the start or finish of cooking as a flavouring is special to each dish. Whole black mustard seeds and freshly ground mustard paste are also a typical combination. A pungent mustard sauce called kashundi is sauce in snacks or, sometimes makes a base ingredients for fish dishes and vegetable dishes popular in Bangladesh.
Common Bangladeshi recipe styles
The following are a list of characteristic Bangladeshi recipe styles. You can note the influence in the food here. Each entry here is actually a class of recipes, producing different dishes depending on the choice of ingredients. There are different tastes to which the Bangladeshi palate cater to. These include:
- Achar: Assortments of pickled fruit, vegetables or spices. Generally flavored with mustard oil, mustard seeds, aniseed, caraway seed and asafoetida, or hing.
- Bawra - Anything that has been mashed and then formed into a rough roundish shape and fried, generally in mustard oil. Generally served with rice as a starter, or served with puffed rice crisps as a snack. The baora actually has quite a few different kinds. When potatoes are fried in a light chickpea flour batter, they are called Fuluri (giving rise to the Trinidadian pholourie).
- Bhaja: Anything fried, either just after it has been salted or dipped in any kind of water-based batter. Does not include croquettes, or crumb coated items.
- Bhapa: Fish or vegetables steamed with spices.
- Bhate: A vegetable, that has been put inside the pot in which rice is cooking, and it has been cooked along with the rice. Generally, potatoes, butternut squash, raw papayas, bitter gourd, snake gourd and okra are cooked with the rice. It is often eaten with a tinge of mustard oil and salt. For this, generally "atap chawl" rice, which is a short-grained, glutinous rice that cooks quickly is used, and is preferred to the long grained rice, because of its creamy quality, and ability to become ever so sticky. That aids the dish when it comes to mashing. At serving, some fresh Ghee or Butter, and salt to taste, is mixed and mashed by hand into the right consistency, and then eaten. A raw green chili, and a boiled and shelled egg, sometimes accompany this dish.
- Bhorta: Any vegetable, such as potatoes, beans, sour mangoes, papaya, pumpkins or even dal, first boiled whole and then mashed and seasoned with red shallot, fresh chili, mustard oil/ghee and spices.
- Chap: Croquettes, usually coated with crushed biscuit or breadcrumbs.
- Chutney: Generally Bengal is one of the pioneers for this particular dish, making it with everything including preserved mango sheets, called amshotto.
- Dom: Vegetables, especially potatoes, or meat, cooked over a covered pot containing water, slowly over low heat, slightly steaming. The word is derived from the Dum technique popular in Mughlai food.
- Ghonto: Different complementary vegetables (e.g., cabbage, green peas, potatoes, banana blossom, coconut, chickpeas) are chopped or finely grated and cooked with both a pouron and ground spices. Dried pellets of dal are often added to the ghonto. Ghee is commonly added at the end. Non-vegetarian ghontos are also made, with fish or fish heads added to vegetables. The famous muri ghonto is made with fish heads cooked in a fine variety of rice. Some ghontos are very dry while others are thick and juicy.
- Kalia: A very rich preparation of meat using a lot of oil or ghee with a spice sauce usually based on ground ginger and fresh shallots pasted or fried along with a tempering of gorom moshla.
- Kofta: Ground meat croquettes bound together by spices or eggs served alone or in savory gravy.
- Korma: It involves meat cooked in a mild yogurt based sauce with ghee instead of oil, and often poppy seed paste is added to it. People of Southern Bangladesh are known to add coconut milk to many of their dishes and Korma is no exception.
- Paturi: Generally oily fish is sliced evenly, and then wrapped in a banana leaf, after the fish has been basted with freshly pasted mustard with a hint of mustard oil, chili, turmeric and salt.
- Posto: Anything cooked with poppy seed paste as the main flavoring agent. Often poppy seed paste with some mustard oil is eaten mixed with rice all by itself as a mild beginner in a meal.
- Shak: Any kind of green leafy vegetable, like spinach and mustard greens, often cooked till just wilted in a touch of oil and tempering of nigella seeds.
- Torkari: A general term often used in Bengal the way 'curry' is used in English. The word first meant uncooked garden vegetables. From this it was a natural extension to mean cooked vegetables or even fish and vegetables cooked together.
Each dish is to be eaten separately with a small amount of rice or 'ruti' so that individual flavours can be enjoyed. The typical Bangladesh fare includes certain sequences of food. Two sequences are commonly followed, one for ceremonial dinners such as a wedding and the day-to-day sequence. Both sequences have regional variations, and sometimes there are significant differences in a particular course in Bangladesh.
Ceremonial occasions such as weddings used to have elaborate serving rituals, but professional catering and buffet-style dining can be seen now. The traditions have not disappeared; large family occasions and the more lavish ceremonial feasts will still have the same traditional rituals.
Bangladeshi foods contain staples like rice and flat breads. Different traditional flat breads include Luchi, Porota, Bakhorkhani, Nan, Ruti, rice flour flatbread, Chitai Pitha, and many more. Dishes from chicken, beef, fish or mutton, dal (a spicy lentil soup) and vegetables commonly accompany rice and flat breads. Traditional dishes can be 'dry', such as 'gosht bhuna' (chicken/beef/mutton). Items with jhol (sauce) are often curried. Bangladeshi cuisine frequently uses fresh vegetables, which generally vary with season. Vegetables are also used for light curries.
On special occasions like weddings or other similar ceremonies, Bangladeshi people serve guests with Biryani, which is very popular in the cities and urban areas, and Borhani, a drink which aids digestion.
In Bengali cuisine, Chutney is mainly given at the end of the meal. It is a sweet & sour thickened curry mainly made with local seasonal fruits like raw mango, jujube, Bengal quince, etc. with pach foron (five mix spices) & sugar.
Bengalis take pride on their desserts. Bengalis are the pioneer of making & inventing a variety of sweets in the Indian Subcontinent (pre-partition period). Most of which has been created by the Ghosh's (dessert maker or dairy product seller cast) of Bangladesh.
The last item before the sweets is Doi or baked yogurt. It is generally of two varieties, either natural flavour and taste or Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt), typically sweetened with charred sugar. This brings about a brown colour and a distinct flavour. Bangladeshi cuisine has a rich tradition of sweets. The most common sweets and desserts include:
- Rasgulla - Bengalis identical Rasgulla, locally pronounced "Roshogolla" or "Rashgolla", is a sweet made with channa (posset/curdled milk) and sugar syrup. It is one of the most widely consumed sweets. The basic version has many regional variations.
- Channer Shondesh is a dessert created with milk and sugar.
- Chhanar Mishti - a sweet made of chickpea flour with sugar/jaggery/molasses. Now there are various types of Chhanar Mishthi available all across Bangladesh.
- Mishti Doi - sweetened homemade creamy yogurt; prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either guda/gura (brown sugar) or khajuri guda/gura (date molasses), and allowing the milk to ferment overnight.
- Naru - It is usually home-made and used as offerings in Hindu rituals of praying to their Gods.
- Rosh-malai - small rashgollas in a sweetened milk base; Comilla is famous for its Rosh-malai.
- Khaja - deep fried sweets made with wheat flour and ghee, with sugar and sesame seeds as the coating.
- Mua - cooked with rice flakes and jaggery.
- Hawai'i Mishti - made with sugar and given various forms.
- Chhana is fresh, unripened curd cheese made from water buffalo milk.
- Chhaner jilapi - made in a manner very similar to regular jalebi except they are made with chhana.
- Khir is a common Bangladeshi sweet dish. Phirni, together with Zarda, is also typical during Shab-e-Barat and Eid. It is cooked with dense milk, sugar/jaggery, and scented rice (kalijira rice). Though it takes a lot of time to cook it is one of the main features of Bangladeshi desserts. A thicker version of khir is used as filling for pitha.
- Gurer Shondesh is a fritter made of rice flour and palm sugar.
- Goja - a light sweet snack made of flour and sugar, and often a street food, is consumed as both dessert and starter.
- Chomchom – Chômchôm (চমচম) (originally from Porabari, Tangail District in Bangladesh) goes back centuries. The modern version of this oval-shaped sweet is reddish brown in colour and has a denser texture than the rôshogolla. It can also be preserved longer. Granules of maoa or dried milk can also be sprinkled over chômchôm.
- Shemai is vermicelli prepared with ghee or vegetable oil.
- Balushahi is made from a stiff dough made with all purpose flour, ghee and a pinch of baking soda. One-inch-diameter (25 mm), 1⁄2-inch-thick (13 mm) discs are shaped with hands, fried in ghee or oil and dunked in thick sugar syrup so that there is a sugar coating. They are very sweet, but tasty with a slightly flaky texture.
- Piţha - In Bangladesh, the tradition of making different kinds of pan-fried, steamed or boiled sweets, lovingly known as piţhe or the "pitha", still flourishes. These little balls of heaven symbolises the coming of winter, and the arrival of a season where rich food can be included. The richness lies in the creamy silkiness of the milk which is mixed often with molasses, or jaggery made of either date palm or sugarcane, and sometimes sugar. They are mostly divided into different categories based on the way they are created. The most common forms of these cakes include bhapa piţha (steamed), pakan piţha (fried), and puli piţha (dumplings), among others. The other common pithas are chondropuli, gokul, pati shapta, chitai piţha, aski pitha, muger puli and dudh puli. Generally rice flour goes into making the pitha.
- Akher gur Shorbot – sugarcane juice with jaggery
- Akher Rosh – sugarcane juice
- Borhani – spicy drink usually served in gatherings, banquets and weddings. It aids digestion.
- Ghol – whisked salted milk
- Jeera pani – a drink boasting fresh, lively flavors and generally served as an appetizer or welcome drink.
- Khejur Rosh – date palm juice
- Tea (chai)
- Mango juice (Amer shorbot)
- Watermelon juice (Tormujer shorbot)
- Juice of Bengal quince (Bel er shorbot)
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