Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

About Bangladeshi Cuisine

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Cuisine: Bangladeshi

The independent nation that is now known as Bangladesh used to be part of India. What was once the Indian state of Bengal now straddles the border of India and Bangladesh, with the Indian portion designated as West Bengal. In 1947, when Pakistan declared independence from British rule, East Bengal became East Pakistan. And in 1971, East Pakistan declared its own independence from Pakistan and was renamed Bangladesh. Nonetheless, much of its original Bengali culture and cuisine remain intact.

The cuisine of Bangladesh has a long culinary history, with British, French, Chinese, Afghan, Muslim, Anglo-Christian, and Jewish cultural influences. It is also further divided into regional cuisines, each with its own style and flavors. In the southern region, along the coastline, seafood is major component. The Dhaka region is known for its meat and rice dishes. Spicy vegetable curries are common to the west and northwestern regions. And in the northeast, freshwater fish, pickled vegetables and fruits are the most common indigenous ingredients.

Bangladeshi flavors are characterized by the use of mustard oil, and a traditional five-spice blend of cumin, onion seed (nigella), fennel seed, fenugreek and mustard seeds. Seafood (especially fish) with rice and pulses (daal and gram) are the primary staples. Hilsa (illish), a salt-water species that migrates to fresh water for spawning, is the most popular food fish in Bangladesh. Carp (rui and rohu), catfish (magur), and shrimp or prawns (chingri) are also popular choices for Bangladeshi cuisine. The most popular Bangladeshi seafood dish is called panta illish, which consists of a large platter of fried hilsa and dried shutki fish with fermented rice (panta bhat), and side dishes of lentils (daal), onions, and green chilies.

Beef is unique to Bangladeshi cuisine since the Hindu population in Bengal do not eat beef. It is especially popular for festival fare. Vegetables include gourds, roots vegetables, leafy greens, eggplant, onions, beans, okra, pumpkins, plantains, banana blossoms, and jackfruit. The cuisine also includes unleavened bread, and is known for its exquisite confections. Spices used in Bangladeshi cuisine are garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilies. Desserts are typically spiced with cardamom and cinnamon.