Why do the Bengali eat rice

Gourmet trip around the world

Today's stop on the gourmet world tour is Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It borders Myanmar in the southeast and is otherwise completely enclosed by India.
The residents are called "Bangladeshis" and the correct adjective is (even if it sounds strange) "Bangladeshi". The more common name "Bengali" refers to the Bengal region, which includes Bangladesh as well as some western states of India.

Many culinary influences came from the Mughals, who ruled northern India for a long time and to whose empire today's Bangladesh once belonged and trade with countries from the Arab world and Persia also influenced the original regional cuisine. The British Empire, which ruled the region for almost 200 years, has of course also left its mark, and in the southeast there are influences from neighboring Myanmar.
The Bangladeshi cuisine is in principle to be equated with the Bengali, although there are differences to the Bengali dishes from the neighboring country India.

The country's main foodstuffs are rice, bread and legumes, especially lentils.
Fish is also an important food. Bangladeshi cuisine is best known for processing freshwater fish. Much of the country consists of the delta area of ​​the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna rivers, in which thousands of different types of fish live. Of course, seafood and fish from the Bay of Bengal are also eaten, but much less often and mainly in the southern coastal regions.
Meat is also on the menu every now and then. Since Islam is the predominant religion, pork is completely avoided. In contrast to Hindu India, where the sacred cow is not eaten under any circumstances, the consumption of beef is absolutely common in Bangladesh. Lamb, deer and poultry also like to be on the table.
The region's climate is tropical, which is why vegetables are in abundance. In the country's markets you can find all sorts of pumpkins, potatoes, root and leaf vegetables, as well as aubergines, onions, plantains and mushrooms. In addition, Bangladesh is one of the world's largest producers of tropical fruits.
The dishes are usually prepared with ghee or mustard oil. The latter is particularly aromatic and gives the dishes a very typical taste.
The Bengali blend of spices Panch Phoran is known worldwide and essential for the country's cuisine.

The dishes in Bangladesh are generally well seasoned and have a strong aroma. The taste notes vary from mild and sweet to extremely hot. In addition to chillies, bay leaves, cumin, turmeric, black cumin, coriander and mustard seeds are the most commonly used spices.
They are used, for example, in the many different curry varieties in the country. Curries are prepared with meat as well as vegetarian and served with flatbread or rice.
However, rice is not just a side dish. Especially on festive occasions, it is often used as a main course in the form of Pulao or Biryani on the table.
AlsoDal (Lentil stew) is a common dish. There are many different variations and is eaten both as a side dish and as a main course.
The Bangladeshis are particularly proud of their large selection of delicious desserts and sweets, which are popular far beyond the country.
The national drink is black tea. It is very popular across the country and is often served as a welcome drink. Another typical drink is Borhani, a spicy, hot yoghurt that is said to be good for digestion.

Eating together is an important part of their culture for Bangladeshis.
A typical meal always follows a certain sequence in the order of the dishes, which varies depending on the occasion (festive or everyday). In general, there are many traditional rules that should be followed when eating in Bangladesh (they are calledBengali Keta) and Islam also provides a lot of rules of conduct. For example, meals may only be taken with people of the same sex (children are an exception).
People always eat by hand in Bangladesh. The fingers form a kind of groove through which the food is pushed into the mouth with the help of the thumb. So that the different tastes of each dish can come into their own, something is only ever taken from one dish and eaten together with some rice or bread.


Masoor Daal
lentil stew

Main course:
Shorshe-bata Maach
Fish in mustard sauce

Side dishes:
Palong Shaak Bhaji
Spiced Spinach
Bangladeshi Pulao

Bangladeshi rice pilaf

Hari Mirch Achar
Pickled green chillies
Tamatar Ki Chutney

Tomato chutney

Cheese balls in milk sauce

The cuisine of Bangladesh has a variety of great dishes to offer. In order to get a round and authentic overall picture of the regional cuisine, the menu had to be a bit more extensive this time.
Since we couldn't find an absolutely typical national dish, we simply tried to include as many local ingredients and preparation methods as possible in the menu.
If you want to cook original Bangladeshi cooking, three ingredients must not be missing: mustard oil, the Bengali spice mixture Panch Phoranand chilli peppers, with green chilies especially popular fresh and red chillies in dried form.
The mustard oil was not easy to get, but we found it in the third Asian shop. Panch Phoran can be made yourself without any problems: Simply mix equal parts cumin, fennel seeds, black cumin, black mustard seeds and fenugreek (all spices whole, not ground).


Masoor Daal
Red lentil stew

Legumes, especially lentils, are staple foods in Bangladesh and they are particularly popular in the form of stews (daal). You can eat this dish as a starter, as a main course with rice and vegetables or as a single dish with bread.

Time required:
Approx. 50 minutes

For 4 people as a starter

200 g red lentils
1 large tomato, chopped
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 fresh green chili peppers
2 dried red chili peppers
4 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cm cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Panch Phoran
2-3 tbsp ghee
Salt to taste

Wash the lentils and soak them in water for 10 minutes.

Dice the tomato, finely dice the onion, cut the garlic into fine slices, cut the ginger into fine sticks, halve the chilies lengthways and remove the seeds.

Heat 1 tablespoon of ghee in a saucepan and briefly sauté half of the onion cubes for 1-2 minutes. Add the lentils and stir in.

Pour 500 ml of water, add a pinch of salt and turmeric and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and let the lid simmer for about 30 minutes until the lentils are soft. In between, always check whether there is still enough water in the pot and possibly add a little more. (The consistency of the dal should be a bit runny at the end, not a thick stew like the Indian dal)

After about 20 minutes add the green chillies and the tomato cubes. When the lentils are soft, remove the dal from the heat and set aside with the lid closed.

Now heat the rest of the ghee in a pan and add the mustard seeds, cumin, panch phoran, fennel, cinnamon stick and dried chillies. Add the garlic, ginger and onions and fry everything until it has turned brown.

Now add the mixture to the finished dal, stir well and simmer again for 2 minutes. Then add 3 tablespoons of fresh coriander and stir in.

Put the dal in bowls, sprinkle with the rest of the coriander and serve.

Our rating:
A delicious classic dal, but maybe a bit too rich as a starter.
/ 10 points

Shorshe-bata Maach
Fish in mustard sauce

This dish is traditionally made with a freshwater fish called Ilish (or Hilsa in Hindi) and is also under the name Shorshe Ilish known. Ilish is the "national fish" of Bangladesh and extremely popular. (Unfortunately for this reason it is completely overfished and will probably soon become extinct.) Bei and is Ilish not available, but you can prepare this dish with another freshwater fish, if necessary also with sea fish.
The original dish is very, very spicy, so if you can, you should use as many green chillies as possible.

Time required:
30 minutes + 30 minutes soaking time

For 4 people

Approx. 1 kg of fish steaks
(if possible freshwater fish e.g. pangasius, otherwise e.g. milk fish or tilapia)
4 tbsp mustard seeds
1.5 tsp turmeric
2-8 green Thai chilies (to taste)
1 teaspoon chili powder
3 tbsp mustard oil
1 1/2 tsp black cumin seeds
Salt to taste

Soak the mustard seeds in water for about 30 minutes.

Wash the fish and pat dry well. Mix 1 teaspoon turmeric and 1 teaspoon salt and rub the fish with it. Let it marinate a little.

Halve the chili peppers and remove the seeds if necessary (it gets hotter with the seeds!)

Grate the soaked mustard seeds, 1-2 green chili peppers and 1 tablespoon mustard oil in a heavy mortar with a little coarse salt to make a paste that is as smooth as possible.

Heat 1 tablespoon of mustard oil in a high pan and fry the fish in it on both sides for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.

Add 1 additional tablespoon of mustard oil to the pan and add black cumin seeds, fry for half a minute until the seeds start to crackle. Add the mustard paste and the rest of the chili peppers and stir-fry for about 5 minutes over a medium heat.

Pour water over and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat a little and add the fish.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat until the fish is cooked through. Season to taste with salt.

Our rating:
Unfortunately, we were not entirely satisfied with this dish.
In terms of taste, it wasn't bad at all, but it was almost impossible to grind the soaked mustard seeds into a paste by hand. Therefore, many grains remained whole, which meant that our sauce was rather grainy and watery and not as creamy as it should be. We tried to compensate for this with a teaspoon of ordinary mustard from the jar. This made the sauce a bit thicker, but we weren't really happy with the result. I think the better way would be to mortar the mustard seeds while they are dry (which, by the way, is very easy) and then rub them into a paste with the oil and possibly some water.
/ 10 points

Palong Shaak Bhaji
Spiced Spinach

In addition to rice, vegetable side dishes are often served in Bangladesh. Green leafy vegetables grow abundantly in the fertile areas of the country and spinach is particularly popular. You can also prepare this dish with Swiss chard or any other kind of leafy vegetable.

Time required:
25 minutes

For 4 people as a side dish

500 g spinach
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon Panch Phoran
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tbsp oil

Wash the spinach, drain well and roughly chop.

Cut the onion into thin half rings.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the dried chillies over medium heat for about a minute.

Add onion rings and fry until translucent, then add garlic and Panch Phoran and stir-fry until the spices start to crackle and burst.

Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper and stir well.

When the spinach begins to collapse, put the lid on the pan and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes.

Our rating:
This recipe lacked a bit of flavor and seasoning, but it was quite suitable as a simple accompaniment to fish.
/ 10 points

Bangladeshi Pulao
Bangladeshi rice pilaf

Rice is a staple food in Bangladesh and is served as an accompaniment to almost every meal. It is usually prepared as a spiced pilaf.

Time required:
25 minutes + soaking time for the rice

For 4 people as a side dish

450 g basmati rice
1 cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods
Salt (to taste)
100 g ghee
3-4 cm of ginger
2 tbsp cashew nuts
Approx. 1 tbsp sugar (to taste)
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 tbsp raisins
2-3 cloves

Wash rice and soak for at least 30 minutes.

Cut the ginger into small sticks.

Cook rice as usual and add turmeric to the water. The rice should still be firm to the bite, if necessary pour off excess water. Then set aside.

Heat the ghee in a pan and lightly brown the cashews in it. Then add the raisins and heat for about 1 minute until they start to puff up.

Then add the bay leaves and ginger and fry until the ginger is lightly browned.

Add the cinnamon and cardamom and stir-fry for 1 minute.

Take the pan off the heat, add the rice and stir well.

Add sugar as you like (the rice should definitely be slightly sweet) and season with salt.

Our rating:
Probably still spoiled by Machboos from Bahrain, we lacked a bit of flavor and spice in this dish too. In addition, I would cook the rice completely the next time, because it remains a little too moist due to the premature draining of the water.
5,5/ 10 points

Hari Mirch Achar
Pickled green chillies

The Bangladeshis, like the Indians, are great friends of pickles. The pickled chillies ended up in our menu mainly for the man of the house, in order to bring the authentic Bengali heat into the meal for at least one of us.

Time required:
Approx. 40 minutes + 12 hours of steeping time for the chili peppers

For 1 large mason jar

450 g green chillies
240 ml mustard oil
3 teaspoons of ginger, chopped
3 tsp ginger paste
4 tbsp garlic paste
3 tsp chili powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
3 teaspoons of mustard seeds ground
1 teaspoon mustard seeds, whole
2 teaspoons of sugar
180 ml white wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Cut the chillies into 0.5 cm thick slices, mix with a level teaspoon of salt and leave to stand overnight.

Chop the ginger, mix the chilli, turmeric and ground mustard seeds together. If ready-made products are not used, make ginger and garlic paste.

Heat 120 ml of oil in a pan and fry the chillies for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Remove the chillies from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Add another 90 ml of oil to the pan and let it get well hot. Add whole mustard seeds and when they start to burst, add the chopped ginger. Reduce the heat a little and fry for about a minute.

Add the ground spices, ginger and garlic paste and fry over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the spices change color.

Add white wine vinegar, sugar and chillies and fry for another 10 minutes.

If necessary, season with salt, add the remaining oil and remove from the stove.

Let everything cool and store in a screw-top jar or mason jar in a cool place.

Our rating:
Incredibly hot but tasty
/ 10 points

Tamatar Ki Chutney
Tomato chutney

Chutneys are spicy, sweet and sour sauces that are cooked down like jam. In contrast to India, where they are served as a side dish with meals, in Bangladesh they serve as a kind of transition from main course to dessert. The palate should be neutralized and optimally prepared for the dessert by the mixture of sour / hot / spicy and sweet.

Time required:
30-45 minutes

For a small mason jar

4 tomatoes
1 teaspoon ginger paste
5-6 chopped cashew nuts
2 dried chili peppers
2 tbsp palm sugar
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon Panch Phoran
1 teaspoon mustard oil
Salt to taste

Cut the tomatoes into large cubes, chop the ginger and grind into a paste in a heavy mortar.

Heat the oil in a pan, then add the panch phoran, bay leaves and chillies and fry until the spices start to crackle and burst.

Add the ginger paste, tomatoes and palm sugar.

Salt a little and stir well. Simmer on a low heat until the tomatoes are soft.

Stir every now and then and mash the tomatoes a little.

When the tomatoes are completely overcooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cashews.

Our rating:
The taste of the tomato-sugar combination is a bit reminiscent of ketchup, so I would use a different vegetable next time.
5,5/ 10 points

Cheese balls in milk sauce

Bangladesh is known for its wide variety of desserts. Many of the desserts known in India and South Asia are originally from Bangladesh.
One of the most famous sweet dishes is Rasgulla: Out Chaana (a kind of cottage cheese, according to the Indian Paneer) shaped balls that are cooked in sugar syrup.
Rasmalai is a variation of it. The balls are a bit smaller and are also served with milk sauce.

Time required:
About 1.5 hours

For 4-6 people (20 balls)

Chaana (cheese):
2 liters of milk
100 ml lemon juice
Milk sauce:
2 liters of milk
100 g of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1-2 tbsp flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tbsp semolina
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cardamom, ground
450 g sugar
1.5 liters + 500 ml (gradually)
2-3 drops of lemon juice
To garnish:
2 tbsp chopped pistachios
Some saffron threads (if you like)

For the cheese:
Bring milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to boil, reduce the heat and gradually add the lemon juice and stir in. The milk now begins to flocculate, i.e. the solid components separate from the whey. Take the pot off the stove.

Put a kitchen towel in a colander and pour off the milk. The whey can be collected in a container for further use. Pour some water over the resulting cheese (chaana) in the sieve to wash off the acidity of the lemon juice.
Then wring out the chaana with the cloth by folding the ends of the cloth upwards and twisting them closer and closer together.

Place a smaller plate upside down on a larger plate, close the cloth around the cheese and place the packet on the underside of the small plate. Now weigh down with a heavy object, e.g. a stone mortar, to squeeze out all the water. The escaping water can run off on the edge of the smaller plate and is caught by the larger plate.

Let the chaana rest in this way for at least 45 minutes, then it can be used again.

In the meantime, the time-consuming milk sauce can be prepared.

For the milk sauce:
Bring milk to the boil in a saucepan with the heaviest possible bottom. Turn down to low to medium heat and simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir it again and again and make sure that the milk does not burn. The liquid should have a creamy consistency at the end, something like cream.

Add sugar and cardamom and simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Take the sauce off the heat and let it cool down.

For the balls:
Put the chaana in a large mixing bowl and knead into a smooth dough for at least 2 minutes.

Add flour, baking powder and semolina, 1 tablespoon of sugar and cardamom and knead again to form a smooth dough - if possible without lumps or cracks. Shape 20 balls of the same size and set aside.

For the syrup:
Mix sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. When the sugar has dissolved, add 2-3 drops of lemon juice and cardamom. Then carefully slide the chaana balls into the syrup. Place the lid on the pot so that a small opening remains and simmer on a medium flame for about 20-30 minutes.

Then remove the balls with a slotted spoon, place on a plate and set aside. The sugar syrup is no longer required for this recipe.

Now gently squeeze the chaana balls with a spoon to squeeze out the syrup. Then place in the cooled milk sauce and put in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Before serving, garnish with chopped pistachios and - if you want - with a few threads of saffron.

Our rating:
Unfortunately, the dessert did not live up to what we had hoped for from the famous Bengali desserts. The milk sauce was very tasty and creamy, but the firm and rubbery consistency of the balls takes some getting used to. Overall ok, but after two balls we each had enough.
5.5 / 10 points


After we, as great friends of the neighboring Indian cuisine, had been looking forward to Bangladesh, it was unfortunately not entirely convincing. Given that the country is known for its spicy and hot dishes, everything tasted pretty boring. Maybe we should have opted for a tasty curry when choosing the menu ...
Our next destination is a Caribbean island again, this time to Barbados.



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This entry was posted in Asia, South Asia / India and tagged Bangladesh, leafy vegetables, fenugreek, cashew nut, chilli, chilli peppers, chutney, dal, pickles, fennel seeds, fish, ghee, cottage cheese, cardamom, cheese, cumin, turmeric, lentils, milk , Milk sauce, panch phoran, paneer, rice, rice pilaf, raisins, freshwater fish, black cumin, mustard oil, mustard seeds, spinach, tomatoes by Dani.