Fans of Bengali cuisine may well associate the state with the vast and varied menu of tasty seafood dishes or the irresistible sweets that no festival of the region would be quite the same without. However, fruits also play a vital role in the vibrant culinary culture of east India. And just as the coconut reigns supreme in the southern states, there is a fruit which no Bengali foodie could possibly overlook – the humble banana.
Bananas are utilised in a wide range of Bengali dishes – both sweet and savoury. But this fruit is so much more than just another ingredient. It holds a spiritual significance due to its hardy disposition and versatility, and as a result, the banana is consumed at all manner of special occasions, from weddings to temple days.
One of the most valued attributes of the banana is that all parts of the plant can be put to good use. The flesh and pith can be used in a variety of dishes whilst the large, tough leaves are often employed as plates at the Bengali table or used to wrap fish and other delicacies before baking. Even the banana blossom, a large, purple and red flower that we might not be so familiar with here in the UK, is consumed in West Bengal.
This flower is thought to taste like a vegetable when prepared correctly by peeling away the leaves and plucking out the pale yellow florets and white heart within. One of the specialities of Bengali cuisine is mocha-chingri, a shrimp dish cooked with banana blossom and flavoured with a variety of exotic Indian spices including a mouth-watering garam masala, red chilli powder and a dose of the clarified butter, ghee.
Another delicious banana blossom dish is the curry arati puvva kura, an aromatic blend of mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida, ghee and the tangy pulp of the tamarind; whilst those who are just after a snack between meals would do well to try out mochar chop, a banana blossom croquette. These popular street-side snacks are deep-fried patties made from mashed banana blossom, mashed potato and a handful of onions, peanuts and green chillies. A sprinkling of turmeric and dollop of ginger paste tops off this mouth-watering recipe.
Even banana peel is put to good use in West Bengal. Indian cuisine is famous for its range of delicious chutneys, from spicy mango to sweet onion. One of the more popular chutneys of West Bengal is the kanchakalar khosha bata, a banana peel concoction featuring garlic and hot chillies.
The extensive use of the banana in Bengali cuisine serves to demonstrate the creativity of Indian cooks and the penchant they have for utilising the natural fruits of the land.
To experience the work of chefs who know just how to bring out the best side of their ingredients, pay a visit to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants. Here you can taste authentic flavours from all over India, brought together into one menu and given a contemporary twist for added sophistication.