Tuesday, January 2, 2024
Year : 1, Issue : 18
By Syeda Ahmed
The rise of Bengali restaurants in the West Have left most people who are unfamiliar with our cuisine with the impression that delicacies like samosas, biryani or tandoori chicken are accurate representations of the Bengali tradition. While these may be the highlights, ask any Bengali person that grew up in Bangladesh and they’ll tell you that these weren’t foods they experienced very often. From what I’ve gathered from my parents’ stories of their childhoods in Bangladesh, daal or lentils has to be the most authentically Bengali food, especially because it is criminally underrated.
My mother treats daal with the same reverence she does rice, which is an impressive feat considering Bengalis treat rice like it’s its own food group. It’s not just the lentils in their soupy form that make it so vital to the endurance of our people, but the way it has permeated other dishes too. Ammu adds daal to kebabs for the texture, adds 2 additional types of daal to her khichuri for the flavor and sneaks daal into meat curries so that they last longer. If rice is like the bread of our sandwiches then daal is like the secret sauce that you didn’t even know was there was necessary to tying the flavors together all the same, Samosas, biryani and tandoori chicken and all the other fan favorites are what my dad calls rich foods because of how scarcely they were eaten back home; daal by comparison is the opposite of a rich food. It is the food of the humble families of Bangladesh that pair it with aloo bhorta and fried eggs on a good day, and put it in their khichuri on the rainy days, the way Ammu still does because her mom did so too. Baba told me once that people from different regions of Bangladesh cook their daal differently, the same way Syheltis don’t pronounce their “P”s the way that other Bengalis do. The fact that our regional variations manifest in this one food is further proof that Daal may not be a rich food but is the staple food of a very rich culture.
Author is a student at the Bronx High School of Science.