Situated in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, Bengal is one of the world’s densely populated regions and home to over 250 million people.
Bengal is renowned for having a rich heritage; the region boasts historical influences from the Muslims, Dravidians, Aryans and the Europeans. Bengal, which is now separated into the Indian state of West Bengal and independent country of Bangladesh, is particularly renowned for its cuisine, of which many dishes are mimicked in regions across India and beyond.
The cuisine of northern regions of West Bengal draws many similarities to the cuisines of Assam, Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim. The abundance of countryside provides ample space for cattle farming and agricultural, with a lot of the produce ending up on Bengalis’ plates.
Seafood is a staple of Bengali cuisine, owing to the numerous shores, lakes and ponds which dot the land. However, rice is certainly considered to be the staple crop of the region and is served alongside almost all meals.
The richness of Bengali soil, along with the rainfall, means that rice grows extremely well. In fact, it is harvested three times per year, resulting in a variety of preparations.
The best variety of rice in Bengal is Gobindobhog, with West Bengal being the main harvester. Around 80% of Gobindobhog produced stays in Bengal for the locals to enjoy, whilst a mere 20% is exported to other regions. The Indian state of Hyderabad is one of the largest markets for Gobindobhog, using it in the preparation of its world-famous Biryani. There is also increased demand for Gobindobhog during Hindu festivals which take place in regions across northern and eastern India.
Gobindobhog is a short grain rice and is slightly aromatic with a sticky texture. Its name derives from its use in the preparation of offerings to the family deity of the Setts of Kolkata, called the ‘Govindajiu.’
As well as being more flavoursome than other rice varieties, Gobindobhog is has numerous medicinal properties; it is a good source of fibre, contains antioxidants and vitamin B, all of which helps to stave off illness.
Gobindobhog is used in a number of Bengali dishes such as Pualo, which also contains ingredients including ginger, cloves, green cardamom, cinnamon, almonds, raisins, nutmeg and saffron.
As well as savoury dishes, the rice is also used in the preparation of a number of desserts such as Kheer, an Indian rice pudding. To make Kheer, rice is soaked in water for a couple of hours before it is dried and blended into a powder. Boiled mix is then added to the powder and it is stirred continuously until the texture is thick. Once thick, ingredients such as coconut, sugar and cardamom powder are added and it is garnished with dried fruit before serving.
A simple ingredient it may be, but rice needn’t be bland. If you want to sample rice in all its glory, either as a main dish or as an accompaniment to a mouth-watering curry, book yourself a table at one of London’s best informal Indian restaurants.
Like the article? Subscribe to the Feeds Now!