The concept of Bangladeshi food can be a confusing one.
Your local ‘Indian’ curry house serves neither authentic Indian food nor Bangladeshi – despite the fact many are owned by people from Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi food is distinct and delicious, with an emphasis on flavoursome spices, heat and fish.
Here’s everything you need to know about what it is, what culinary delights are typically Bangladeshi, and how it differs from Indian food.
What is Bangladeshi food?
Bangladeshi food is often referred to as Bengali food, as the state of Bengal has existed long before the formation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Partition and the independence of India divided Bengal along religious lines (Hindu/Muslim) and flavours slowly evolved to become more distinct.
Dishes native to both West Bengal and Bangladesh share some similarities, however, the biodiversity of Bangladesh as a low lying country of many rivers determines what is eaten, and when.
South East Asian influences from bordering Myanmar can be tasted along the Chittagong Hill Tracts; think dried fish, coconut and sweet and sour combinations.
The capital, Dhaka, is famous for street food and Moghul inspired dishes, such as Haleem, a rich lentil, barley and meat dish and Tehari – mustard and green chilli beef pulao, but unlike the ones you’ve eaten.
The flavours, the spices
Sylhet, the region where I was born, is known for its fiery spice pastes, Shatkora, a bitter lime usually cooked with beef, and Naga Morich – fiercely hot chilli accompanying meals with its sweet fragrance.
Shidol is fermented fish and forms the base to an extremely hot broth spiced with this chilli, and cooked with potatoes and seasonal greens. Dried, smoky fish called Shutki are stir-fried with aubergine to create intense and mouthwatering dishes.
Sweets and desserts are at the heart of Bengali food and in Bangladesh molasses is a key sweetener, featuring in rice puddings and cakes.
Mango and jackfruit, spiced coconut-filled pastries and Mishti Doi, a sweetened yoghurt are also familiar guests to the Bangladeshi table.
Bangladesh is the land of rice and fish. Rich green paddy fields rise up and run as far as the eye can see.
Puffed, sticky, aged, broken, and flattened for breakfast porridge, rice is usually paired with the hero of a meal – fish. Macher Jhol, basically means a light fish stew, made with fish such as Rohu, a type of carp.
Occasional dishes include Chitoler Kofta (knifefish dumplings) and the king of fish, Ilish (a type of herring) cooked in mustard gravy.
Bhaajis, Bhortas and Niramishas are essential to a meal. These are fresh vegetables, mashed or sauteed in spices, and sometimes served for breakfast with fried bread or Luchis.
Rice-based sweets and savouries called Pitha are also key to Bangladeshi cuisine.
My favourite is Handesh, a deep fried molasses cake, always present during the festivals of Eid, and a perfect way to familiarise yourself with the authentic version of this much-loved cuisine.