20 thoughts on “The food of yore”

  1. Hilsa fish is probably the most favourite fish of Bengalis, yet I detest due to its menacing bones.

  2. Asafatida or hing has avery strong smell and taste in itself is nothing.
    Idk where i read this. I read that hing is Haraam.Is it true?

      1. Poppy seeds are forbidden in Saudi Arabia.
        If you bring them in can go to Jail.

        Dont know if Haram

        The sale of poppy seeds from Papaver somniferum is banned in Singapore because of the morphine content. Poppy seeds are also prohibited in Taiwan, primarily because of the risk that viable seeds will be sold and used to grow opium poppies.[26] China prohibits spice mixes made from poppy seed and poppy seed pods because of the traces of opiates in them, and has since at least 2005.[27][28] Despite its present use in Arab cuisine as a bread spice, poppy seeds are also banned in Saudi Arabia for various religious[citation needed] and drug control reasons.[29] In one extreme case in the United Arab Emirates, poppy seeds found on a traveler’s clothes led to imprisonment.[30][31] Concerns were raised in Malaysia by MP Datuk Mohd Said Yusof who claimed in 2005 that mamak restaurants used poppy seeds in their cooking to get customers addicted to it.[32]
        International travelers

        As poppy seeds cause false positive results in drug tests, it is advised in airports in India not to carry such items to other countries, where this can result in punishments based on false positive results. Travelers to the United Arab Emirates are especially prone to difficulties and severe punishments.[33][34]

        In Singapore, poppy seeds are classified as “prohibited goods” by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).


  3. That ending about a generous portion of hing made me chuckle. It’s meant to be humorous, I know, but perhaps the author’s not someone who’s ever cooked maybe? We always have hing, but it’s a gentle squirt (less than a pinch).

    I stayed with a Bengali family for about a year, and had some amazing food. Don’t remember having any of this, but might try the Shukto – seems light and simple.

  4. This all had me wondering: what’s Indian food without the heat?
    Sri Lanka and I assume Kerala, black pepper.

    A favorite down south, Ambul Thiyal. Yellow Find tuna cooked with lots of black pepper.

    West Coast: Pork, black pepper and fresh ground mustard.

    A spicy sweet, Aggala: Kithul palm treacle, rice flour, black pepper.

    Black pepper is considered “healthy” and used for many home remedies.
    eg: Menstrual cramps and tummy ache. ginger + pepper corns; 3 cups of water, boil and reduce by half.

    Less use, as more expensive than red pepper.

    Sri Lankan black pepper packs a punch and pungent.
    Friend tells me Malabar Pepper available in Costco, is close

  5. I went to college in Bengal but never really developed a taste for the Bengali fish preparations I’m afraid. The thing I like best about Bangla food is mishti doi.

  6. Before red and green chillies came to India our cuisine depended on long pepper, called pipli in the North – Piper Longum. It is still found in grocery shops but not used so much, in fact hardly ever. Indian food before the Portuguese must have been predominantly yellow, but not necessarily. Kashmiri cooking used mawal, and another kind of red colouring plant material whose name escapes me at the moment. Mawal is coxcomb.

    1. Is this Ratanjot?
      My grandmother also used long pepper in her food though we are not Bengali. Besides this many part of India also grew native varieties of Sichuan pepper corns known by different names like Tirphal/Timru etc.

  7. Bengali cuisine is my favourite Indian cuisine.

    In college, a Bengali professor of mine would invite me over for dinner sometimes. I have a HUGE appetite and would hog like a pig. His wife would always put in an extra effort when I came around because of all the validation her cooking got from me.

    You folks can even make pointed gourd (parwal) palatable in dishes like potoler dolma. That’s a big achievement.

  8. Portuguese introduced items (chillies, potatoes, tomatoes) seem have to have become much more of a staple in north india rather then the south. Any reason why that may be? Seems counter-intuitive since they would have come via sea rather than land.

    A unrelated question – I’ve often come across the assertion that the reason why Indians who aren’t lactose intolerant in India become so when they go abroad is due to the differences in milk produced by the Indian humped cows/buffaloes compared to their roided-up Western cousins. Is there any truth to this or is this one of those Whatsapp facts?

    1. Full fat milk more common in India. (Buffalo milk esp. has more milk solids and 2x higher compared to the same volume of cow milk.)

      Partially skim milk 1% , 2% fat is more common in west.

      The former is easier to digest for people with milk lactose intolerance. (which I think is distributed more as a spectrum than a bimodal trait.)

    2. Siddharth, I’ve wondered the same about the new world crops. Chillies were definitely cultivated a few generations earlier in the deccan than in the north. I can’t remember the historian (maybe jadunath sarkar), but there was an anecdote about how the during maratha expeditions in the north, their “addiction” to chillies was observed and til then a novelty. Some of the most prolific chilli growing regions are in the dry interiors of karnataka not too far from goa. Those plateau regions have climates not totally dissimilar to Mexico, and perhaps were more suited than the humid coasts with acidic soils. Later, through breeding or bringing more diverse cultivars, chilis was adapted to a wider range of climates.
      Potatoes are the thing that really strikes me for its disparate utilisation. In kerala and other coastal areas they took to a different new world tuber, cassava. I would definitely be interested in learning more about how the aloo conquered hindustan!

  9. How is cassava prepared in the South?

    Also what did North Indians eat before Mughals (and does anyone know what the ethnicity of the chefs in Mughal kitchens were?)?

    1. Cassava and Manioc (and Potatoes) are from South America.

      Sri Lanka
      a) Just boiled with salt and eaten with grated coconut, or coconut sambol (i.e. red pepper, spices etc, or katta sambol (just redpepper and dried tuna) or Lunu miris (red pepper, onions lime etc).
      In this case manioc is the main/starch dish.

      b) As a curry, fried chips. Pretty much whatever way potato is prepared

      c) Dessert
      Coconut milk, sugar pudding.
      Not common.

  10. Is symbol related to the Indonesian dish?

    I’ve only had cassava fried from Peruvian chicken places. I can’t imagine a better way to eat them.

    1. Is symbol related to the Indonesian dish?
      For sure the words are related, sambal in Indonesian and Sambola in Sinhala
      Share many common words with Indonesian, eg Sarong, Sarama in Sinhala. Not lungi.

      A sambol is typically a relish where chopped and ground ingredients are mixed or blended together. While the recipe remains largely unchanged, from kitchen to kitchen, the ratios of the ingredients would change according to personal preference. Pol Sambola maybe the celebrity amongst the family of sambola that are a part of Sri Lankan cuisine, yet there many different types of sambola in the island. Sri Lankans love to flaunt their spices, and the delicious sambola provides ample opportunity to do so. Be warned, unless specified otherwise, sambola can at times be spicy enough to set your mouth on fire!


    2. cassava/tapioca is called kappa in malayalam i believe, and they make it a million different ways i suppose. I’ve seen it as a mash that can be had with fish curry. It can be fried up or steamed. Just search “kappa dishes kerala” or something like that and you’ll get sense.

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