The Bengal Food divide
Difference of flavours on a plate
Be it the East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan or the Ilish vs Chingri debate, the Ghotis and the bangals has always seen happy healthy rivalry. From playground to the food table there has been some serious differences and each one went out of their comfort zone to take part in this debate.
Coming to the literal meaning of the words ghoti and bangal, the former means “pot” (as in utensils) while the later gets its name from Bang means the farmland, so they are the farming class.
The culinary track sees that both ghoti and bangal respectively flaunt their badge of honour. Both these cultures have played significant roles in shaping the food habits of the people of this region. While the Ghotis like it mild and sweet, the Bangals take it hot and spicy. It’s every interesting to know that neither religion nor caste has any role to play in this divide. Going back to the past before the Bengal split (West Bengal and Bangladesh) it was one. The families of Bangals are from erstwhile East Bengal, while Ghotis from West Bengal. There is no clear cut reason why this divide exists till date but if stories are too believed then it was after the 1905 partition the East Bengalis were termed as Bangals and West Bengalis as Ghotis.
While plating the Ghoti food on the table, one sees and smells Colonial influence — be it ingredients or methods and also they prefer their fare little subtle and light. A ghoti ranna ghor (kitchen) is known for it’s boiling and roasting along with frying while the ‘Bangals’ add that tanginess to their food with a dash of tomatoes and not yoghurt. Yogurt is not a common ingredient in our cooking. As highlighted that both these distinct food saw their birth in the same geographical location but they hugely vary in the way the food is marinated and spices being used to pep that distinct flavor. Bangals, who are known for their richness in their preparations gives the credit to morich bata (pepper paste) and paanch phoron (mix if five spice) which is added for that magical touch. A true ghoti at heart can’t do without a pinch of sugar in most of their dishes. It has to be tasting sweet for them in virtually all their food. And not to forget the Ghoti show stopper Posto (poppy seeds) used in almost everything be it Alu Posto, Dim Posto, Potol posto, Jhinge Posto. The simple chochori (vegetable medley) too, sees its variation across the border — morola and puti maach way. While the bangals are inclined towards morola, it’s the Puti maach that adds to the punch for the Ghotis.
Be it the Poschim Bongo (Bengal Barat) ot the Purbo Bongo, the most important dish on the menu is FISH. Both the ghoti and the bangal both are fixated to it. The ilish, koi, pabda, tangra tickles the bud of the bangal while Chingri, Rui, Pomfret for the ghotis. The east takes the trophy with their dishes like Bhapa Ilish, Ilish Machher Paturi and more, while the west is not far behind with Aam Posto Chingri and Kankra jhol, Chingri Malai curry the ghoti traditional hot favourites. Don’t miss out on the fact that Ghotis prefer fresh water rohu, in opposite to the Bangals dried fish or shutki, which sees it’s origin in Chittagong. The fish battle gets intensifies over Padma river or the Rupnarayan River too — each claiming their Illish to be better than the other.
Both Paschimbangya and the Purbabangya specializes in their own traditional dishes and have their own USP’s, but it’s just for one’s taste buds to find those fine hidden nuances. If you like it tangy, then the maacher tok (fish in tamarind gravy) — a Ghoti specialty can’t be missed.
The meal does sees similarity on a plate with Rice, fish and to sweet ending as always, but it’s all in the spices and the flavours hat create the divide. Sweets too sees their favourite sides with Chhanar Payesh, Malpoas ruling the West and Gokul Pithe and Lengchas the East.
One cannot ignore the fact that both the Bangals and Ghotis have shaped the food of Bengal — the sweet and the spicy way. With time, as the probashi Bengali’s are making cities like Delhi, Mumbai and the West their home, the divide is seeing much cross influences across borders but not to forget that this old debate is always welcomed over the lunch table even today at any Bengali household.