Universal appeal of Punjabi dishes
It is true to reality that India is blessed with its richness in a variety of delectable desi dishes. Passing by some busy Indian streets, one would certainly get a glimpse of palatable Punjabi dishes and India's very own Dal makhani, Paneer butter masala, Paneer makhani, Tandoori chicken, Malai kebab would, in their true sense, bowl you over with their fine tastes. Be it at a roadside dhaba or a platter offered in a gourmet restaurant, Punjabi cuisine has always been adored by us Indians. Moreover, it has gained popularity among the foreign tourists as well.
To some, Idli sambar, Vada pao, Coconut rawa masala dosa, Cheese dosa and the like are also personal favourites. But who knows about, Luchi-Cholar dal, Kosha mangsho or Chingri chichinge? Sounds unfamiliar? Well, these are some of the Bengali dishes with sinful tastes. Unfortunately, such dishes are region-specific and have won the hearts of only the natives of the area. The facts are laid down with some unknown details.
The 'taste of India' is more crowd-pleasing and indicative to North Indian dishes which have become synonymous to Punjabi cuisine. The moment you scan through a menu card in any restaurant in the country, all you can see - Punjabi dishes under the banner while no other north Indian state gets featured. Think of Amritsari chole bhature, Aloo bharwan, Chicken tikka butter masala, Methi matar malai, Kadai mushroom, Arbi ki sabzi, Sarson ka saag aur Makki ki roti – all of these 'wow' foods have something exquisite to offer and the ingredients speak for themselves. So, what is the reason behind these Punjabi dishes being so well received across India than their Bengali counterparts?
To be precise, they are more commercialised than Bengali food. The number of Punjabi starters outnumbers Bengali starters undoubtedly. Starting from Paneer tikka, Tandoori chicken, Dahi bhalla, Samosa to Paneer pakodas, a variety of chaats, Paneer amritsari, Tandoori aloo, Bharwan paneer chilli pakoda, Aloo tikki, Hara bhara kebab – the list goes on. Whereas, although scrumptious, Bengali starters are few in number including the crispy Aloo bhaja, Bori bhaja, Begun bhaja, Fish kabiraji, Bhaja chingri, Penyaji and Aloo chop.
India is an abode of diversified cultures, traditions and lifestyles, and with a mélange of numerous cultures, one has to consider the food culture also. The climate, vegetation and wildlife do contribute to the many-sidedness of food in our country. Paneer chaman, Kashmiri saag, Wazwan, Dal bati churma, Kersangri, Babru, Kashmir's Gustaba, Rogan josh, Dham, Chha gosht from North India; Aloo potol posto, Ilish Macher jhal, Khechadi, Pithas, Litti choka, Thekua, Kadhi badi from Eastern India; Upittu, Kesari bath, Gundponglu, Koli saaru from Southern India and the famous Dhokla, Khakra, Bebinca, Fish Receado from Western India – it is this vast diversity of recipes that define the country's multiplicity. Despite of such a huge variety, Punjabi cuisine has always been in fashion.
Aungshuman Chakraborty, Executive Chef of Intercontinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort says, "Concerning Bengali cuisine, the delicacy of Chingri malai curry, Bhetki paturi, Mochar ghonto, Aloo posto, Jhinge posto, Kachkolar kofta, etc. are some of the perfect examples of pure sin. However, they have achieved greater heights mainly in Bengal and the adjoining areas. But, Punjabi dishes are popular picks in the entire India. The reason behind non-commercialisaton of Bengali cuisine might be the use of mustard oil, mustard sauce and mustard paste is abundance in some dishes, which does not suit everyone's palate. Dishes prepared with such ingredients are characterised by their slight bitterness and the pungent smell. Whereas, a variety of 'masalas', desi ghee and thick cream are used in abundance in Punjabi dishes so as to give a softer taste and tender flavour. Such tastes in any recipe are appreciated by most people. Moreover, I also feel that Hilsa has a strong smell, which might not be liked by many. My personal opinion would be that Punjabi dishes have always been favoured across India. Moreover, those are also in demand in the entire United Kingdom, Singapore and some major cities of the US like Boston, New York, Los Angeles and California."
We see that a variety of spices are mainly used in optimum in Punjabi recipes because the Northern part of the country had been under constant invasion by the Aryans and Mughals who brought with them their spices, which India embraced later with arms wide open. As a consequence, every dish is unique in terms of taste and flavour. And platters prepared with such spices are today considered as all-time savouries globally. In addition, since North India is the major cultivator of wheat, we find various types of breads in forms of naan, tandoor, rumali or tawa from the kitchens of Punjab.
On being asked the reason behind the popularity of Punjabi cuisine over 'Bong' cuisine, PV Raju, owner of Times Food award-wining Punjabee Rasoi, Kolkata, said, "I personally feel that Punjabi cuisine has more acceptance across India. As per my knowledge, 70 to 80 per cent people prefer such dishes. One big reason behind this is the wide variety of Punjabi dishes – both snacks and main course. Considering Lassi, one will find it in different forms – sweet lassi, salted lassi (chaanch), Rose lassi, Strawberry lassi, etc. Today, Raita has come under the same fold and people love to give it a try in the form of Aloo Raita, Bundi raita, Mixed raita containing cucumber, potato and tomato. So, they are given new looks with different twists and distinct tastes. Many Chinese and South Indians have also visited our restaurant to enjoy the delicacy of Punjabi cuisine exclusively. Also, an arrays of spices that are applied in Punjabi dishes enhance their flavours, enriching the taste of the recipe making them richer. Indians love to try their hands at such dishes. Even Bengali cuisine has some authentic dishes as well and I personally love them too. But contrary to Punjabi dishes, Bengali food contain less masala and are comparatively lighter. Also, due to less marketing, people are less aware of its recipes."
Captain Abhijit Sheel of Cheeni Kum, a restaurant in Kolkata, is also of the same opinion. He highlights, "Bengali dishes have some fine delicacies to offer. However, the cuisine is widely popular mostly across West Bengal and not beyond. But Punjabi cuisine is the most commercialised form today. So much so, that it is even relished by the people of France, England and China to name a few. Due to the negligible use of mustard oil in Punjabi dishes, in opposition to Bengali recipes, more foodies get drawn towards it. However, the smell of mustard oil is such that is not accepted by all. Further, addition of spices in Punjabi foods is optimum, which makes every dish rich. I feel that Indians mainly prefer rich, coloured food and Punjabi cuisine is the perfect example for this."
Bhuwanesh Pandey, the Food and Beverage Manager of The Suryaa, also opines that the kind of gravies added to Punjabi dishes is slightly sweet yet spicy. Punjabi cuisine has a balance of everything – neither too strong, nor too mild. Butter chicken and Dal makhani are preferably the two 'run-after' dishes that pamper the taste buds of the food lovers of US, New Zealand and Australia. As far as Bengali dishes are concerned, one needs to develop a taste to enjoy them. Some Bengali foods have pungent smell, which is preferred only by handful number of people.
The wonders of Bengali cuisine are distinguishing and can taste heavenly. Sadly, it is slipping away from prominence to oblivion owing to the authenticity and the non commercialised form of cuisine.