Decoding 'Teto': Why No Bengali Meal Is Complete Without Shukto
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In Bengali cuisine, the word 'teto' isn't just an adjective, it's also a course. A traditional Bengali meal has an entire course dedicated to savoury bitters and it's worth exploring why Bengalis love starting their delicious meal on a rather pungent note. 

Also Read: Shukto: An Appetising Bengali-Style Vegetable Stew

Shukto is perhaps the most cherished Bengali number; the curry of bitters is made in a milky gravy and is seasoned with poppy seeds, ginger, and mustard paste. Typically, the vegetables are fried in mustard oil and finished with ghee. The shukto has a singular taste and can accommodate seasonal veggies. This medley is an unmissable part of a typical Bengali meal; if not Shukto, a Bengali lunch is likely to have some element of steamed or fried bitter veggies, be it bitter gourd, neem, shojne, shojne phul or other variants of saag. 
These bitters are full of medicinal virtues and potent sources of antioxidants. The Ayurvedic tradition of consuming bitters at the beginning of a meal dates back to ancient times. Some scholars believe that eating bitters first can help in cooling the stomach down in humid climates. Moreover, bitters are consumed in other cultures as well. 

Consuming bitters to start a meal isn’t exclusive to Bengali culinary traditions. There’s the Maharashtrian Kaarlyachi Bhaaji (a bitter gourd curry), Kerala’s Pavakka curry and the Parsi bhaji dana, which is a fenugreek dish. But none of these items are probably as widely made as part of regular homely meals. But there's a reason why it's such a staple. 
Bengal's climate supports the cultivation of an array of bitter ingredients, most of which have been used in cooking, especially by agrarian communities. Greens like hinchey or watercress, gima or bitter cumin leaves, herbs like thankuni etc are added to shukto, not only for their astringent notes but also for their medicinal virtues, particularly the ones that aid gut health. It's common knowledge that Shukto has its roots in Portuguese cuisine. 
During the Portuguese rule in India, shukto was made as a mouth freshening course and mainly constituted of bitter gourds. bengali kitchens in India and Bangladesh adapted this recipe in their own way. While Bangladeshi shukto variants use certain species of fish, the practice of adding milk to shukto was said to be popularised by the Tagor household. 
In her book Amish o Niramish Ahaar, Pragyasundari Devi, who was Rabindranath Tagore's niece lists a concoction of maida, milk and sugar in her shukto recipe, which is meant to tone down the bitterness. Historians have listed a number of other bitter stews and curries that were cooked in Bengali kitchens of yore, such as Shojne Patar Bora r Jhol and Korola Kumro r Boti, which faded in relevance. Despite the popularity of a korola bhaja, neem begun or a sojne pata, the shukto remains a mainstay; not only does it boast a particularly bracing taste that engages your taste buds but its one-pot recipe makes it a lot more usable