Pohela Boishakh 2024: Chefs And Home Chefs Share Food Memories

Pohela Boishakh, also referred to as Pahela Boishak, Poila Boishakh, or Pahela Bishak, is the Bengali New Year. It is the first day on the Bengali calendar and usually falls on April 14 in Bangladesh and is celebrated in India on April 15 not just in West Bengal but also in Jharkhand, Assam, and Tripura. 

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Some historians trace the roots of the festival can be traced back to the Muslim community of Old Dhaka during the rule of Mughals, while others claim that the Bengali calendar existed in the 7th century during the reign of Indian king Shashanka. Historians may argue for years to come but festivities today include fairs, processions, and families coming together to celebrate this auspicious day.

Dressed in traditional clothes, people spend time with their family and friends, participate in rituals, cook delicious delicacies, and enjoy the feast together. To learn more about the customs, traditional food, and rituals, Slurrp spoke to Bengali chefs and home chefs.

Chef Samrat Banerjee

“Whether it is Pohela Boishakh, Durga Pujo, or any other festival, Bengalis have a unique way of turning it into a massive cultural celebration. They are extremely proud of their heritage, their language, their food, and their music,” said Chef Samrat Banerjee, partner - ABV Hospitality. 

He added, “I find Pohela Boishakh important and secular because it is such a secular celebration that goes beyond religiosity.” Referring to the history of the festival associated with the Mughal period, he said, “This festival celebrates the time when trade and culture were important.”

Talking about the food prepared on Pohela Boishakh, Chef Samrat Banerjee said that this is the time when Bengalis cook out-of-season ingredients. People visit each other's houses, and in a funny way look for whose mishti (mithai or sweet dish) is better and who bought it from where. “It’s beautiful when all these shops in Kolkata are decorated with flowers, banana leaves, and mango leaves. It is a huge celebration of the sweet culture of Bengal,” he added. 

People will always offer at least a variety of a minimum of 6-7 sweets to their guests. The chef's family has a tradition of offering 12 different kinds of sweets, including something fresh made out of chenna, shondesh (sandesh), chitrakut, lobongo lotika, and others. “It signifies the celebration of 12 different sweets of the year,” the 43-year-old chef said. 

For the celebratory feast, people make 5-6 kinds of fish, kosha mangsho (mutton curry), a variety of vegetables, and many other delicacies. Chef Samrat Banerjee shared that many vegetarians celebrating Pohela Boishakh cook dishes even without onion and garlic for the festive spread. The chef used to relish kakrol (a vegetarian delight) that not many cook these days, but he cooks it using mustard and coconut paste. Another one of his favourites includes jolpai (Indian olive) chutney which he loves to relish and cook for others as well. 

Other indulgences that Chef Samrat Banerjee shared a few dishes that were made at his home, including potoler dorma (a fish-based dish prepared by his mother, but he makes it with chenna), shorshe, dhoka bangla (lentil-based dish), shukto (vegetable stew), doi maach, prawns, pabda macher, crabs (cooked in the pepper-based stew), dudh lau (milk-based recipes), and more. “We used to have a separate section for vegetarians, there used to be a fish section, and another section with other delicacies,” he added. 

This time, Chef Samrat Banerjee will be celebrating Pohela Boishakh with his friends. This year, all 20 of them will be meeting and bringing their favourite dish associated with the celebration of the festival. “It is going to be a fun potluck,” the chef added.

Joyadrita Ragavendran Chatterjee

Image Credit: Joyadrita Ragavendran Chatterjee 

“Bengalis believe in expressing love through good food,” said Joyadrita Ragavendran Chatterjee, a Bengali home chef in Chennai, while talking about the significance of food during Pohela Boishakh. Since the festivities coincided with her grandfather’s birthday, celebrations at her home used to be grand. 

“As the men in the family looked into procurement of the freshest vegetables, fish and meat, the women took care of the hearth-Maa, Dida (my maternal grandmother), Mashi, Maami (aunts) shared their culinary geniuses and whipped up the most amazing meals of which kosha mangsho and basonti polao (Basanti pulao) always featured in the menu apart from varieties of fishes, vegetarian delicacies and desserts,” the 38-year-old home chef added. 

Dining at her home used to be a fun affair on this day because everyone used to sit on the floor in rows with freshly cut banana leaves laid in front of them. “Both men and women took turns in serving each other, thus, breaking stereotypes of roles being assigned to a particular gender.”

She shared that an important part of Pohela Boisakh celebration is the “Haalkhata” or the yearly ledger writing tradition that most business owners/entrepreneurs indulge in. They open new ledger books which symbolises new hopes for the future, however, it is not restricted to this. "All business owners clean their shops, offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha post which they invite their clients and families offering sweet and savory boxes. As a child I would look forward to this custom, going from one shop to another with my mother and relishing snacks, cold drinks and other fast food which was otherwise restricted on most days," she added.

Joyadrita Ragavendran Chatterjee celebrates Pohela Boishakh every year by sending out traditional Bengali food from her kitchen to diners across Chennai. “This year too I would celebrate cooking some of my childhood favorites thus relieving some of the best memories shared in our family. I intend to prepare kosha mangsho, basonti polao, bhetki kalia, aloor dum, luchi, and roshogollar payesh,” the home chef shared with excitement. 

Subham Hati

“For a Bengali, Pohela Boishakh marks the first day of the Bengali calendar and calls for a celebration by spending time with family, visiting temples, and definitely Pet Pujo,” said Subham Hati, a Kolkata-based home chef. He added, “Good food just makes the day complete whether it be hot jilipis and nimki from the mela or home-cooked meals cooked by maa or Dida.”

On Pohela Boishakh, his family has the ritual of praying and offering prasad to Gods, which he looks forward to relishing even today. “In our home, breakfast consisting of luchi and aloor dum is usually made. Lunch is usually non-veg, and we mostly cook mutton. Mostly a few relatives come over, and it is a day of feasting along with family,” he shared. 

This year, the 27-year-old home chef will be cooking luchi with cholar dal for breakfast. “Maa makes the best Bengali fried rice, and I will be making mutton kosha for the whole family,” he said.