The Big Bong Theory: 5 Bengali Side Dishes That Can Amp Up Any Meal

While we are all for soothing Doi Maach and rich Kosha Mangsho, there is something about simple and well-made Aloo bhaja (potato fritters) that will make our day. Bengali cuisine, is one of the very few Indian cuisines that still works a lot in tandem with Ayurveda. So seasonal, local produce is prized, so is the order of food served and the food pairings. There are plenty of side dishes that are so exceptional, that often fulfills our quest for new flavours, texture and accents. Like that missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, they can not only complete a meal, but also amp it up. The best part about these side dishes is that you do not have to have a pantry stocked with exotic ingredients, for you can create magic with everyday ingredients too.

Aloo Posto

One-third of the ultimate Bengali comfort formula, aloo posto is a thick, side dish made with potatoes cooked in lightly-spiced masala made of poppy seeds, panchphoron and mustard oil. Posto is a Bengali word for poppy seeds. Aloo Posto is best relished with dal and rice.  

Bengali Tomato Chutney

Chutneys can be of any colour, flavour and texture in this country. It is arguably the most beloved accompaniments. This Bengali chutney is a Bhog favourite. It has a deep-red, translucent colour. It is made with deseeded tomatoes (peels on). The addition of raisins and jaggery, makes this chutney delightfully sweet.  


Almost every Indian region has their own, mixed veg delicacy, Gujarat has Undhiyo, Kerala has Avial, in Bengal there is shukto. It is said that the Portuguese, developed the earliest variant of Shukto by trying to make a stew of all local and regional vegetables. Shukto today differs from household to household, and the recipe hinges a lot on the availability of vegetables. Many bitter veggies and greens like neem, karela leaves, halencha saag are also added to the mixed-veg delicacy. In a typical Bengali meal, people start with bitter and end with something sweet, therefore shukto is served somewhere in the start.


Macher Tel Bora

Another very fascinating side dish. The Bengali love affair with fish is no strange fiction. Every Bengali community relishes a hearty fish preparation. In fact, it is considered rude to have guests over and not serve the fish. Every part of fish is out to use, be it the head or the oil inside its tummy. This jelly-like substance is collected and washed. It is then mixed with onions, salt, spices and besan and fried just like pakodas. These boras (vada) have a delightful bitter accent with a slightly sour after-taste. Its crispness makes it an excellent addition to a typical multi-course Bengali meal.

Begun Bhaja

Begun is a Bengali word for eggplant, while ‘bhaja’ translates to fritters. Bhajas or Telbhajas are actually very intrinsic part of a Bengali meal. Anything can be used to make bhajas, from a humble potato to cauliflower. In Bengal famine of early 1940s when Bengal was grappling with the most acute food shortage, people started frying flowers and skins of vegetables to put something edible on the plate. Begun Bhaja is one of the most popular Bengali Bhajas today. From everyday meals to festive meals such as Durga Puja bhog, this eggplant fritter is everywhere. There are two types of Begun Bhaja, one where sliced eggplant is smeared with a mixture of red chilli powder and salt and fried till partially crisp, and the other where the eggplant is coated in a spicy batter of besan and red chilli powder before it is fried. The latter is crisper and comes with a golden exterior.