Get high on nostalgia thinling of the picnic culture so unique to Bengal. The foods and the doings around the typical picnic are always the major attraction of such a get-together.
The winter breaks in Bengal always meant a season of weddings, meet-ups and finally, picnics. The picnic culture is almost exclusive to Bengal. Other states have their road trip culture, tenting and camping cultures during winter season. However, Bengal has always seen people planning get-togethers that require an entire group to travel via cars or even vans or smaller lorries to a venue for picnics.
The picnic culture is so dominant-- perhaps was-- thanks to the pandemic playing down things now; that professional caterers used to look forward to wedding level bookings post Christmas and before the first week of the New Year that follows.
Picnics are almost like a subculture peculiar to Bengal and there are specific spots designated as picnic spots in the minds of those born here. The joy of picnics is that you get a break from traditional cooking and wait to eat while sitting on a mat while the gravy boils away to heated glory on an open wok. The joy of travelling in a group to a spot while you carry badminton kits, flying discs and even a music player--is unmatchable. True that today’s youngsters might not have the same style of picnic-ing but they sure still get together and make a bonfire to feast of roasted chicken legs. The style must have transitioned but youth in Bengal still have picnics. Here are top five picnic foods that have always been a hit over the ages.
A quintessential breakfast, a picnic begins with fritters and puffed rice. The sound of such items in English seems so funny though. Picnics begin early and that requires the picnic-ers travel to a spot with hunger in their bellies. Most often, breakfast begins with muri in paper containers called thonga and some deep fried pakoras. The pakoras could be made from anything--potato to spinach. Mixed veg pakoras are a popular pick too. Mostly non-veg food is reserved for the main lunch course and the breakfast sees veggies dominating.
The fish fry and the cutlet are very Bengali. What originated as a colonial British dish, the cutlet made from bhetki, basa or even chicken; is deep dried with layers of coating that range from spicy pastes to egg and finally rusk crumbs. This is a starter, rather snack to appease the growling stomach amid badminton games and fun antakshari at the picnic. Served with roughly sliced salad and mustard sauce or tomato sauce.
Sultry Hot Lunch
Picnics do not see sophisticated meal planning or serving. The cook might be a caterer or a home cook confident enough to handle the huge kadhais and cook up a storm. The lunch is mostly mutton curry or chicken curry and plain white rice. Fried rice and biryanis are fancy innovations but traditionally, it was just white boiled rice.
For the offbeat vegetarian, you had a little bit of jackfruit curry--made on similar lines of the mutton. In fact, Bengalis believe that jackfruit is a vegetarian's mutton. One that grows on trees--a rough translation!
Pretty Things For Picnics
Once lunch ends, it gets time for some fun play and gossip. Picnic groups integrate into smaller subgroups and chill while lazing around on the mats they carry to the spot. Evening times wrap up with Limca and rasgulla. The picnickers pack back for a return. Stomachs full, faces happy and lots of energy--singing or grooving all the way back to their homes.
A Hopeful Wish
A picnic is a party for Bengalis--rather Bengal residents. It is a unique thing and the food associated with it is equally unique. Therefore, nostalgia around picnics is high. I just wish and pray for a time that this subculture sees revival and indulgence once the pandemic passes over us!
Satarupa B. Kaur has been writing professionally since a decade now. Always on the go; she loves travel, books, playtime with her toddler as she explores new places and food!