The History Of Armenian Connect In Bengali Cuisine
Image Credit: Shutterstock | Potoler Dolma

Kolkata has been the hub of various cultural confluence and in turn saw the emergence if variety of food too. Be it the Chinese, Anglo, Awadh, Armenian or any other community,  each have left their mark in the city which over the period of time has intermingled well in with the city. 

The Armenian connect

The Armenians who arrived in Bengal in 1645 chose to settled along the Hooghly’s fertile western bank like most traders of those time. It was the coastal that was found made for the hubs of cultural exchange. Even till date in Kolkata be it the Armenian Church or the Armenian college there are many remains of them that still exist or rather co-exist. It’s not just the heritage and history that the city sees a connect, but it’s the food for which Bengali’s owe the Armenians a big thank you. 

It was Chef Saby who thought to bring this cuisine to the mainland table and hence Lavaash by Saby born years ago (The restaurant shut due to Pandemic). He being the only Indian chef who took to all effort to preserve the dying legacy of that Armenian cuisine. Hailing from Asansol he had seen the influence in food there, so in this then restaurant he had carefully crafted the same under two parts – authentic Armenian dishes and Bengali dishes with Armenian influence where each has been beautifully described. 

Bengal has always been known to have integrated, intermarried the dishes from other communities plate them with much ease. One such dish is the Potol Dolma and the Cabbage Dolma. This was result of cross-cultural communion. The dolma were known to have their origin in the Ottoman empire, where Ottoman-Turks used to stuff vegetables with meats, even a reference is found in pre-Ottoman Arabic cookbooks. The word dolma is derived from dolmark in Turkish, which means 'to be stuffed'.  

Armenian’s were known to have grape vine at home and leaves were used to make dolmas (meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves). Later the cabbage took the place of grape leaves and other traditional ingredients saw been stuffed. It was then the Bengali’s gave it a facelift and revamped it with the braising technique for that extra dose of flavour and texture. Today for most native Bengalis this tops a favourite and there’s a vegetarian version too where pointed gourd is stuffed with chena and dry fruits. a

Chitrita Banerji, in her book, Bengali cooking: Seasons & festivals, says that since other gourds were too watery hence the potol was used for that right texture. With so many of stories around food history and confluence, each groups have their own culture and food that plays a central part in it. In this succulent dish the seeds are scooped out of the potol and a hollow is created for stuffing. Later it’s stuffed either with veg or non-veg variations and then cooked delicately in a spicy tomato gravy that was more for the Bengali palate. 

Apart form the Potol, it was also the cabbage that found fancy to be dolma, that was much delicate as there were chances of cabbage dolmas fall apart and the keema stuffing mixing in the curry. 

Trivia- Lavaash (the bread) has found a permanent spot in the UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list and is the only food item to make it to the list from around the world.