We all have heard the saying, that a Bengali meal is only complete when there is fish and rice served together. Yet, Bengali cuisine champions as many vegetarian dishes as non-vegetarian ones. From Shukto (Bengali Vegetable Mix) to Lau Chocchori (Bottle Gourd Curry) to Begun Pora (Fire Roasted Brinjal), there are countless vegetarian dishes that vie for the top spot.
It’s a well-known fact that Bengalis of ancient times didn’t display much affinity towards meat, but medieval sources indicate that banana blossom was consumed aplenty, along with sheem (Indian flat beans), kathal bichi (jackfruit seeds), ol (elephant yam) and kankrole (tease gourd).
Mochar Ghonto (Banana Blossom Curry) is arguably one of the tastiest lunch preparations from Bengal. This dry vegetable sabzi dish is decked in small bits of potato wedges and fried coconut; thus unlike most Indian sabzis, Mochar Ghonto has a predominantly sweeter flavour palate.
However, to make this steadfastly Bengali dish is a herculean task, which begins with painstakingly plucking out the banana florets one at a time and chopping them. Before that, the palms are greased with mustard oil so that the gummy sap doesn’t stick to one’s hands. Then it is transferred into a vessel with water, salt, and turmeric and cooked down. Then this mix is sauteed in a wok with bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, red chillies and potato until the water completely evaporates. The dish is finished off with a dollop of ghee and fried coconut.
In Ghulam Murshid's Bengali Culture Over a Thousand Years, the author investigates the birth of the many vegetable-forward dishes in Bengal. He notes that since Bengali-Hindu widows were mandated against consuming meat, they began experimenting heavily with available vegetables. Thus Chocchori and Labra (Mixed Vegetable), Mochar Ghonto and Mocha Bhaja (Fried Banana Blossom) find extensive mentions in medieval literature. But over the years, Mochar Ghonto has also undergone a non-vegetarian makeover, with versions featuring Rohu/Catla fish heads or fried shrimps.
Mocha or banana blossom is widely cultivated and consumed throughout the state, and is also considered auspicious in Hindu cultures. In fact, Krishnadas Kaviraj’s seminal text on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings mentions his undying devotion to this vegetable dish.
Further, the miracle preparation that tends to address everything from low blood sugar levels, to hormone-induced acne or menopause.