Bengali Biryani (Spiced Basmati Rice with Pike)
Palak Masoor Dal (Red Lentils with Spinach and Fenugreek Leaves)
Chingri Malai Curry (Spicy Bengali Prawn Curry)
Okay kids, open your geology books. Bangladesh is not part of India. It was once but it's not anymore. It was also known as East Pakistan for a while as well. A couple of revolutions later the Bengali people forcefully freed themselves from the tyranny of the British and Pakistani rule to become their own sovereign nation. Relatively peaceful since the 1970s the only threats Bengalis have had to face (aside from extreme poverty) are from man eating Bengal tigers and venomous vipers.
The cuisine of Bangladesh takes a few cues a little from it's neighbors and being a fairly new independent country, it struggles to separate it's own culinary traditions from that of it's former landlords. However, like any place creating it's own identity, Bangladesh is slowly starting to show the rest of the world it's own unique traditions and culture. What is authentic Bengali cuisine? Authentic just means honest in my opinion. Every country has their own cuisine. Every region of every country has their own cuisine. Every cook from every region of every country has their own specific way to make these dishes. If a Bengali makes a dish that is different than the way her friend down the street makes it, is it any less authentic? The world is full of uniqueness, and if you stop and look around you just might learn something new. Or at least rediscover something great.
Asafoetida (also known as devil dung, stink gum, and food of the gods) is a strange spice. Primarily used in Indian and Bengali cooking, it sort of smells like a roast beef dinner, salty blood, and ripe cheese all at once. It also reduces flatulence so it's got that going for it. Upon first smell asafoetida did not win my heart over. However when you toast the spice in ghee (clarified butter), something lovely happens. It takes on a nutty mild flavor similar to sauteed onion and garlic. My cupboard has been taken over by the smell (which I have to say, it's grown on me) and my other spices are threatening to kick out their new roommate. A Bengali dish that uses the pungent spice is Palak Masoor Dal, which is a soupy red dal (lentil) with other curry-esque spices and spinach and fenugreek leaves. The dal is tasty, and unique with a slightly sour meaty taste (in a good way, not in a rotten carcass kind of way). I'm now curious to cook other dishes with the interesting spice. Asafoetida ice cream anyone? Yeah, I didn't think so.
For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States