Inside Bengali Kitchen
Traditional Bengali Kitchen Utensils
With the shopping done, the scene shifts to the ranna bari (cookhouse). The storage, cooking and eating areas in a Bengali home were a separate unit and the domain of the womenfolk. This barrack-like cookhouse was a row of rooms running parallel to a wide airy veranda often used as the dining space. In an orthodox Bengali home, fish and vegetables were cooked over separate fires, rice over another and meat, if cooked at all was done in a portable bucket fire outside the kitchen. However, recipes that were once cooked on these cowpat, wood or charcoal fires have now been adapted to emerge almost perfect from the gas, electric and microwave ovens that are in use today.
Here are some essential items you are sure to spot if you ever take a peek into a Bengali kitchen (even today!).
The staple food, rice, is bought by the sack and stored in huge containers. Pure golden mustard oil, that pungent Bengali cooking medium is usually stored in zinc lined tins. Large square tins are usually used to store the favorite Bengali snack food - muri (puffed rice). Achaars (pickles), spices, dals and ghee are kept in various sized bottles and jars on a shelf. And you will find many baskets, large and small, lidded and unlidded strewn all over the floor to store vegetables that just arrived from the market.
Among the cooking vessels, the karais (woks) where most of the cooking and frying is done, the tawa(griddle) on which rotis and parotas are made, the handi - a special large pot for cooking rice and the handle less modification of the sauce pan - the rimmed, deep, flat-bottomed dekchi are all hallmarks of the Bengali kitchen. And of course you will also find the pressure cooker which is indispensable to any Indian kitchen. As for the other utensils you absolutely can't do without the hatha (ladle), the khunti (metal spatula), the jhanjri(perforated spoon), the sharashi (pincers to remove vessels from the fire), the ghuntni (wooden hand blender) for puréeing dal and the old wooden chaki belon (round pastry board and rolling pin).
The action in the kitchen begins with the cutting of fish and vegetables and the grinding of spices. And this is when the two star attractions of the Bengali kitchen - the sil nora (grinding stone) and the boti (a cutting tool) appear. The items to be ground are put on the heavy sil, a pentagonal slab of stone and are crushed over and over by its moving partner the nora, a smooth black stone you hold with your hands. This inseparable pair lasts longer than a lifetime and is usually handed down from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law.
Although knives and peelers have made their debut into the modern Bengali kitchen, the boti, that unique cutting tool, has not yet been ousted. Boti, the Bengali woman's pride and joy and her proverbial weapon, is fitted on a wooden stand and held in place by the feet on the floor so that both hands are free. The blade of the versatile boti varies and is sharp enough to cut off the head of the toughest carp and yet safe enough to peel vegetables (with some skill that is!).
In present days kitchens are equipped with modern utensils and gadgets and mechanized items like Microwave, Toaster, Grill, Roti Maker, Mixer Grinder, Hand Grinder, Cake Oven, Pressure Cooker, Induction Heater, Multi-way Cooking Gas Oven, Dish Washer, Non Sticky utensils etc. through which the Traditional Setup are gradually being replaced. These are more evident particularly in the growing flat culture