It was an early Saturday morning and I was on a Zoom call with my best friend, making breakfast and catching up. Ten minutes into the conversation, she took a double take, asking, "Did you just... is that salt?"
The disgust in her voice was barely concealed, and I was confused. She saw me add a pinch of salt in my mug of tea. Is this not normal? This is how my mother always brewed laal cha. It got me thinking. How many of our quirky food habits, passed down to us through generations, do we just assume to be common? I ended up collecting a small list of odd but popular food combinations that are niche to their localities. Trust me, they make a lot of sense.
BHAPA PITHA WITH MAACH ER JHOL
Bhapa pitha is the quintessential winter treat. Growing up in a northern district, it was the norm to have bhapa pitha for breakfast during winters, with a side dish of fish curry. My friend from Dinajpur insists that this tastes best when the bhapa pitha is freshly baked and the fish is served cold, right out of the freezer. If this is all too shocking for your taste buds, try dipping bhapa pitha in some fish broth and have a taste test experiment.
This too, is a quirky food habit very specific to the northernmost regions of the country. The combination of polao with unconventional sweet items seems to be very popular here – be it polao with mishti doi, or polao with just sugar. Similar to how you would add a little salt to your food at times, the sugar is added generously for that extra crunch with every bite.
THE PONEER OBSESSION
From bakorkhani to the special Nanna biriyani and kacchi, Puran Dhaka is a world of food adventures. What made it to this list is something that's often overlooked: their poneer obsession. Puran Dhaka'srich tradition of snacks includes the deshi version of hardened cheese, poneer. From dunking it in the morning tea, to pairing it with bakorkhani, and even using it as a substitute for salad with daily meals, poneer is the most versatile add-on for your regular boring dishes.
Finally, I found the ultimate substitute for the lacchi: a Barishal staple, molida. Made with a blend of what seems like the most confusing mix of food and ingredients, it is a drink that's quite popular with the locals. A basic molida recipe includes a blend of rice flour, coconut, ginger, sugar and salt – essentially making it a spicy-sweet, chewy concoction. It's mostly popular during winters and Ramadan, and is often made as a treat for special visitors.
All the food combinations in this list are simple, and can be easily replicated in your own home. Although I can't vouch for the chini polao, I hope some of these inspire you to look into our culture's abundant history with food and conduct experiments in your kitchen.
Shahara is the resident blue haired tsundere. Write to her at email@example.com