Pohela boishakh food is an integral part of Pohela Boishakh (the Bengali New Year) celebrations, an occasion celebrated in Bangladesh and West Bengal. It is a day marked by family gatherings, greeting exchanges and merry making accompanied by elaborate feasts. Also celebrated by the Bengali communities in Tripura, Odisha and Assam, Pohela Boishakh or Poila Boishakh is celebrated around 14th April every year. Ilish bhaja (fried Hilsa fish), Bhapa sondesh (cottage cheese dessert), kosha mangsho (meat curry), polau (yellow rice) and mishti doi (sweet curd) are some of the favorite Bengali New Year foods.
Traditional Poila Boishakh Recipes
Panta Ilish- It is one of the traditional pohela boishakh recipes which consists of rice soaked in water. The dish is accompanied with fried hilsa and dried Shutki fish.
Healthier variation - Brown rice can be used instead of white polished rice. Brown rice is a rich source of fiber and certain vital nutrients like iron, vitamin B1, B3 and B6. Instead of fried hilsa, a baked version can be mande. It is healthier and low in calories.
Ilish bhaja- A delicious pohela boishakh food item served during the celebration of Pohela boishakh, it is basically fried hilsa fish.
Healthier variation - Baked hilsa can be made. It is low in calories and fat but high in protein and omega 3 fatty acids.
Kacha aam er shorbat- It is the refreshing juice of green mango which is mostly served with breakfast and lunch. It is a very nutritious drink and is very good for the stomach and digestion.
Chot-poti- It is a savory pohela boishakh food which is made of lentils and green chilies. It is a good source of vegetable protein.
Pohela boishakh sweets- Indrani, rasha malai, pati shapta, rosogulla and shahi zelape are some of the popular desserts served for Pohela boishakh. Sweets are restricted for people suffering from diabetes. Sugar free variations can be made which are diabetic friendly. Low fat milk can be used to make the sweets.
Significance of Pohela Boishakh Dishes
The festival marks the beginning of the crop season and thus, people make merry as they await a new prosperous year. Food is given to the needy and poor on this day and people pray for happiness for all. Traditionally, the seasonal fruits and vegetables like raw mango (kacha aam), pointed gourd (potol) and others are used in the various food preparations. Sweets made of chhena or cottage cheese are relished. Bengalies are known for their sweet tooth and on this festive occasion too sweets are exchanged between families and friends. Sweets are symbolic of this occasion and are regarded a good omen to usher in the new year in a sweet tone. Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi are worshipped on this day and offered fresh fruits and pure vegetarian dishes like khichuri bhog (lentil rice), fried vegetables, narkel naru (sweet coconut balls) and payesh (milk and rice pudding).
Modern Pohela Boishakh Recipes
Posto murgi- It is a mouthwatering chicken preparation mostly prepared during the festive season. The chicken is made in ginger, garlic and fenugreek paste. Groundnuts enhance the taste of dish with a rich flavor.
Kaju Aar Posto Diye Mangso- Spicy mutton cooked with herbs -a must-have Pohela boishakh food .
Bengali payesh- A sweet dessert made by combining milk with rice and jaggery. Garnished with nuts, this is one of the popular Pohela boishakh foods.
Traditional Meal Plan
An ideal Bengali breakfast on the day of Poila Boishakh is alur torkari (potato curry) with luchi (puffed flatbread) and mishti (sweets). Sweets like sandesh (cottage cheese sweet) or pantua (deep fried and syrup soaked cottage cheese ball) are commonly found on this festive breakfast plate.
A typical Bengali new year lunch may comprise the following items –
Alu Bhaja – This is crispy fried julienned potato served with dal and steamed rice.
Bhaja muger dal – This is roasted mung bean soup served with steaming hot plain rice.
Mach Bhaja – Bengalies are fond of fishes and therefore, a crispy fried fish of any variety (most popularly Hilsa, Rohu, Parshe or Topshe) is served with steamed hot rice.
Polau – Polau or Paloa is Bengali pulao, which is a main dish. It is basically yellow rice cooked with cashews and raisins, dominated by a sweet taste.
Kasha Mangsho – This is a side dish of meat curry cooked with tomatoes, onion, turmeric, red chilies and garlic. The meat may vary from mutton to chicken.
Chatni – This is the Bengali version of Chutney, which is generally made of raw mango, with another popular version being made of tomatoes, dates and a dried mango delicacy called aam shotto.
Papor – This is papaddam or crispy fried flatbread served with chatni, after the main course.
Mishti – This is the main dessert of any Bengali meal, which on this special occasion may comprise one or more of the following sweets –
Mishti Doi – sweet curd
Roshogolla – Syrup soaked cottage cheese ball
Sondesh - Flavored and/or colored cottage cheese sweet
Meetha Paan – This is a betel leaf sweet pastry served post lunch as a mouth freshener.
Dinner – A typical Bengali New year dinner may have similar items as served in lunch, although, the rice is generally replaced with puffed flatbreads called luchi. Meat and fish curries cooked in an oily, rich gravy of tomatoes, garlic and onions still play a key role in the dinner menu.
Healthy Bengali New Year Recipes
For the health conscious men and women and people with restricted diets, many new Bengali recipes have been formulated for the special occasion. Here are a few of the popular ones –
Sondesh for Diabetics– This sondesh is specially created for people who are either on a weight loss diet or are suffering from Diabetes. These are basically flavored and/or colored cottage cheese sugar-free Bengali sweets. Artificial sweeteners are generally used for making this sondesh.
Fat-free Mishti Doi – This is sweet curd made with artificial sweetener and fat-free milk.
Low-fat Fish Curry – Fish cooked in mustard paste or gravy is one of the most popular entrees in a festive menu. The fish can be cooked in minimal mustard oil, therefore making it an ideal dish for weight watchers. Moreover, bhapa ilish (steamed Hilsa) and macher paturi (fish marinated in mustard paste and other spices and wrapped in coconut leaf and pan-fried) are other much favored Bengali fish recipes that don’t call for much oil. Mainly fishes like Hilsa or Bekti are used in such preparations.
Customary Ways to Serve and Eat Pohela Boishakh Dishes
Pohela boishakh food is eaten together with friends and family members. The food is served in dishes made of clay and the people sit together on the floor to savor the food.