Imagine you in your home on Eid Day morning. Everyone returned from Eid Prayers, getting ready for the day-long celebrations. What is the first thing you think of? We can make a cultured guess that you might just go to the kitchen to look at the plethora of delicious food your mother has been preparing since the day before. That is one of the many instances of our social, familial, and national culture entwined with food. Festivals are also synonymous with our culture. The Bangla saying goes “Baro Mashe Tero Parbon” which means 13 festivals in 12 months. That is how festivities are ingrained in our cultural spirit.
Bangla Culture is an old one and its festivals have a lineage that dates back to the start of the Indo-European civilization. The Mughals, The European Merchants, and of course the English Rule made significant contributions in changing the overall food culture. But the “Bangaliana” remains the same. Whenever we celebrate anything of national, religious, cultural significance we celebrate with food.
Let’s take a journey through festivals and food of Bangladesh and see how things have changed in both perceptions and observance of our festivals.
Bangla New Year
The quintessential Bengali celebration is the Bangla New Year or the Pohela Baishakh. This is the celebration of the beginning of the Bengali New Year on the first day of the first Bengali month, Baishakh. This has been a festival since the days of Mughal Emperor Akbar and has been observed with pomp and splendor ever since. Ilish Fry with Panta Bhaat is the signature dish that people love to eat. Many variations of Bharta (mash of potatoes, dried fish, beans etc.) is also one of the staples of this time. The Baishakhi Mela or fair is a yearly gathering where music, small rides, and of course many types of food are on sale in specific places. Although this tradition is fizzling out in the urban areas, the Baishakhi fair is a regular fixture in the rural and suburban areas. Many types of sweets like muri murki, jilapi, and street food like fuchka are sold to the public in these fairs. The Ramna Batamul and the Dhaka University Charukala institute area are the two places in Dhaka that still arrange something resembling a Baishakhi Fair. You can find variants of street food along with Baishakhi sweets here. Baishakhi Festival infuses culture with food in such a way that we are able to preserve our culture every year.
Ramzan Time Food
Probably one of the most spiritual months of the whole year is the month of Ramzan. In this month, Bengali Muslims fast during the day. They keep bad thoughts and bad intentions at bay. Also, they refrain from food and water. At Iftar time they break their fast. Because people have fasted during the day, they look for special and vibrant mixes of food in the iftar time. Piyaju, Beguni, Halim almost become a regular fixture in daily iftars. Then there is also a host of drinks like isop guler bhushi, labang, sharbat made from Gur, lacchi, borhani etc. which quench the thirst of the fasting populace. Iftar hubs within the city become crowded because of the unique taste they provide. Fruits like dates, watermelons, apples, and oranges also adorn the iftar table. The whole family sits and waits for the maghrib azan. Ramzan truly spells the time of strengthening spiritual, familial, and societal bonds. And, food plays a major role in doing just that.
After a whole month of spiritual strengthening, people across the country rejoice in Eid-ul-Fitr Celebrations. This along with Eid-Ul-Adha are two of the largest religious festivals in Bangladesh. After the month of Ramzan, Eid-ul-fitr is a celebration after a whole month of restraints from all consumption and purification of thoughts. Eid Day preparations start from the moment the Eid moon signals the day. A storm in the kitchen ensues. Payesh and Shemai preparations are on the way. Children peek in the kitchen asking for a taste test. On the Eid Day Khichuri, Polao, Beef-chicken-mutton dishes along with salads adorn the table. The men of the house perform ghusl, dress up, and eat something sweet before going for prayer, because it is sunnah. When they return from their prayer, the whole family sits together to have an eid feast.
Eid-ul-Adha is a bit different. This Eid symbolizes the sacrifice of the inner beast within human beings. We sacrifice domestic animals like cows, goats to symbolize the ending of our inner turmoil or evil in the name of the Almighty. This is also a prime time when the aromas of beef and mutton dishes permeate throughout the homes. Beef Curry, Kalabhuna, Kebabs, Grill, BBQ are eaten in the Eid-ul-Adha season. The sacrificed animals’ meat are donated to the needy people as well. Not only do family members enjoy delicious food, the marginalized people in the society also get a cut of the enjoyment. A prime example of food being the bridge of social harmony.
Peetha Puli and Nobanno Uthshab
Bangladesh is a land of Six Seasons. The climate vibrancy is unlike any other country in the world. Our food habits and cravings also correlate with the changing of season. Two festivals that signify the nexus of food and seasons. One is the Nobanno Uthshab. The Bengali Months of Kartik and Ogrohayon make up the season of Hemonto. This is a season when the new paddy is cut and brought to the homes of farmers. This is called the Nobanno Uthshab. The new rice from the new paddy forms the basis of tasty homemade food items. Boiled Rice, Khichuri, Polao and other rice items are made in this festival. But, the most popular item during this festival are the Peethas.
As Hemonto rolls into the winter season, the new rice and other ingredients are used to make a plethora of peethas. Whenever the winter season begins the preparation of peethas begins. Bhapa, Patishapta, Chitoi, many variants of the puli peetha, pakon, tal peetha, tel chitoi are some of the most popular peetha variants that every true bengali enjoys. We are still able to preserve these traditions because of their affiliation with food.
The Bangladeshi Hindu community observes many puja festivals during the year. Two of the major Puja festivals are Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja. There are specific food items that are prepared for the Puja rituals. One of the special “Bhog” Item is the Vegetable Khichuri that is a staple of the Puja festivals. Another must-have is a Luchi and vegetable combo during the festival.
The Shift in the Food and Festival Culture
In the last decade or so there has been a visible shift in how we view festivals and food as a culture. Life has become busy and catching up with festivals has become quite a challenge with our hectic metropolitan lifestyles. With limited time in this mechanical life enjoying the flavors of celebration relies on how much allowance the industrial life gives us. But rapid globalization has enabled more flavors to enter our food culture. Famous franchises like KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and more have entered our food vocabulary. Italian, Indian, French, Mexican, Chinese cuisines are regulars among our favorites. Technology has made it possible for us to enjoy the flavors of festivals even from the comfort of our homes. With the advent of online food delivery services, you can enjoy exquisite Ilish fries on Pahela Baishakh at your home even if you had to attend an office event for the whole day, for example.
HungryNaki ushered in the era of online food delivery in Bangladesh. They are the first online food delivery service in Bangladesh who started operations in 2013. HungryNaki celebrates the foods of festivals even now with every major festival, HungryNaki provides their customers with convenient food delivery, vibrant menus, and popular restaurants in every festival season.
As we move on through this digital life, we have to cope with the changes in lifestyle and technology. This became apparent in the global pandemic as we had to depend on online delivery services. But one thing is for certain, festivals and food will always bounce off of each other and provide us a reason to celebrate the Bangladeshi culture.