The importance of rice in Bengal

Rice, the Bengali staple food

 Rice, the Bengali staple food

Most of us in India have a Bengali friend at some stage of our lives. We do try to poke fun at him or her time and again, but many things about Bengalis are also secretly admired in other cultures.

So, if you have ever wondered why people in Bengal are rice eaters, then this blog is for you.

You will be surprised to know that the Government of West Bengal itself had advised its residents to consume more rotis instead of rice. Interestingly, this was not done from a health point of view but because Bengal was experiencing a major rice shortage. The sharp drop in paddy cultivation that year had taken place due to inadequate monsoons in 2009.

Rice is an integral part of most dishes consumed by Bengalis. Maach bhaat (fish and rice) and dal bhaat (dal and rice) are consumed by almost every Bengali on a regular basis. So, the advice to give them up would surely be difficult to fathom for most Bengalis. 

Starting from the time a bride comes into the Bengali household (sometimes even before that), rice is recognized as an integral component of food. A tradition called Bou bhaat is followed, where delightful dishes are served to the guests, which is usually done by the newly-wed wife. 

If one goes back to the time of birth, rice is fed to a six-month-old baby during a ceremony called Annaprashan (Anna meaning rice). It is even used as last rites for the dead, in the form of rice ball offering called Pindodaan

Still wondering why people in Bengal are rice eaters? There’s more to tell. Bengalis are known for their love for sweets, and one of the favourites is the rice pudding, termed as Payesh. This was later adopted in a less watery avatar by the British.   

Bengal was used to growing three annual crops of rice, and it was the mainstay of all three meals. Bengalis would not be able to get a full feeling in the stomach unless they had rice, and this holds true even today. In fact, the importance of rice in West Bengal and in the lives of Bengalis in other parts of India is such that its absence has complete potential to make a Bengali feel incomplete. 


Author: Mrs. Reeema Tarafdar

Reema Tarafdar

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