Bengalis and Jackfruits – A Summery Affair
Remember writing essays on Greeshmokal in school? It was mandatory to mention the popular fruits of summer season: aam, knathal, lichu, aata, angur, i.e. mango, jackfruit, lichi, custard apple, grape, etc. For Bangalis, jackfruits come right after mangoes. Do you know that jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh? There’s no denying the similarity of food culture in Bangladesh and West Bengal – and the relationship between Bengalis and jackfruits, in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, proves it.
Bengalis and Jackfruits – A Love Affair of Thousands of Years
The love for jackfruits among Bengalis is nothing new. Archaeologists think that jackfruits have been enjoyed by Indians for centuries; and by centuries, I mean something between 3000 and 6000 years. For all these centuries, jackfruits have not only added sweetness to the plate but also dominated the savoury side of things. Yes, inside the sticky, tough, prickly skin is a treasure that many Bangalis consider a part of their Bangaliyana.
Kaanthal, the Fruit
When it comes to the juicy flesh-pods inside, you’ll find two extreme opinions: Bangalis can either kill for it, or they can kill people who bring it anywhere near. It’s notoriously sweet to taste, but its identifying quality is the smell; some call it the fragrance of summer, others think it is an odour and run as far away from it as possible. There’s no one in between. Love it or hate it – you can’t ignore it. The juicy kaanthal phol is also a part of traditional occasions in summer. For instance, Sosur-Sasuris serve it for the blue-eyed Jamai during Jamai Sasthi.
Enchor, the Gaach Patha
But, that’s not all that jackfruit does. For the carnivorous Bangali foodies who love their mutton-bhaat, raw jackfruit, or enchor, is a blessing. The fibrous texture makes it similar to mutton; enchor is thus the gaach pantha, i.e. the mutton that grows on trees. The best enchor is available between the end of spring and the onset of summer, when the texture, smell, and taste are just perfect!
Raw jackfruit is cooked just like mutton is – with Gorom Mosla and Aada-Pniyaj-Rosun, for a rich, aromatic curry, or in a more traditional way with no onions and garlic, just like Kalipujor Niramish Mangsho. From kofta to kalia to dalna, raw jackfruit is the hero. Sometimes, they are also cooked with prawns, but cooking a fully vegetarian enchor dish is a challenge that Bengalis love to take up.
The Nutty Affair
And then there are the jackfruit seeds that can also turn into many fascinating savoury dishes and titbits. They can be cooked in daal for a nutty flavour, or added in a mix of vegetables for a little bit of texture. They can be mashed and mixed with spices and oil, to be eaten as a spicy bhorta or baata with gorom bhaat. You can steam them and cook them with coconut and posto. Roasted kaanthal bichi is also a tasty snack.
Bangalis react strangely when it comes to vegetarian food.
Bengalis take immense pleasure in being counted next to dinosaurs on the list of carnivores. And yet, they take incredible pride in their skills of cooking magical dishes out of all things that grow on trees. Anything made of enchor falls in the category of such dishes which, as Bangalis claim, can convert a non-vegetarian to vegetarianism.
To sum it up, Bengalis and jackfruits have a relationship that’s gastronomically delightful. Every bit of this summer fruit makes its way to the plate of the Bangali and to their stomach – and straight to the heart. The sweltering greeshmokal in Bengal becomes bearable – because of the short fling with jackfruits, in all three stages of devouring every bit of this gift of nature.