Bengali cooking has a long, rich, and vibrant history, leading to a cuisine that stands today as a pinnacle of Indian culinary excellence. On the international stage, Bengali dishes are known for their depth, variety and spice.
Bengali breakfasts are no exception, with a broad and nutritious spread of options for you to reinvigorate your mornings with. Unlike traditional Western breakfasts, which are often viewed as being somewhat separate in kind from later meals, breaking the fast across the Bengal region can involve curries, spices, fried breads, rice, and other wholesome goodies that also double as lunch or dinner dishes.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at what you can expect from a Bengali-style breakfast. We’ll also be delving into 11 must-try Bengali breakfast ideas for you to tuck into at home.
Say goodbye to soggy Weetabix and tired oats – Bengal has you covered from here!
What to Expect From a Bengali Breakfast
The Bengal region, which today stretches across West Bengal as well as the nation of Bangladesh, is fed by numerous freshwater rivers and lakes. This results in a fertile, bounteous landscape where fish, rice, vegetables, and all manner of agricultural produce thrive and grow. This fertility of the land is reflected in the variety and depth of the cooking.
Many famous Bengali dishes focus on fish, although for breakfast dishes you are more likely to find vegetable, lentil and bread-based recipes. Some of the dishes we explore today will double as tasty items on a lunch or dinner menu and can include mutton, chicken, or egg if you want to bulk them out.
In terms of taste, mustard oil and mustard seeds are authentic staples of Bengali cooking, often imparting many traditional Bengali dishes with a distinctive character. You can also expect to find a range of spices including coriander, cumin, turmeric, and asafoetida. Fresh herbs such as coriander are also used to add aroma to the plate.
Spice and thick sauces are also widespread, although less so for breakfast dishes, as a lighter touch is often needed. Similarly, curried dishes do not necessarily need to be heavily laden with gravy – they can be lightly sauced and semi-dry.
11 Bengali Breakfasts You Have to Try
Without further ado, let’s dive into some dishes for you to experiment with from the comfort of your own home. Remember, many of these can accompany one another and are interchangeable with other curries, dals, or sauces. The different styles of Bengali flatbread can also be used to scoop up all manner of condiments and spicy goodness.
You might recognise versions of broader Indian classics on the list, regional takes on dishes that have stood the test of time and are enjoyed nationally as well as locally.
We’re confident that these meals can hold their ground against a full English any day. They’re likely to be more nutritious as well! Don’t be afraid to experiment, have fun, and tuck in!
Radhaballabhi is an iconic and popular Bengali dish eaten at breakfast as well as at celebratory meals throughout the region. It involves a form of puri, or deep-fried flatbread, packed with a wholesome filling of urad dal lentils and spices. Fennel seeds, ginger, and green chilli are often used to give it its distinct, aromatic edge, and the mustard oil used for frying adds an earthy heat.
Radhaballabhi will often be served alongside curried potato dishes such as aloo dum or aloo torkari. If you’re looking for a touch more warmth, it can also be served up alongside kasundi, a type of mustard sauce.
You will often see radhaballabhi prepared during festivals such as Janmashtami, an annual Hindu celebration of the birth of Krishna.
2. Luchi and Cholar Dal
Luchi is Bengal’s answer to puri and is one of the region’s most popular puffed breads. After it is deep-fried it resembles a golden, fluffy chapati ready to be dunked in anything that looks and tastes good.
One of the distinctive characteristics of luchi is that it is made using a refined, white flour called maida, which gives it its light, airy, almost pastry-like texture when compared to other breads made from more coarse grains.
Cholar dal, a frequent breakfast accompaniment to luchi, is a delicious, aromatic blend of whole spices, cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, and chana (chickpeas), or bengal gram.
It can also have a light sweetness to it and will sometimes come garnished with fried coconut pieces. Delicious on its own, the dal is lifted (literally and figuratively!) by the delightful addition of luchi on the side.
Ghugni is another dal-based curry dish, this time using whole yellow peas, also known as martar dal. This is a Bengali classic which will often pop up at lunch as well as at the breakfast table.
The curry will frequently be topped with onions, masala (roasted spice mix), and sometimes lemon for added zest and acidity. At its roots, it’s a wholesome vegetarian dish, but mutton or other meats can also be added.
Ghugni is an extremely popular street food in the state capital of West Bengal, Kolkata, where you’ll often find it being served from dawn until dusk. One of the keys to a good Ghugni, they say, is not to allow it to become too overcooked or sloppy. Cooking the dal to just the right extent to retain some of its texture and bite is crucial.
4. Koraishutir Kachori
This is another stuffed flatbread speciality, a traditional winter dish where a kachori, a flaky and tasty sibling of the luchi, is filled with cooked green peas mixed with ginger, green chilli, and sometimes asafoetida for a savoury, onion-like kick.
One difference between kachori and luchi is that kachori often comes with fillings already inside, rather than luchi, which will often be used to dip and dunk into other sauces and curries. That’s not to say you can’t dunk your kachori as well.
This and other kachori recipes go excellently with potato curries, dals, and other spicy sauces looking to be swept up and swallowed.
5. Mughlai Paratha
The title of this dish is a clear nod to the enduring influence of Mughal and Persian cooking on Bengali cuisine. Many of these influences were introduced following the First Mughal Emperor taking control of the Bengal region in the mid-sixteenth century, although Islamic culinary influence in the region had been there throughout the previous sultanates.
Mughlai paratha involves a deep-fried egg paratha being served with mutton or chicken. To Western eyes it often looks like a form of spicy breakfast wrap.
This is a delicious but rather heavy dish, ideal for a celebratory brunch or a weekend morning feast, but perhaps not something you’d reach for every day!
6. Panta Bhaat
This is a popular fermented rice dish that is eaten across the Eastern regions of India. It is often seen as being high in micronutrients as a result of its fermentation and is traditionally viewed as a dish that can help you cool off during the hotter months. Enjoy it with mustard oil, onions, chillis, or curried potatoes.
The rice can be prepared by leaving leftovers to soak in water overnight before adding salt, chillis, and curried vegetables in the morning. This is also a popular dish on the morning of Pahela Baishakh, or Bengali New Year.
7. Aloor Dum
This is another Bengali classic, the region’s version of curried potatoes that appear in various forms across the Indian subcontinent. In aloor dum, cooking in mustard oil imparts an authentic Bengali flavour, whilst chilli powder and spices bring heat to the table.
There are some versions which are made without onions or garlic, although it doesn’t have to be prepared that way. Tomato paste and yoghurt are also frequently used to form a curried paste that the potatoes sit in, and all of it is eaten hot alongside luchi or other flatbreads.
Traditionally, the dish may have been made during the early winter months when baby new potatoes become widely available.
8. Sada Aloo Torkari
Another potato dish, this is about as simple and as wholesome as classic Bengali cuisine gets. Sada aloo torkari forgos a heady list of spices, opting instead for fresh and dried chilli, nigella seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, mustard oil, ghee, and plenty of seasoning.
After the chilli and seeds have been tempered (fried so their flavours are fully unlocked), potato cubes can be added with just enough water to cook them properly. The result is a simple, golden bowl of earthy, mustardy goodness that shows you don’t need a whole spice rack in order for potatoes to sing.
9. Chirer Polao
This is often described as the Bengali version of poha, a nutritious, vegetable-rich medley of flattened rice, fibre and green vitamins that will give you a healthy rather than deep-fried energy boost. If you want to start your day with a mindful and nutritious meal, this could be the one for you.
The great thing about a polao, or a poha, is that you can throw in whatever veggies you want, as well as a touch of spice to liven things up. Potatoes, peas, cauliflower, peppers – anything goes. Add peanuts for extra crunch and protein.
10. Nonta Sooji
Sooji is another word for semolina. In this dish, the granulated wheat is prepared with a healthy mix of carrots, peppers, onions, chillis, and any other greens you want to throw in, resulting in a tasty, spiced block of nutrients to get you going in the early hours.
11. Roti or Muri with Payesh
Finally, for those who want something a bit more porridge-esque, or for those with a sweet tooth when they first wake, payesh could be the answer to your prayers. This is a sweet rice pudding made with sugar or jaggery, sometimes flavoured with cardamom or cinnamon if you want to add aromatics to the bowl.
You can then eat this alongside muri, a form of puffed rice, or with roti, the classic Indian flatbread, if you want to boost your carbs.