Bride and groom, posing at a wedding. Photography by Sanim Haque. Used with permission
Everyone loves a wedding, and if you’re a food lover you don’t want to miss a chance to attend a Bangladeshi wedding. Considering the love Bengalis have for their cuisine, it comes as no surprise that they go the extra mile for their wedding celebrations.
The wedding season in Bangladesh usually runs from December to January, when the temperature is cooler. A typical wedding menu consists of food items such as Pulau, Biryani, Chicken roast, Korma, Kebab, Rezala and Borhani among others. The sweet desserts include sweetened yogurts, Payesh, Jorda and different kinds of sweetmeats. When the groom arrives at the wedding, he is welcomed with sorbet and sweets.
Until a few decades ago, weddings used to be arranged inside the premises of the home or the neighborhood and was served by family and friends. Nowadays, the venue has shifted to community centers and other halls where professional catering services and chefs deal with the food. Novelist and journalist Iraj Ahmed reminisces about his childhood:
গলির মুখে লাল, সাদা আর সবুজ মেশানো কাপড়ের গেট। চনমনে রোদের মধ্যে হয়তো বাড়ির ভেতরের উঠানে বিরিয়ানির হাঁড়ি চড়েছে ইটের চুলার ওপর, লাকড়ির ধোঁয়ায় চারদিক অন্ধকার। ছাদে টানানো ত্রিপল অথবা সামিয়ানার নিচে ভাঁজ খুলে বসানো হয়েছে হালকা খয়ের রঙের চেয়ার, টেবিল। অনেক মানুষের ব্যস্ত ছোটাছুটি, কিছু মানুষ দুপুরের রোদে উদোরপূর্তি শেষে কাপড়ে ঝোলের দাগ মেখে বের হয়ে গলির মোড়ের দোকানে গলায় ঢালছে সেভেন আপ অথবা চিবাচ্ছে পান। বাতাসে ভাসছে কেমন এক আনন্দের সুর। বলছি অনেক বছর আগে এই ঢাকা শহরে বিয়ের অনুষ্ঠানের কথা।
There was a huge gate wrapped in red, white and green clothes standing where the lane started (welcoming the guests). In the scorching sunlight, huge pots filled with Biryani would be sitting on the makeshift burners of bricks. The area would be filled with the smoke of the firewood of the burners. On the rooftop, light grey chair and tables would be assembled beneath the tarpaulin. You could see people running errands as busy bees. And some were seen coming out of that scene after filling their stomachs with curry marks on their festive clothes. They would inadvertently walk ahead to buy a Seven Up (drink) or a paan at the local store. The air would be filled with joy. This was the scene of a typical wedding in Dhaka many years ago.
In those days, people would say that it’s bad manners to serve guests catered food; however, now people seem to be catching up with the reality of the times. Siddhratha Mukhopaddhay from West Bengal, India writes about the changes in Bengali weddings:
এখন অবশ্য নিজেদের ক্ষমতা মত গৃহকর্তা ক্যাটারারের হাতে এই সব দায়িত্ব সঁপে দিয়ে নিশ্চিন্তে থাকতে চান৷ আসুন বসুন বলে খাওয়ানোর মানসিকতা বদলেছে ৷ আগে তো বাড়ি এসে নিমন্ত্রণ না করলে অনেকে আসতেনই না৷ কর্মব্যস্ততার কথা মাথায় রেখে এখন তো ফোন অথবা ফেসবুক- হোয়ার্টস অ্যাপ মারফতও নিমন্ত্রণ গ্রহণ করা হচ্ছে।
Now the hosts want to be sure about the hospitality by giving all the responsibility to the caterers. The tendency to serve the guests personally has changed. Earlier the guests would not come to the weddings if they were not invited in person by visiting their homes. Now, it’s sometimes via phone calls and people are even accepting wedding invitations via Facebook or Whatsapp!
A glimpse inside the new Bangladeshi wedding menu
Along with the changes to wedding culture, there has been a shift in the wedding food items in Bangladeshi cuisine. Earlier, simple dishes like Pulau with chicken roast, spicy mutton rezala (curry), fried beef, Tikia (mutton mince patty), salad with tomato and cucumber and borhani, and desserts such as jorda or rice pudding used to be served. Now more complex and lavish dishes like Biryani, a Mughal cuisine, is being increasingly chosen for menus.
There is even a special arrangement for the groom. For wealthy families, the norm is to serve him and his entourage a whole lamb roast.
The groom is being welcomed with sweets. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Whole lamb roast
The groom has been served. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
This popular main dish used to be served at almost all Bengali weddings. Plain pulau is made of fragrant rice (Basmati, chinigura etc.) with onions, green chilies, peas, ghee and sometimes other additions. It is served with roast and curry (separate dishes).
Plain Pulau – a simple spicy rice dish. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Serving Biryani, a South Asian mixed rice dish, is now becoming a norm. Spices, fragrance rice, meat (chicken, mutton, beef, or fish), Ghee (clarified butter) and other condiments are layered and cooked together to make Biryani. Unlike Pulau (which is taken with roast and curry dishes), Biryani is a complete dish with meat and spices (and vegetables) inside.
Mutton Rezala (spicy curry)
Mutton Rezala is a curry dish originating in Bengal that is prepared from mutton and vegetables. It is served typically with Pulau or rice.
Rezala means soft mutton on gravies. You will remember its taste for a long time. This is one of the common figures on menus at Bangladeshi weddings. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Another common dish at a Bnagladeshi wedding is chicken roast. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Tikia (Mutton mince patty)
Tikia is usually taken with Pulau or Biryani. So it is a natural choice for the wedding menu.
Tikia, a common dish at the weddings. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Borhani is a yogurt drink blended with mint leaves, pepper, green chilies, and water. It helps digest the rich food served at weddings.
Jorda rice is known as a typical sweet dessert at the weddings.
Jorda rice is made of rice, ghee, sugar, saffron color or orange juice among other condiments. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Paan is a preparation combining betel leaf with areca nut, tobacco leaf and other spices.
Serving paans after eating food is a very old wedding tradition. Image by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.
Although the dishes served at Bangladeshi weddings have started to change, one thing always remains the same — they are delicious.