Ever since I started understanding the very basics of the typical Bengali cuisine, I have heard about the use of Panchphoron. It is a spice mix that is must in every Bengali kitchen, be it at the home of a Bong or at a five star overseas hotel that serves Bengali food. Although this spice mixture has originated in Bengal, with time, this spice has been adopted in cooking by many other Indian communities as well as by people abroad. A unique blend of five spices, just as the name suggests, this magical spice mix has the power to completely change the way a dish tastes, if you use it for tempering, after adding the cooking oil, before you actually put in your ingredients.
Panchphoron literally means five (panch) spices/flavours (phoron). The word phoron is also equivalent to the Hindi word “tadka”. Just like we say “tadka marke” which is supposed to mean spices tempered in oil added to a dish, similarly we say “phoron”, which is supposed to mean the same.
So, which are the five spices that are combined together to form this magical spice mix? These are common Indian spices that include Jeera (Cumin seeds), Methi (fenugreek seeds), Saunf (Fennel seeds), Kalonji (Nigella seeds) and the fifth one is special. The fifth spice is called “Radhuni” in Bengali, which is Ajmod or wild celery seeds. This, however, is a spice that is typical mainly to the Bengalis and most people of other communities, replace this spice with Rai (mustard seeds), because of the ease of availability.
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Bengalis use this spice mix with for almost every dish they cook, starting from a dal to a curry to an elaborate fish dish and even to make certain sweet dishes. However, there are a few common Bengali dishes, that would not taste the way they should without being made using Panchphoron. Some of these characteristic dishes include, Shukto (a typical Bengali cuisine that contains vegetables cooked in coconut, poppy seed and mustard paste), any kind of chocchori (mash up of different vegetables), rui/katla macher jhol (rohu or katla fish curry) and even in masoor dal (red lentil soup) to give it a twist.
So, if you did not already know about the use of this spice mix, try using it in any curry of your choice and you will definitely notice the difference in the taste.