What perhaps could be considered one of the last vestiges of the erstwhile Portuguese community in India can be found in a single shop, J. Johnson’s at Kolkata’s New Market – the Bandel cheese, a disc-shaped white or brown variety of cheese.
Though the Portuguese have mainly been associated with Goa, their presence in Bengal is a fascinating, little secret. One that would have been easily forgotten had it not been for Bandel cheese.
This crumbly, delicious cheese traces its origin to the 16th century when the Portuguese began trading in Bengal. They monopolized Bengal’s trading with Europe with Hooghly being their centre for operations. But they refused to share their profits with the Mughal rulers. And a battle ensued between them. After the battle, the remaining Portuguese retreated to a tiny port town of Bandel. And it was there that they invented a new variety of cheese, that would later be called the ‘Bandel cheese.’
Soon after, more experimentation by the Indian and Burmese chefs of the Portuguese resulted in the creation of Bengali delicacies such as Sandesh and Rosogulla. Thus, two sweets integral to Bengali cuisine also owe their creation to the Bandel cheese.
The Bandel cheese is perfect as a bar snack or grated over a steaming plate of pasta. Some say it tastes like a salty pretzel while others describe it as smok and aromatic. The differing opinions aside, one thing they all agree upon is how delicious the Bandel cheese is.
So, head on to Stuart Hogg Market or New Market, as it is called, for this cheesy souvenir of the past.