Shukto: The Bitter Dish Bengalis Love to Hate

Not everyone’s a fan of the centuries-old vegetable stew. But what would the region’s cuisine be without it?

IMG 1372 Shukto
Courtesy of Sohini Banerjee

Mallika Basu


June 3, 2024


8 min

When she was growing up in Kuwait, chef Reshmi Bennett’s “typical Bengali” parents forced her to eat shukto, a bitter vegetable curry. But Bennett never developed a fondness for the dish. “I do not understand people who like it,” she admitted. “Even the most stylized and beautifully photographed bowl of shukto looks like roadkill to me.”

In contrast, for London-based chef Sohini Banerjee, the dish’s interplay of sweet and bitter stands out, so much so that she even features it at her supper club. “I have always enjoyed shukto,” she declared. Unique to Bengali cuisine, shukto is a centuries-old stew that centers a bitter vegetable, typically karela, and lots of greens. Yet, Banerjee and Bennett’s varied reactions are standard for the dish, which evokes as much hate as it does love. For a cuisine with ample meat, seafood, and vegetarian options, shukto may not be the prettiest or the tastiest, but it’s the one that can make or break a Bengali meal. 

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