Bhuna is technically an Indian cooking technique in which spices are fried in very hot oil, often until they have formed a paste. For many people, however, the term bhuna is used to refer to a curry dish which has been prepared using these fried spices. This type of curry usually consists of meat, vegetables, or a combination of the two, cooked and served in a thick, spiced sauce. It is common throughout the Bengal region of northeast India and western Bangladesh and is also a popular menu item at Indian restaurants in the US and Europe.
Spice pastes prepared using the bhuna technique usually contain ginger, garlic, and shallots. These ingredients are peeled and then pan-fried in hot oil, often until they have broken down to form a paste. This paste is then used to season curry dishes.
The dish known by many as bhuna is a curry which has been seasoned using a spice paste prepared using the technique described above. It usually consists of a meat such as lamb or chicken, along with vegetables such as onions and peppers. In some cases it may be prepared with fish or with vegetables alone. The chosen ingredients are cooked slowly in bhuna paste, which combines with the meat’s juices to form a small amount of thick sauce. In some variations, coconut milk is added to the ingredients during cooking, resulting in a sauce that is thinner but more abundant than that of traditional bhunas.
Bhuna’s origins can be traced to the Bengal area of northeast India and western Bangladesh. This method of cooking spices was originally used in preparing meals for Indian rulers and aristocrats. Over time, the technique “trickled down” to the rest of Bengali society, and bhuna became a popular dish among both monarchs and commoners alike.
As Westerners have become increasingly familiar with South Asian culture and cuisine, bhuna’s popularity has spread far beyond Indian shores. It has become a familiar feature on the menus of Indian restaurants in the US and in parts of Europe, particularly the countries of the United Kingdom. These restaurants commonly serve it with a side of pilau rice, sometimes including warm, flat naan bread for dipping. Most will prepare the dish using the diner’s choice of meat and are willing to adjust its level of spiciness to suit the palates of those unused to the strong seasonings common to Indian cuisine.