Dolma | From Mediterranean to Bengal

Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes common in the Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the Caucasus, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and in the eastern India. Common to stuff include tomato, pepper, onion, zucchini, eggplant, and pointed gourd. The filling generally consists of rice, minced meat or grains. In either case, the filling includes onion, herbs like dill, mint or parsley and spices.

Dolma is a popular dish in Iraq. While eating dolma in a restaurant in Baghdad, I was remembering potoler dolma that’s cooked in our Bengali kitchens.

Iraqi dolma

The origins of dolma are unknown, but the dish is found in the cuisines of the Turkic countries, the Balkans, South Caucasus, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, Egypt, Arabia, and the Middle East.

The use of grape leaves to wrap food is believed to date back to the days of Alexander, the Great (circa 335 BCE). Greeks say that the origin of stuffed vine leaves goes back to the time when Alexander, the Great besieged Thebes. Food became so scarce that the Thebans cut what meat they had into little bits and rolled it in grape leaves. The Byzantines later refined and spiced the preparation and filled not only grape leaves but leaves of other vines as well as the leaves from hazelnut, mulberry and fig trees.

Stuffed grape leaves

Dolma has been a part of Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. It is a common dish in Iraqi cuisine, which includes stuffed cabbage leaves, onions in aubergines cooked in tomato sauce. Over time, regional variations developed. In the Persian Gulf, basmati rice is preferred, and the flavour of the stuffing may be enhanced using tomatoes, onions, and cumin.

Dolma word has derived from “dolmak” or “dolmade” — dolmak is a Turkish word that means “to be filled, be full”. Greeks call the stuffed vine leaves dolmades.

dolma iraqi

In Azerbaijan ( where many say dolma had a makeover), the dish was served with young cabbage leaves filled with mildly spiced minced meat with leek and rice.  In 2017, dolma making in Azerbaijan was included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The tradition is present throughout the Republic of Azerbaijan and is perceived as a central culinary practice in all of its regions.


The dolma in Bengal, i.e. Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal, no longer contains meats and has evolved into deliciously pointed gourd (Trichosanthes dioica) — potol (পটল) in Bengali — stuffed with fish, shrimp, meat, or vegetables along with poppy seeds, grated coconut and/or raisins and goes by the name potoler dolma or a local variant potoler dorma. The dolma has become a local landmark in Bengal.

Potoler Dolma
Potoler Dolma

Pointed gourd (parwal, in Hindi) is a tropical green vegetable indigenous to India – with origin in the Indian subcontinent. It is widely cultivated in the eastern and some northern parts of India. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the dolma could have traversed the sea route to reach the ports of Bengal. While some historians believe it came by way of the Turks during the rule of the Nawabs of Bengal, others believe it is a result of the integration of the Armenian and Jewish communities in Calcutta (now, Kolkata). The food-loving Bengalis started experimenting with Middle Eastern recipes and came out with something which is a fusion between the two. This has become a very popular dish in Bengali cuisine.

The delicious journey of Dolma began from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and fulfilled on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, where it got the exotic transformation. I love Dolma!

6 thoughts on “Dolma | From Mediterranean to Bengal

  1. This is such an intriguing revelation. I always liked Dolma in its vegetarian version but never gave a thought about its history. So good that you enlightened me with the information, thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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