Hilsa is something, which has moved from just being a fish to an object of desire. Seldom has any fish been the reason for madness. Seldom we have seen poems and songs been written on a fish. A whole season is being represented with just a variety is fish, is quite rare. We can refer to Poet Satyen Dutta as,
ইলশে গুঁড়ি ইলশে গুঁড়ি- ইলিশ মাছের ডিম|
ইলশে গুঁড়ি ইলশে গুঁড়ি- দিনের বেলায় হিম|
কেয়াফুলে ঘুণ লেগেছে, পড়তে পরাগ মিলিয়ে গেছে,
মেঘের সীমায় রোদ হেসেছে, আলতা-পাটি শিম্|
ইলশে গুঁড়ি হিমের কুঁড়ি, রোদ্দুরে রিম্ ঝিম্|
হালকা হাওয়ায় মেঘের ছাওয়ায় ইলশে গুঁড়ির নাচ,
ইলশে গুঁড়ির নাচন্ দেখে নাচছে ইলিশ মাছ|
কেউ বা নাচে জলের তলায়, ল্যাজ তুলে কেউ ডিগবাজি খায়,
নদীতে ভাই জাল নিয়ে আয়, পুকুরে ছিপ গাছ|
উলসে ওঠে মনটা, দেখে ইলশে গুঁড়ির নাচ
Do they have Hilsa outside West Bengal in India ?
The madness for Hilsa is nothing new. It has seen the same case in different province of India- namely Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Orissa and Gujrat as well. In Andhra Pradesh it is known as pulasa. In Gujarat, it is known as Modenn or palva. Female Hilsa is known as Modenn and male species, palva. In Andhra Pradesh, the saying goes “Pustelu ammi ayina Pulasa tinocchu”, meaning It’s worth eating Pulasa/Ilish by even selling the nuptials. The name Pulasa stays with the fish for a limited period between July-Sept of a year, when floods(muddy)water flow in Godavari River. In Tamilnadu, Ilish fish is called ‘Ullam Meen’, and a saying in Tamil ‘Ulladhai Vitthu Ullam vangi sapidu’.
In Sindhi cuisine, Hilsha fish called Pallo Machi is an important part. It can be deep fried and garnished with local spices, can be cooked with onions and potatoes into a traditional fish meal or barbequed. The fish often has roe, which is called “aani” in Sindhi and is enjoyed as a delicacy. Often fried alongside the palla and served with the fish fillets.
But what after the Hilsa Season ?
Britishes also, among many other things, fell in love with Hilsa here. So, they figured out how to debone the fish and prepared something called as Tamarind Pickled Hilsa. It was usually stored and even enjoyed after the season. And if we need to talk about the long feud between Bengal Club and Dhaka Club on who invented Smoked hilsa, it needs a separate story …
Ritual with Hilsa ??? Seriously ?
In Bangladesh and West Bengal during Poyla Boisakh (the first day of the Bengali New Year), it is customary to have ilish with panta bhat (Fermented Rice) typically at breakfast. The meal is the traditional way to celebrate the Bengali new year. In many Bengali Hindu families a pair of ilish fish (Bengali: Joda Ilish) are bought on auspicious days, for example during special prayers or puja days, some people offer the fish to the goddess Lakshmi, without which the Puja is considered to be incomplete. In Bengal, Ilish is also used during wedding as a Tattwa gift. During Gaye Halud tattwa the family of the groom presents a pair of Ilish to the family of the bride. However, due to the scarcity of Ilish nowadays, it is replaced by Rohu in West Bengal while the Tradition continues in Bangladesh.
But in Kolkata, nowadays, the problem is, we hardly get to see good hilsa in markets. Either they get exported or the are sent for hotels. and luckily, we got to taste it this year at the Hilsa festival Taj Bengal Kolkata. It has been a tradition that this hotel, or rather in their SonarGaon outlet, I’ve been tasting the best quality Hilsa for last couple of years and this year also, it has been no exception.
This year however, we were invited on a slightly different note. Normally, we are invited over tasting sessions. But this year, maybe by watching us over a period of time, Taj Bengal got bored of our comments and criticisms. This year, they asked us to cook one dish each and those dishes will be incorporated in the Festival menu and will be offered to the guests. The selected bloggers were myself, Debjani Chatterjee Alam and Anindya and Madhushree.
Needless to say, criticism is a much easier task than actually doing the work and we were a bit nervous ( and also excited) working in a commercial kitchen. We were given 30 min time each to prepare and plate the individual dishes. We had sent the indent well in advance and kitchen team had finished the mise-en-place before we reached. And for next 30 minutes, I don’t know how they tolerated us, 4 middle aged novices, but we had finished the dishes … Debjani cooked Ilish Shukto, Madhusree cooked Doi Ilish and I took a slightly roadside dish and gave it a twist. Hold your seats, ladies and gentlemen, I cooked Ilish Bharta canape.
Bharta is basically a mashed up dish. In bangladesh, they mash the fried Hilsa, debone them and mash it up with sliced onion, chilly and coriander leaves. the whole thing is then to be had with steamed rice. What I did was, I put it up on a cracker and topped up with a slice of Amul Processed Cheese. I felt, we have hardly any starter options with Hilsa, which can be enjoyed with a good single malt. And hence, this trial …
But recipe …
Please forgive me, I am not a recipe writer. And while cooking, I believe in measuring ingredients by hand and have never exactly measured them. But however, here it goes …
- Hilsa pieces- 3 (around 400 gms)- I prefer them from the tail, so that the good pieces can be used for the jhol and bhapa
- Whole red chilly- 10 (I prefer it spicy, please adjust to your spice quotient)
- Mustard oil- 1 cup (around 100 gms and some more won;t really hurt)
- sliced onion- 4 whole
- Coriander leaves sliced – 1 small bunch
- Heat mustard oil in a pan and fry the fish pieces (mostly the tail pieces) till it’s brown
- Take off the fish and fry 8-10 whole red chilly (with the stem) and keep them aside.
- Take off the oil and cool it
- Debone the fish
- Mash it with crushed red chillies, sliced onions and mustard oil
- Adjust the quantity of mustard oil to get the bharta in a slightly sticky, mashy texture
- Divide in small balls and flatten them a bit
- Take the crackers (I used cream cracker biscuit) and put the small ball of bharta on it
- Divide the cheese slice in thin slices (4 pcs from one cheese slice)
- Garnish the with the cheese slices
- Praise yourself for the effort and enjoy with a large sip of Single Malt
But what about the festival ?
The festival however comprised of many more items, amongst which there was a divine Hilsa Biryani. Normally in fish biryani, there never is a synergy between the rice and the fish. But here, there was perfect balance. Rice had the smell of Hilsa and that had made all the difference. The best part here is, the hilsa generally is top notch and weighs more than 1.5 kgs. Keeping this in mind and the overall experience, the pricing is absolutely justified.
Finally, being the emotional crazy bongs, we love Hilsa and that’s what matters …
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome
I can be reached at 9903528225 / [email protected]