Hilsa has always been an object of desire for both India and Bangladesh. But I started this quest to taste Hilsa kahini from Bangladesh, Few days back I was invited to Taj Bengal to cook one hilsa dish there and I cooked Hilsa Bharta. But the recipe that I followed was not mine. It was from The Hilsa bharta video, Mawaghat. Then again on the other hand, recipe for any dish, I feel, is nobody’s parental property. It’s rather a knowledge that needs to be transferred to the right person.
But whatever, when I was searching for Hilsa Bharta, a strange name came up- Mawaghat. It’s around 2.5 hours journey from Dhaka and bang on the ghat of Padma. Hotels are lined up in numbers and they get the fresh catch of the hilsa batch and cook as per guest choice. So, being in Dhaka on Hilsa Kahini, I couldn’t simply give it a miss. And the place, where I was put up, Hotel Long Beach Suites Dhaka, had arranged a trip for me there. So, here it is.
The journey was not that great. Bangladesh government is on the verge of finishing a great highway to that place, but currently it was a bumpy ride. Cab fare from the hotel (Hotel Long Beach Suites Dhaka , Gulshan 2) was 3500/- for a round trip and I was provided a Toyota Corolla car. It was raining heavily throughout and journey, with all the bumps, was nice.
The area is pretty crowded, but luckily, parking area is nicely managed. Hotels were right in front of us and one gentleman was there to invite us “Mama, Asen”- mama is the local call for someone known in bangladesh. But, we preferred to have a walk in the harbour (100 ft from the hotel) and then come down to the hotel … the reason was to increase the appetite- for hilsa off course.
Now, for any foodie, the first challenge is to choose his/ her fish. and here in Mawaghat, the first question literally was a below the best hit. “What will you have for Hilsa ? Chandpur or Mawaghat ?” now, being from West Bengal and a certified idiot, I can hardly differentiate between a fish from Farakka and Burma. So, the next option was to ask him back (with a fake know-all looks ) , “You tell me what you’ll feed us with ?” And this video describes the process of differentiating between the two. For those who doesn’t understand bengali, the difference lies in the color of the fish belly- Padma is having a yellow-ish tinge and chandpur one is with a silver lining. Also, the middle segment of Padma hilsa is much wider. And I am a lover of fleshy midriff …
The deal was to buy the whole fish and they’ll cook it as per our choice. They had their usual selection- a large selection, in fact, of around 9 types of Bharta and a selection of local styled fish dishes. the fish preparation was quite distinctly different from what we’re used to. In bangladesh, firstly, they seem to prepare bharta with almost anything they can lay their hands on. In that non-descriptive shop New Ajmeri Hotel, we had hilsa bharta, chepa fish bharta, nona ilish bharta, aloo bharta and few other varieties. Unlike us, onion and garlic is heavily used with Hilsa and in day-to-day meals in bangladesh. The reason may be the muslim influence in cooking style and we all know that beresta (or golden fried onion) is heavily used in that cuisine. And in bangladesh, what we saw, that the Hildh is either heavily fried (till dark brown) or cooked raw with the gravy. The way we cook it here across the border (lightly sauteed) is not followed there.
And , you can check the offering in this video here …
And as usual, we got confused with the selection and asked the server about what we should have. The first choice was Hilsa Fry. In bangladesh, they fried Hilsa on a round tawa with onion and garlic cloves and whole red chilly. The result is slightly different from what we’re used to here but good nonetheless.
And then we saw this old gentleman preparing bharta there and probably sensing our hungry stare, he offered us some to taste. And then it struck me that I’ve come across a master. I’ve watched the video for mawaghat hilsa bharta and prepared it for Taj Bengal Kolkata. But here, the item was completely different and with a kick of crushed roasted red chilly. It was much dry in nature and the ingredients were simple. Fried fish, whole red chilly and very less onion and garlic. The kick was superb and it was spicy- damn spicy. The old cook was well travelled and was talking to us in fluent english. His work experience in Middle East and Japan probably helped him, but what the heck.
While we were checking his bharta making process, our food got ready. The final order was simple. We had rice, Hilsa Fry (with the signature onion and garlic) and hilsa jhol (again with onion) and one specially made Hilsa Bharta. Now, the preparation was different and hilsa egg was fried and used in the jhol. I will say I still like the jhol of India (without onion ) more than the one there, but with fresh fish, it didn’t taste bad either. A special hilsa bharta (of a slightly moist nature) was prepared for us from the tail portion and was highly recommended by the cook. But sadly, I still preferred the pre-made run of the mill dry variation more. A serving of Gandharaj lemon is a standard accompaniment there with anything you have in restaurants in Bangladesh.
I don’t eat as per my huge size and whatever was served to us, was extra for even 5 of us including the driver. But the whole bill was just 980 BDT and being an argumentative India, I bargained it down to 900 BDT. Probably we needed a crane to pull us out from the table but somehow we moved out. Promises were made to return again and off we started for Dhaka.
Now this time, my stay in Dhaka was sponsored by the Long Beach Suites Dhaka. It was one of the poshest hotels in Gulshan 2 Dhaka and the stay was really really comfortable. My room was on the 11th floor and quite big in size. In fact the car to Mawaghat was organized by them only and I didn’t have to take any trouble for that. Also, I must thank TFBA for initiating this blogger exchange program between the two countries …
My hilsa kahini started on a happy note with Mawaghat and probably, the next stop was an iconic joint which claim to have started the love called Smoked Hilsa- Dhaka Club. I am not a member there, but the hotel authority somehow did something, and the next day, I was having lunch there- but that’s another story.
And the entire journey is brilliantly shot by Long Beach Suites Dhaka and my heartfelt thanks to them …
Bon appetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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