(Lima) Beans and Delhi Cha(a)t

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ilish Relish

Let me make it very clear. I am an incurable fish lover. For someone who is born in a Bengali family, that's almost a given. Bengal, a coastal state, prides itself on its culture, of which food is a big part. Bengali cuisine is marked by versatility and deliciousness, with dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian coming aplenty to satiate one's palate. However, if one had to define Bengali food, it would be just two words: sweets,and...why, FISH! (I know you got that, I did mention coastal in the very beginning).

Being a riverine state, Bengal is home to a range of fishes. Most are freshwater (found in rivers and ponds), although seafood is also a favourite with Bengalis. But if you asked them to pick the best of the lot, 90% or more will take only one name--Hilsa. Known as Ilish in Bengali, it is undoubtedly the king of fish in both Indian state of Bengal and the country of Bangladesh (which was a part of undivided, pre-independence India). It is a good-sized scaly fish, the freshest of which shine with silver pride.

As mouthwatering as it tastes, tackling a piece of Hilsa on the plate can be tricky. The reason? It's numberless thin bones that take time and practice to sift through, before you can enjoy the meat. Even with my years of Ilish savouring, I once had a nasty experience with the bones. One night, as I gulped a chunk of the fish without care, the bones stuck inside my throat, giving me a week's agony. Even drinking water was hard during those seven days. You would think that should diminish my Ilish fetish. Not by a long shot...

There are a few ways in which Hilsa is cooked (not a lot of variations with this fish). One dish is to simply fry the fish and then cook it into a light, watery broth with turmeric, black cumin, and green chilli. Another recipe, one which remains my favourite through the years, is Hilsa steamed in a thick mustard sauce. It is very easy to make and is an excellent way to retain the essence of the fish. Since the fish isn't fried, its original taste is preserved along with the strong mustard flavour. Enjoy!

Nothing fishy about it, really.


4 comment(s):

I'm trying the hilsa recipe today but with another fish. Aniseed (saunf) and kalonji(onion seed) are so different in taste though i'm not sure which one to use.Is there a typo in the recipe or which one do you think she meant ?
Will give the results later.
Nice blog BTW.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:57 AM  


Sorry, didn't see this comment earlier. Kalonji or onion seed is what we typically use for cooking hilsa. I have never seen aniseed (saunf) being used for cooking fish. So my suggestion, go with kalonji. I think there was a slight misprint or typo in that recipe.

Glad you like the blog. Do keep checking in often!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:46 PM  

Hi Sury,
I'm afraid the ingredients listed in the recipe were all wrong. But in the process I found a great way to make fish.Will post the results on my site soon. It was a super hit at my recent housewarming.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:22 PM  


I agree the recipe on that link isn't the exact way we make 'Bhapa' or steamed Ilish. But hey, as long as it helped you get a super hit, who's complaining! Look forward to seeing the results on your blog :)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:51 PM  

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