Sunday, September 18, 2005
Ilish RelishLet 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.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Chifa I: Chaufa RiceAs you might have implied from my previous posts, Peru is a very interesting place when you talk about food. However, apart from our huge contribution to the world, many things came into ours and the result was very unique. One of those combinations came from the introduction of Chinese food. Peruvians gave it their own spin and created what we know as "Chifa".
Chifa is a part of us, and it's not strange that restaurants that serve this food (Chifas) are always packed. We have all sorts of them, from the very cheap (you can find a Chifa anywhere, no matter how small it is) to the very exclusive and tastier in Capon Street (our very own Chinatown).
Among the most traditional Chifa dishes, there is Wan Tan, noodles and of course, Chaufa Rice. The secret to chaufa rice is Soy Sauce and you serve with chopped pork or chicken... it's a must at every table.
However Chaufa Rice is not just for restaurants. It's a dish so simple that anyone can make it at home without much fuss. All you need is to take a pan and heat up some chopped spring onions (white part separated from green part), diced ham, maybe some chopped red bell peppers (for color) and your choice of meat (can be chicken, pork or even shrimp). Once you have it you add an egg at the center and mix. Then you just prepare rice as you normally do and you add the stuff in the pan plus soy sauce and you stir till it gets this nice brown color.
That's it! The result? Take a look:
Try it, and when you come down to Peru, make sure you go to a good Chifa, and get some Inka Kola for drinks (more on that soon).