Tuesday, 22 July, 2008

Fishy Fishes....

You know I have just realised that it has been ages since I had maach/fish. Imagine being a Bong and being fish deprived.
For those of you who are not Bong familiar, us Bengalis or Bongs (this term was initially introduced as a derogatory one, but I kinda like it and I am not being derogatory when I say Bong, also now a days it is used in a not so derogatory way) traditionally hail from the Indian state of West Bengal. The Indian Bengalees/Bengalis comprise of those who live in the west as well as those who came from the east as part of the partition exodous. Bengal was partitioned in 1947 by the great Brits, our once upon a time rulers.
Southern West Bengal is geographically a flat plain and the mighty river Ganga is in her last stage here, soon to meet the Bay of Bengal and from the largest deltas in the world- the
Sunderbans.. Since Bengal is riverine country fish is very easily available and part of our staple diet. We live, breathe and eat fish. Fishes are deeply embedded not only in our cusine but also in our culture. Fish lores in Bengal are famous. Not only do we eat fish, we stich fish motif in our kanthas ( patchwork bed spreads) and sarees, make fish rangolis or what we call alponas, fish is a very important part of our marriages and other social gatherings etc.
In Bengal we get fish from two sources--our rivers and our fresh water ponds. It is a prevalent belief that people of the east i.e. erstwhile East Bengal/present day Bangladesh are more fish crazed than the western population since the east had more fresh water ponds and so more access to fishes. The easterns also make fish part of their religious customs. Fish is in fact one of the greatest unifier in Bengal-- be in uppper caste or lower-- everyone has fish, according to their pockets.
There are cultural nuances to the fish preference as well--like Bongs have divided fish preference according to their geographical area--if you are from the east, Ilish/Hilsa is your fish (you know right now googling for fish images I got to know that Ilish is the national fish of Bangladesh, I never knew that countries have national fishes, well if you have national bird, so why not fish, makes sense) while for those in the west, prawns are the utmost delicacy. Fish cooking is the ultimate testing skill of all Bengali cooks as well as the craddle of all experiments. Fish is primarily cooked with mustard or jeera or deep fried. For fancy eating it is done with coconut (malai curry which is heavily influcened by the cooking stlye of Malabar coast hence the name), cooked in curd/cottage cheese/milk, stuffed in seasonal vegetables and even fresh coconut, with dal (lentils), mughlai style like fish kababs, polao and biriyani, continental style like fish and chips (even today fish and chips are a great draw in bengali marraige menus), Anglo India cusine like fish chops and rolls and cutlets like the kobiraji cutlets, Indian Chinese food like the ever popular chilli fish, manchurian fish, prawn balls etc. You name it and we have a version in fish. The only thing I have not seen fish being used in are the desserts, minus the chatnis-- we do have ymmy fish chutneys. The sheer vareity of fish available in markets in Bengal is amazing and mind boggling. Also we do not believe in wasting any part of the fish--be it its eyes (very rich in vitamin A) or fins or bones. We eat/suck/ chew all.
All I wanted to do was cribb about me not eating any fish lately. And here I write almost an essay on our fish eating habit.
To get back to me and my cribbings, the worse part is not even being aware of the fact that I have not been eating fish lately. Usually I do not like eating fish outside in Delhi, you never know the quality and I am very particular about the quality of my fish. So since I do not like going into the hassle of buying fish (if you dont know the tricks, chances of being fooled are really high), I usually get my fish fix in my cousin's or aunt's house. And lately i.e. for the last two/three months I havent even had that. These past few months whenever I visited, I had chicken or mutton.Though I had good fish and chips twice in the last two months. But my Bong soul is craving for some maach er jhol in shorshe bata (fish curry in mustard sauce).


  1. How can u go on explaining various mout watering dishes and then continue working?? beats me totally!!!!

  2. aur nahin toh kya...what will we do for dinner tonight sweetheart??

  3. Wow.......babe....poor you. I totally understand your situation. Sen babu at home goes on and on about maach. By the way he makes a mean maacher jhol in shorshe bata.....so another reason for you to visit. My personal favourite is the Chingdi shorshe bata and the chingdi malai curry....not much of a fish person

  4. Well just to let you know, we also have a national fish. Its called the Galjoen (Coracinus Capensis) and living in Cape Town (Caostal town), I also LOVE fish but dont get it as often as I like...

  5. muthu...u dont know what red flag u have wagged in front of my stub nose...:)

  6. how do you pronounce this Galjoen? sounds pretty dutch to me....and sounds pretty yummy to.....:)


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