A Bengali without fish is much like fish without water – against nature.
Nobody knows their fish better than the Bongs, and the rest of the country knows better than to argue with them. From elaborate delicacies to simple meals, sometimes an acquired taste but mostly drool-at-first-smell... Here's a handy guide to a maach-better life.
1. Shorshey ilish
Ilish is Bengali for Hilsa, regarded as the king of fishes. When the fish is cooked in mustard gravy, you get the Shorshey Ilish. It’s rich, pleasingly pungent, and has a lingering aftertaste. Best relished with rice, a dig into the fleshy Hilsa, and the occasional bite of a fresh green chilli.
2. Chitol macher muitha
A quintessential Bangladeshi recipe, Chitol Macher Muitha or Clown Knifefish dumplings is one of the finer things that have come to this part of the world with the partition. This fish dumpling served in rich gravy is actually a fishy form of the malai kofta. It used to be a terribly long and tedious process to debone the fish, but if you're not averse to walking into a store, you can buy minced chitol right off the shelf.
3. Chingri macher malaikari
You’ll always notice friendly banter between Bangals (immigrants from Bangladesh) and Ghotis (native West Bengalis). When they’re not arguing over football clubs, they’re trying to outdo each other with their fish recipes. If Ilish and chitol are Bangal favourites, while chingri is what the Ghotis swear by. Although chingri (prawn) is not fish, per se, Bengalis call it fish, and the malaikari cooked in thick and spicy coconut milk is one of the finest treats Bengal has to offer.
4. Daab chingri
The chingri makes it back on the list, and this time it’s served inside coconut. A traditional Bengali dish, the prawns are flavoured in paanch phoron (the five-spice-blend) and cooked in tender coconut. The combined flavour of mustard and coconut cream, although an acquired taste, is quite a delicious affair.
5. Rui macher kalia
6. Potoler dorma
Potoler dorma is, by far, the most deceptive dish on the menu, but scrumptious, nonetheless. Pointed gourds are actually stuffed with minced fish and cooked in spices and a paste of ginger, onion and garlic.
7. Tangra macher jhal
When they want to keep things healthy and light, Bongs opt for Tangra macher jhal -- a lspicy but very light gravy of the tangra fish cooked with black cumin seeds. Ironically, there’s an area called Tangra in Kolkata, inhabited mostly by people of the Hakka Chinese origin and famous for its amazing belt of restaurants, though none serve tangra macher jhal because they’re strictly Chinese.
8. Bhetki fry
Bhetki fry is what you start with you at a Bengali wedding dinner. The bhetki or Barramundi is cut into fillets and marinated for hours before being coated in breadcrumb and deep fried. For best results, combine with hot boiled rice and plain dal or go the fish and chips way – bhetki fry is delicious either way.
9. Ilish macher paturi
One of the most interesting Bengali fish preparations, it brings Hilsa into the list again. The paturi is basically the banana leaf that covers the fish pieces, tied with a string. The leaf bags containing the fish are then cooked in a frying pan, and the fish cooks in its own juice inside the banana leaf. Mmm.