I have never gone to any Fish market (macher bajar) other than in Kolkata (in Bangalore I like shopping my kitchen requirements at Spencer’s), and so am not aware of the non-Kolkata Macher Bajar scene. The mud-spattered floors of the fish market, big chunks of ice being crushed in gunny bags, the fishy smell (which is actually a mix of smells of 20 different fish types) hovering all over and the shouts and calls from all the vendors gives the fish market its distinct feel. Bengalis love fish and to top it, Bongs love buying fish from those dirty fish markets.
I am sure there aren’t any fish markets in any part of India that can compete with the variety of fishes sold in fish stalls in Bengal. Fishes from the nearby ponds, fishes from rivers, fishes from seas – you name it and it will sure be available there. There are different seasons where some fishes are available predominantly; monsoon brings one such fish that you can call the “Queen of fishes”, the quintessential Ilish, or Hilsa. This sea fish comes to the river for laying eggs, their flesh gets sweetened by the fresh water of the river and that’s the best catch. Hilsa from the Ganges and Padma are world famous.
Hilsa costs a fortune so to say, the last time I went to the market a couple of days back it was 500INR per kilogram. But, price doesn’t make the fish lovers stay away from this silver delicacy. The shiny silvery colors with a pinkish tinge on its dorsal side make this fish a discrete item among all other fishes. Other than fish Bengalis have another obsession, its football, and nothing can better the fish football combo. It has almost become a custom for the fans of East Bengal Club (a county football club in Kolkata, for the uninitiated) to celebrate the team’s wins with a platter of Ilish. I’m not sure of the origin of this combo. If you know about the relationship, I request you to comment about the connection between East Bengal’s wins and hilsa.
The softness of its flesh and its awesome taste has made it the queen among all fishes. But, some people who are not so much efficient on taking out bones from fishes like to stay away from hilsa. So, to end this problem Marco Polo, a fine dining restaurant in Kolkata and now nationwide popular restaurant Oh! Calcutta had been hosting festival for Boneless Hilsa, not sure though how it will taste.
Fish is indispensable in any Bengali celebration, and if the festival / celebration is in the monsoons, Hilsa is always present at the dinner table. There are scores of different dishes prepared with Ilish – Ilish Bhapa, Ilish pulao, Ilish macher jhol, and many others. But the most quick and easy one is the fried hilsa. A tablespoon of the oil in which the fish was fried with warm rice and a piece of the fried fish – I’m sure any Bengali would give up his tooth and eyes to have such a platter.
I had seen my mom frying fish in the same old wok since the time I used to peek into her kitchen. This time I thought of trying out something new. I fried the hilsa in microwave. It turned out to be a success, the quantity of oil for frying was also less and was hassle free, that’s the best part of microwave cooking, I believe.
What’s your Ilish memory?Preparation time: 2 min Cooking time: 8 min Makes 4 fish fries Ingredients:
- 4 pieces hilsa/ilish fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoon Mustard Oil
- Salt to taste
- Wash the fish pieces and put it in an open microwave safe bowl
- Coat the hilsa pieces with turmeric powder and salt
- Add the mustard oil over the fish
- Put the bowl in microwave oven and microwave high (800watts) for 7 – 8mins
- Serve hot with warm rice
Hot Tips – You can also cook it in an wok, take a little more oil than mentioned here and heat it in a wok. Gently slide the fish into the wok and fry one side at a time turning it once the side has become brown and cooked.