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A fish like no other

Posto narkol ilish Photo Soha Parvez

Posto narkol ilish Photo Soha Parvez   | Photo Credit: Soha Parvez

As Oh! Calcutta celebrates hilsa all over again, RAHUL VERMA makes no bones in stating his love for ilish

I have realised that there are two kinds of people in the world –– those who are hilsa fiends, and those who don’t know what they are missing. I was in the second group till some years ago. And then I had my first piece of fried hilsa and now I can write an ode to the fish.

My problem is that while I love the fish, I can’t really handle the bones. I manage, but just about. So I am always grateful to restaurants that serve deboned hilsa. Die-hard hilsa lovers tell me that it doesn’t taste the same. But I enjoy it.

Earlier this week, I had my fill of boneless fish at Oh! Calcutta in New Delhi. Every year, they have a hilsa festival, and every year, I am invited to try out the dishes. And every year I get awed by this fish. At home, we have it mostly in two ways –– fried, or steamed with mustard, mustard oil and green chillies. Some hilsa honchos tell me that one of the lightest and best hilsa dishes is the one where it is cooked only with onion seeds and green chillies. But the many hilsa meals at the restaurant have given me a fair idea of how the fish can be cooked in different ways –– steamed in rice, with pickle masala, with pumpkin or other gourds, in gravy flavoured with coriander and garlic and so on.

But, for me, the best part of the fest is the fact that many of the hilsa dishes are boneless. We had for starters mocha ilish (Rs. 725) which is a chop (a fat and round cutlet) –– prepared with banana flower florets and hilsa mash, coated and fried –– and delicious crumb fried fish fingers (Rs. 625). Then we had some posto narkol ilish (Rs. 825), fish wrapped in poppy seeds and coconut. There was also Meghna majhidar ilish (Rs. 825) cooked with coconut milk and curry powder.

The mocha ilish and the fish fingers were excellent. In the latter, the marinated fish had a crunchy coating of bread crumbs, and it came with a tangy mayo-mango-mustard dip. I tried it out with the regular kasundi, which is a pungent mustard sauce and liked it immensely. The chop, again, was delicious, and I liked the sweet taste of the coconut in the banana flower, complementing the strong flavour of the fish.

The Meghna majhidar ilish somehow did not work for me. I found it too masale-daar. This, the restaurant informs us, is a dish that the boatmen on the river Meghna would cook. I think it had a bit too much of everything including onions.

But what I really liked was the posto narkol ilish, where three flavours –– of the poppy seed paste, grated coconut and ground mustard gave the fish a nice kick.

The festival has many more hilsa dishes on the menu such as steamed hilsa with mango pickles (Rs.825), hilsa paturi (wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed – Rs. 525), smoked hilsa (Rs. 825), lal lonkar ilish, cooked with red chillies (Rs.525) and fried fish (Rs.525).

Though I did break my hilsa journey with a short luchi-and-mutton stopover, this was an out-and-out hilsa feast. And I ended up writing my ode:

Hilsa fish/you are a dish.

Not quite Keats, but straight from the heart.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 9:44:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-fish-like-no-other/article14503094.ece

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