food spot Delhi

It’s time to relish the ilish

The Internet is bursting with pictures of the hilsa these days. WhatsApp messages have been shouting with glee about huge stacks arriving at the CR Park fish markets. Just as I was drooling over a picture of plump hilsa pieces soaked in mustard, I heard from a couple of friends that Oh! Calcutta had a special hilsa combo on offer.

I called the restaurant and found that the hamper consisted of two pieces of steamed hilsa (ilish paturi), two pieces of hilsa cooked with brinjal (ilish beguner jhol), two betki fish fries, potato cauliflower curry (aloo phoolkopir dalna), roasted mung dal (bhaja moong dal) and potato fritters (aloo bhaja) with steamed Basmati rice. For dessert it had tomato date chutney, kheer with rice and two malpuas. This is for ₹3,300 (including taxes). But the hamper, as I subsequently discovered, was enough for two people, and, in our case, was right for three, with a piece left over for dinner.

As I waited for the food to arrive, I marvelled at how Delhi had embraced Bengal’s food in the last few decades. Bengalis were among the first to migrate to the city as the new Capital took shape, but there were only a few basic places where a Bengali migrant could get a homelike meal. Prominent among them was Basu Lodge. It offered rooms and food, and continued to do so for decades. I remember having a simple but satisfying meal there several years ago. I recall in particular the taste of the dal and the crispy potato fries that came with it.

For years, when so-called Punjabi food and Chinese cuisine flourished in parts of the city, there was little that Delhi offered in eastern Indian cuisine. Oh! Calcutta was one of the first to serve Bengal food in general and Calcutta food in particular. In the past few years, small eateries have come up in different parts of the city. The problem is that while the food is uniformly good, some of these small delivery places open and shut before you can say ‘Babumoshai’.

Oh! Calcutta has been hit by the pandemic too. Its first outlet in the NCR at Nehru Place shut down a while ago. It now occupies what was Mainland China (run by the same group) in Greater Kailash II. It delivers food through the food apps.

The food came well-packed and sealed in containers in a carton. I started my meal with a delicious piece of fried fish – a large and firm betki fillet which had been crumbed and golden fried. The fried potatoes – crunchy slivers – went well with the roasted dal, cooked with green peas. I then had the cauliflower and potato dish, which was mildly sweet and had just the right balance of spices.

I turned to the steamed hilsa – fish wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. This was a large piece of fish – the darne – which had been smeared with mustard paste and then steamed. The fish had absorbed the flavours of the mustard, and I loved its sharp flavour. I tried the gravy of the eggplant hilsa preparation and enjoyed it, while everyone else at home gave it an A plus. The chutney came next – sweet and tart. I, however, found it a bit too sweet. Malpua is an old favourite of mine, so that went down well too, even though the fennel flavour was somewhat mild.

All in all, the hilsa treat was truly worth it. I have had hilsa cooked with strawberry and orange and what have you, but have come to the conclusion that the plain steamed hilsa in mustard paste is the best. Ilish then is truly delish.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 10:24:25 PM |

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