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Monday, 7 April 2014

Fishy Business

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So fishy. Ever since a Bengali infant officially and religiously is found eligible for proper eating...he is being fed  with fish. We learn to have fish in all days, macher jhol bhaat ( light fish gravy and rice) for regular meals, sorshe maach ( mustard fish) almost everyday until an overdose of mustard upsets the now fishy digestive system!! Be it weddings, parties any functions..it,s all fishy...

My earliest memories is of the fish made by grandma. And grandpa loading  bags with fish and veggies ringing his bicycle bell impatiently outside the gate of our house... me rushing to the gate first but he would be ringing more until he had the undivided attention of all! That was a daily ritual. Lunch would be an elaborate meal normal  four to five course if not more and fish was an inevitable part. But then there were so many different kinds of fish, so many ways to cook and i cherished grandma,s excellent cooking...from normal maacher jhol to that dry choto macher chorchori ( a medley of tiny fish and spices really) and muri ghanta ( we make it with fish head combined with rice or you can subsitute rice with veg, when it becomes lau diye murighanta.)And to take out the fish bones, somehow each bengali did it automatically and the tongue served as an excellent filter separating bones from the fish and most of the times i loved chewing the bones off as they were done very juicy and spicy. Yes we do not get the bones off and  it is cooked with bones intact!!

Living on the coast of a mighty river had its advantages and having access to fresh water fish was one of them. Preparation was cumbersome most of the times, specially cleaning and cutting in those days. Ladies would squat and clean and peel fish with the special Indian knife used for the purpose balancing it with feet and it would take hours specially for the smaller variety and next part frying them in mustard oil which is supposed to take away any raw stench associated with the fish. Last part is the cooking which is relatively simpler.
No story of fish ends in a Bengali home without Ilish (Hilsa)...the flavour the taste makes it the undisputed  king...not for the meek because of being way bony than its counterparts, Ilish invites the daring to come and fall in love with it and hence i guess it remained confined in bengali homes.

Earlier days there was this pride in hanging the costliest fish available in market and carrying it to home, being the object of  neighbour,s envy!! In a function before my wedding i remember there was this huge fish lying in front of me marked with vermilion, brought by my in laws, being the necessary  talisman. Guess along with being part of daily meals it is integrated into the hearts of  bengalis and their emotions..to the light stew during times of illness to the spicy chorchori fish is everywhere. Cooked with vegetables at times it can be quite healthy, or the simple maach bhaja ( fish fry which we gobble with rice) so many combinations are possible.

So happy Fishing for us!!