If you love fish then you need to be in Kolkata during the monsoon. Almost filling up all the senses, from fish market to dinner plates at homes to tent cards at restaurants, it’s Ilish which tops the list. From a wholesome meal which can literally start from the oil in which the fish is fried, the deep fried bhaja with its fragrance, the jhol where with black cumin seeds and brinjals; where on purpose the ingredients are kept simple so that the fragrance and the taste of the Ilish is not over shadowed or the Sorshe Jhal which is Ilish cooked in mustard oil with mustard and poppy seed paste and spicy green chilies. This is a basic spread which any Bengali Household will have at least on one Sunday, but most of the times it is for all the Sundays throughout the monsoon.
Whether you are a first timer or a seasoned player, if you are eating out Ilish this season, then these 6 dishes cannot be missed.
Ilish Sorshe Jhal at The Gateway Hotel, Kolkata is a traditional dish in which the mustard is stone grounded and then used in the gravy; it is a definite must have from their long list of Ilish dishes during the Hilsa festival which runs during monsoons. It is a full flavoured classic dish and is bound to excite your palate.
Ilish Machher Paturi from the kitchen of The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata can be described with only one word- ‘Grand’. It is a gigantic piece of Hilsa coated in pungent and earthy mustard, coconut and poppy seed paste, wrapped in banana leaf and finally steamed. Nothing unique, perhaps every household makes it but Chef Saurav Banerjee does an exemplary job in the execution of this dish and it never fails. The balance of every ingredient is just perfect.
Dhumrogondhi Ilish at Aaheli is the erstwhile smoked Hilsa which has been revamped here. A tedious process of deboning is carried out and then marinated with mustard paste and run through a salamander before being served. This is ideal for the ones looking for subtlety with bursting flavours running through your mouth. No wonder, it is one of their most popular dishes over the years.
Doi Ilish, another classic which is very popular amongst Ghotis (meaning people originally hailing from West Bengal) is fresh, generous and prepared to perfection at 6 Ballygunge Place. The sourness from the yoghurt gets beautifully combined with the sharpness from the mustard and the result is a robust and flavorful gravy made with a soft and tender piece of Hilsa.
When we are talking about Hilsa, one cannot ignore the fish head. Yes, you heard it right. Bongs don’t leave a part of this fish, for that matter any fish. So, Iilish Macher Matha with Kochu Shaak or Pui Shaak is extremely popular amongst the bold who do not care about the fine fish bones. It is made brilliantly at Bhojohori Manna and the green mixed with the strong aroma from the Hilsa is a delight to have.
Ilish in Beguner Jhol is craft fully prepared at Oh! Calcutta. Even though they are immensely popular for their smoked Hilsa, this humble fish curry with long pieces of soft brinjals floating with nigella seeds when served with a plateful of hot steaming rice is finger licking good.
In the recent times, the city and its taste buds has experienced many experimentation's leading to innovations to an extent of abuse of this glorious fish happening. From Ilish Cheese Toast to Ilish Sizzler to Ilish Moilee to Hilsa Yellow Lentil Broth; this definitely hasn’t gone down well with the purists. The sizes of the catch have also been an issue. Bigger the size, better the taste, so just like when T 20 or even limited overs cricket had come in, the Test cricket purists had raised an insecure alarm over the future of the game, in the same way it's better to leave it for future whether the fusion Ilish dishes survive or not.
A true blue Kolkata foodie, Anindya loves cooking and eating his Kosha Mangsho. Anindya weaves stories around food as he believes exceptional food is an emotional experience. Previously a restauranter, now a passionate photographer and traveller, he runs a successful blog called Pikturenama and contributes to other publications.