Food is the protagonist and food is also a witness to many silent back stories which passes on across generations behind the confines of the kitchens and what an experience is it to be privy to such stories. To make it a notch higher - how about these stories coming from the Rajbaris or the Royals of West Bengal and on the queen of water - Ilish.
This season, ITC Sonar Kolkata in their ongoing Ilish festival, has introduced Royal Hilsa Menu. Great detailing and a unique thought process have gone behind the festival, where the descendants of the famous Raj Baris of West Bengal were contacted and Ilish recipes were dug out and tried in the kitchen under the able guidance of 'Exec Chef Vijay Malhotra'. These were again tasted by the respective families and then introduced to the menu.
Some of the important stories which are associated with these dishes can surely make themselves in culinary history. Sovabazar Rajbari has been host to many dignitaries from the British Raj as well as the legends of Bengal like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar and many more. Naturally, Ilish played a key role in pleasing the taste buds. Sugandhi Ilish was a personal favourite of Raja Naba Krishna Deb and it is a recipe beyond the popular Shorshe Ilish made with yogurt and some common ingredients like gorom moshla. Boneless Smoked hilsa came up as a possible way to entertain the guests who could only use spoon and fork to tackle this fish.
Moynagarh Raj Bari from East Midnapore district has the title Bahubalindra, which is an honour to the grit and determination with which they fought the enemies. They share similar culinary stories too. One of the forefathers Raja Paramananada Bahubalindra had gone to meet Jahangir in Delhi and got influenced by Mughal and Turkish and other middle eastern dishes. He came back and tried the pulao with Ilish. The Ilish Machher Dum Pulao cooked in scented basmati rice with onions, whole spices makes a perfect subtle folly to the queen of Ilish. The other dish from this Raj Bari was Ilish Machher Mol which was invented by Jagadanada Bahubolindro, who introduced the cooking of Ilish in coconut milk.
Zafrani Ilish was introduced in the Posta Raj Bari of Roys when Rani Kasturi Manjuri Dasi, mother of Kumar Bishnuprasad Roy planned a royal homecoming for her son who travelled all across Europe including Eastern Europe and Scandinavian countries. On his return, to offer a mellowed Bengali meal she ordered Zafran - the most expensive spice of world added on cashew, raisin and Zafrani Ilish was made. Doi Ilish is one more recipe from the kitchens of the Roys which is a part of the festival here.
A romantic Ilish dish named Madhu Malai Ilish was invented in the year as an extension of the love story between Raja Ashutosh Nath Roy and Rani Sarojini Devi. Raja was supposed to go out on a rainy evening and Raja requested her to prepare a dish on his return. A dish which has coconut milk, honey, yogurt sans mustard or turmeric. As the name suggests, it is a sweet and creamy dish. Rani Pasand Ilish has its history going back to the year 1880 when Raja Annadaprasad Roy and his wife Arnakali Roy were the then ruling king and queen. Cooking was one form of entertainment too. Rani Pasand, as the name suggests is the dish which was Queen's favourite and was one of the winners of a cooking competition between her cooks. The fish marinated with mustard and green chillies and wrapped in Banana leaf was shallow fried on both sides instead of steamed.
All these plates are accompanied by the best Innings opening possible - Ilish Bhaja Tel, Ilish Macher Dim Bhaja (Fried Hila Roe), Ilish Bhaja (Hilsa Darne), Aloo Bhate (Mash Potato), Ilish Macher Matha Diye Chorchori, and Sada Bhaath (Govindo Bhog or Steamed Rice)
All this and any one of the dishes from the Raj Baris come at a price of INR 2000+ taxes and this festival is on till the end of August.
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.