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I have grown up outside Bengal and throughout my childhood, whenever I have mentioned that I am a Bengali, the first response had been- ‘Oh, macher jhol bhaat’. Yes, fish to Bengalis is just like beer is to Germans or apple pie is to Americans. With the passing time and IT industry growing, the ever cosmopolitan Kolkata demographics had changed. Too many diners were no longer Bengalis looking for fish in every meal. In the last decade, the city has seen several innovations in this area. Nowadays, one can find unique fish dishes, which are not so fishy and have a modern and broader appeal.
Bohemian is a trend setter for several innovative fusion dishes. Keeping the Bengali cuisine essence at its core, Chef Joy has crossed all boundaries and brought in a number of mind-blowing dishes. Pabda Rolls Stewed in Cherry Tomato and Spinach Broth is light and fragrant and finally, a fish other than bhekti being the star takes the cake. No matter how much you try, you cannot leave bhekti out of the menu and no amount of innovation in any other fish can take away the popularity of bhekti. Perhaps it is the meaty texture minus the fish bones and the sweet taste of Kolkata bhekti that makes it so popular. Despite having a plethora of dishes in other fish, Steamed Bhekti With Pickled Chilli And Cheese at Bohemian is a killer dish and perhaps one of the most popular ones too. Almost like a paturi, the soft and flaky bhekti in a combination of chilli and cheese is spellbinding.
Talking about cheese, Oasis Restaurant at Park Street serves this extraordinarily satisfying Baked Fish In Cheese. It is simply dreamy and creamy and finger licking good. It is not meant for people on a lean diet. It is meant for cheese and cream lovers and despite all the richness, the fish stands out. Koshe Kosha has multiple outlets in the city and though they have many fish dishes (being a Bengali restaurant), Bhekti Chingrir Melbondhon stands apart. It is not your regular fish fry. This one is a giant sized piece of bhekti cutlet with the stuffing of shrimps. One portion is good for 2 people and is a great evening snack too.
Rui Macher Patishapta at Aaheli, The Peerless Inn is one of their signature dishes. Soft crepes made in ghee with a stuffing of rohu mash with spices has a sublime taste. It is a fresh twist on the regular sweet patishapta and every bite of this roll is a tantalising treat guaranteed to make any food lover drool. Kasturi is a very popular restaurant chain in the city serving Bangladeshi cuisine and their Loitte Mach Sheele Baata is simply incredible. Loitte mach is the Bengali version of Bombay duck and this dish is a mash of the fish with spices and plenty of chilli on a stone or a mortar and pestle. It is packed with flavour and goes great with rice.
6 Ballygunge Place is a household name in the city and they are probably one of the few good Bengali restaurants. Amongst many fish dishes, Gondhoraj Bhapa Bhekti is a superior dish. It is made by steaming the fish and there has never been any time when it has not been perfectly cooked. The fragrance from the gondhoraj elevates this simple steamed fish. So is the Steamed Fish With Garlic And Chilli Marinade at Oh! Calcutta. It simply melts in the mouth and the chilli had a super kick.
A no-no place for vegetarians as well as non-fish lovers, Fish Fish at Ballygunge has the entire menu dedicated to fish. And oh my god! There is fish in abundance of every kind in several cuisines. Macher Dimer Roast is an interesting take on Hilsa roe and has a unique flavour experience with a mustard relish. There is nothing innovative about grilled fish. It has been a part of most menus in the city for ages. However, the Grilled Fish, at The GRID needs a special mention because it is made with so much love, care and perfection, and it is a must try for any fish lover. The bhekti is moist and the lemon butter sauce that comes with it is packed with flavour and is spiked with chillies. You will be forced to lick your plate clean once you start with it.
I would like to give a disclaimer here. The city has several more brilliant fish dishes which are extraordinary. The above list of dishes is certainly not an exhaustive list. One has to try out many over the years. However, the ones mentioned here are definitely preferred by connoisseurs.