I have eaten Hilsa since I was a child and inherited the love for it from my Mother. My father found it too bony a fish and lacked the patience to eat it but he always has loved to indulge his “girls” as he fondly calls my mother and me so whenever he found a fitting specimen it would make its way home to be happily devoured by my Mother and me.
The Hilsa we ate most often in my parents home was a fried Hilsa – rubbed with chilli, garlic, turmeric, salt and a squirt of lemon – marinated for a couple of hours and then fried and served hot with steamed rice and yellow dal ! Absolute bliss it was and till date I never tire of it. Comfort and love best define this dish for me.
Summer holidays full of childhood fun and frolic were spent in then Bombay now Mumbai and the sleepy hamlet of Devlali where my maternal grandparents settled. The Hilsa there is the Ocean Hilsa which is locally called Bhing slightly different in taste but still absolutely delicious and highly prized. It was also served fried in my Granny’s house but with a twist. The marinade was a green Chutney popular in most Parsi homes made with coriander, coconut, green chilli, jaggery which the fish was covered in and then deep fried just before being freshly served. Heavenly and still makes my mouth water !
My third most delectable Hilsa dish which was the pinnacle of all treats however was introduced to be by my Grandpa, the original and ultimate foodie in our family – Smoked Hilsa in Skyroom. I lack adjectives to do justice that the umami ( a word I did not know then ) this dish had. Deboned, filleted and Smoked to flaky perfection this was an absolute privilege to have had on numerous occasions because Skyroom was a family favourite and I had the good fortune to dine there often before it shut leaving a vacuum never to be filled in the foodscape of Kolkata. Thankfully in previous days Olympia now rechristened Olypub on Park Street did an excellent version of this very dish and you still find it every season in both Bengal Club and Tollygunge Club where we are lucky to indulge our appetites at present.
The Salt House with the Culinary Wizard Auroni Mukherjee doing a nose to tail Menu for my beloved Tenualosa Ilisha in days when sadly lack of conservation has plundered this fish and it’s on the verge of being seriously endangered has not only struck a deep chord to my Ilish loving heart but made me want to spread the awareness of how not to buy a fish that weighs less than a kilogram and eat it more frugally and less often.
My love affair and affection for this absolutely beautiful fish will continue for my lifetime.
This love lead me to be featured in my friend the amazingly talented Anirban Bora , Deputy Graphic Editor, The Economic Times – who conceptualises , illustrates and creates the brilliant and hugely popular “Indica Gastronomica” in The Economic Times. Enclosed with this post is a copy of that particular column “Where have all the Hilsa gone ?” this was published in The ET a few months back.
It lead me to make the pledge that I would not buy more than one Hilsa for my home every season, will only buy this during proper season time and never a small fish at least 1.2kg fish if not larger. I urge all fellow Ilish and Hilsa lovers to do the same for their preservation because the Hilsa cannot be bred in captivity.