Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ilishi love

Finally. After what felt like ages and a desperation that matched the calls of "O ilishi, ilishi! Wherefore art thou ilishi?", I found it. The fish hilsa or ilishi/ilish as we east Indians call it, is an essential part of many a tales of growing up and one of the many reasons of why we are such staunch foodies. Part seafood lover and part geographical genes, the Bay of Bengal to be precise, I don't need to establish my love affair with fish. More so when it is the prized ilishi, aka the King of Fish.
After our move to the States, after four good years of living across all over the length and breadth of this ridiculously vast country, and after bouts of craving so acute that I had almost forgotten what it tastes like, where do I find it? Seattle. The city that has given me umpteen reasons to celebrate life, always. Stacked neatly in a tiny corner of the refrigerator section of an international grocery store, there it was labelled 'Chandpuri Hilsa'. It didn't take me long to crack that code - it was from the Chandpur district of Bangladesh which holds the reputation of exporting the best ilishi in the world. Now, I could not have been more happy had I discovered a gold mine!

Once back from the store I got busy in no time. With ready help from an equally ilishi-deprived husband, the whole fish was descaled and cleaned promptly for that ritualistic rub of salt and turmeric. Since our fish was a monsoon catch which happens to be the breeding time, it also had eggs in its belly. Just like the fish, its eggs too are fried to a golden crunchy perfection and are considered a regional delicacy back home.
As they say, all good times begin with a great meal, and ours was just perfect - a classic Odiya fare of white rice with dal, steamed ilishi in mustard paste, ilishi fry, and boiled potatoes mashed together with raw onions, green chilies and mustard oil. The drone of my incessant cries of homesickness were hushed with the silken, buttery wonder of the King of Fish. But to get there one must really wage a war with the countless obstructing bones. There are just way too many of them!
We did well though, from finding ilishi to revisiting a carefully preserved time and age that is etched fondly and forever in our hearts called childhood.

And yes, yet another quintessential 'foreigner' moment conquered!


  1. I am jealous to core... Every single word was pricking me like a needle... But as always loved the write up as it had the 'Suman Effect' :). Thanks for sharing it with me

  2. What a description!!!..one thing in bengali we used to say when we saw something like this...'Jibhe Jal ese gelo!!!'

  3. I love it when I find things you usually only can eat back home.

  4. I always get lost while eating the fish with its thorns or bones but to have something so tasty so devine you have to put some effort...Its like all the good things in life are not for free..I have not eaten it for a long time but while reading it I felt like somebody made it for me..thats the greatness of writer Suman..the writer should have put the picture of other stuffs ( besara and aloo chakta) so that I could have my E lunch..

  5. Apali, thank you for such strong words of admiration. I knew this would trouble you, the huge fish lover that you are!

    Unknown, I knew from the start it was you Bodhi!! Thank you, especially for that signature foodie slogan in Bangla.

    jkd, isn't it?! Thanks for stopping by!

    Anonymous, I am truly overwhelmed by the ever so beautiful and encouraging comments you leave by. And the reason for not posting the 'besara' and 'aloo chakta' pictures are simply because I couldn't take any. Even I, the compulsive picture taker, couldn't resist the temptation to dig in first!! But the next time I bring home a ilishi, I promise you a lavish E lunch. Keep visiting!

  6. I was wondering if that was the time when i was not well when u prepared it....If not then we definitely need to talk on this :)

    But i must say ur write up and the picture did mix well just as the mustard on the Ilish...wat else one can crave for.....

    While in India i never liked any fish other than Ilish...still now my mom gives a call to me whenever she prepares it back home....

  7. Mona, peace girl! Yes, it was during your heartburn week. How would I even think of ilish and not tell you?! I promise we'll have a ilish date soon. Very soon!

    Fresh Garden, thank you for dropping by!

  8. One would surely become an ilish lover, if not already, after reading this post!! beautifully written! smells of nostalgia and not to mention, the irresistible "ilish" :)


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