That one phone call that I look forward to every year.
As soon as the monsoons start.
That one phone call that spells happiness for me.
Happiness that lasts me for almost a whole year.
"Madam, ek piece mila hai, 1 kg tak, anda bhi hai".... said my fishmonger.
"Le lo".... I croaked.
My fishmonger calls me from the main market as soon as he sees a good hilsa and calls me.
Only after I confirm I am in town and only if the fish matches my specifications does he buy it.
And I go and collect it from him.
This time, my bad throat and illness notwithstanding, I said yes.
But then the season was getting over and I still hadn't got my hands on a good Hilsa / Ilish.
And that was making me very restless.
Everytime I enquired I was told that getting a good sized hilsa has been very difficult this year since all the good sized Hilsa were being exported.
I am finicky about my ilish.
I have grown up not on the Padma's ilish but the best of Kolaghat Ilish ... and hence know a good ilish.
I would rather wait for the whole year and get one good ilish than fall prey to my greed and buy just any other faux ilish and show off.
No sir .... not me.
I know my ilish ... I can hear Bapi's voice describing how to know a good Ilish.
And the words are imprinted in my memory forever, along with his voice.
And when I think of this Kolaghat ilish, my memories take me back home and the tumultuous monsoons in our small hilly town where Bapi had set up his factory.
After an early lunch, on any given day, S Pishi (aunt) would call out to Bapi asking him to gather the drivers and get the cars ready.
And, with a twinkle in her eye, she would smile at us and ask us to get ready.
We would immediately catch on the excitement.
Because it would mean only one thing ... a long drive and a picnic!!
And of course Kolaghat ... which means ... Ilish!!
Ma and Pishi would quickly rustle up a mix of muri/puffed rice and chanachur and all of us would pile into the cars and off we would go.
The drive would be filled with lots of singing, jokes and munching on the muri chanachur while the rain pelted the windows. At times, we would stop and get down for the elders to grab a cup of tea from a small stall on the roadside in the middle of nowhere.
On our return journey, Ma and Pishi would surely get down if they saw a haat / village market and that would mean loads of local, fresh vegetables.
Now that I look back, I realise that much of my love for travel and interest in the details and history of places, my love for the simple life of the countryside and villages, for nature and knowing every single local plant, fruit and leaves and their usage in our lives .... the credit goes to my S pishi.
And it were those picnics that were my classrooms.
Coming back to my Ilish, I did bring it home.
And since it was a weekday, indulged in some bhaja ilish with some hot rice for dinner.
I am often at my wits end as to what to make with the head ... it is after all only one head and there are so many ways to enjoy it.
After much thought, I decide on this jhaal with one half.
The other half will have to be the tauk / ambol ... my ever favourite.
Considering the dreaded bones of the ilish, this jhaal is not for the faint hearted.
Do try to be very careful while eating this or the fine bones may create trouble for you.
I suggest you use the front of the head ... the bones are bigger here and hence more manageable.
Ilish head - fried and broken into pieces
Potato - 1 medium, sliced
Onion - 1 medium, sliced
Mustard paste - around 2 tbsp
( I used two of my frozen cubes that was made by soaking both black and white mustard seeds, ground to a paste and strained )
Green chillies - 4 to 5
Kalo jeere / Nigella seeds - 1 tsp
Haldi powder - 1 tsp salt + haldi powder.
Mustard oil - 2 tbsp
Salt - to taste
Sugar - a pinch
Water - a little
How to :
Heat the oil in a kadahi / wok.
Add the nigella seeds and green chillies.
Add the sliced onions and fry for a while.
Now add the potatoes + turmeric powder + salt.
Cover and cook till the potatoes are done.
Remove cover and add the fish head pieces + mustard paste + a little water + sugar.
Check for salt and add if needed.
Cover and cook for a while.
Remove cover and mix everything together well.
Pour 1 tsp of mustard oil all over and add a few more green chillies.
Cover, remove from heat and let it stand for a few minutes.
Here are a few more Ilish recipes for you to enjoy in this monsoon.