Hilsha a la Dhaka

Hilsha a la Dhaka

Dear Friends,

I know I have been a long time away (for over months now) from posting on my blog. You can conveniently blame it on my hectic work schedule. With each morsel I savoured of my daily staple of fish and rice, with each bite I chew off  from my patishapta (thin rice wraps filled with desiccated coconut doused in date-palm sugar), I would miss YOU. I yearned to get back to what I am best at: cooking, clicking and posting. It’s pre-monsoon times. With ilish (Hilsa fish) around the corner, I could not resist it any more …

Why Hilsa?

Well, it’s difficult to say. But ask any Bong and he can trade his life for the silver fish, ilish. Strange is the way the fish breeds in the sea and spawns in the rivers, and stranger are the stories and sentiments that surround it:

~ Bongs across borders express their pride in relative superlativity of taste that they would associate with the riverine catch indigenous to either Ganga or Padma

~ Ghotis battle with Bangals pitching their ‘subtle’ kalo jeera diye ilisher jhol (Hilsa cooked with nigella seeds in light gravy) over the rival ‘rich’ sorshe diye ilisher jhal (Hilsa cooked with mustard paste in thick gravy)

~ Yours humbly coaxes adamant wifey to steam Hilsa with lady love, begun (egg-plant) while explaining how using that favourite international vegetable turns the dish into a nuanced delicacy   

The Gopal and Hilsa Fish Story

The Gopal and the Hilsa Fish Story

Strangely enough no one seems to be interested in the Hilsha Fish todayfor the entire hilarious episode read further on  http://ncertbooks.prashanthellina.com/class_7.English.Honeycomb/(3)%20Gopal%20and%20the%20Hilsa%20Fish.pdf


There are stories and opinions that never ever end on ilish. So much so that even Saraswati, our favourite Bong goddess, isn’t pleased without her ritual ilish bhog (offering)

Saraswati puja 2013, on my rooftop

Saraswati puja 2013, on my rooftop

Sorisha Ilish:
Last weekend when I ventured out into the maacher bazaar (fish market) and returned smiling with a nicely bargained ilish in my thole (grocery-bag once made of jute, now woven in plastic strands; an appendage seen commonly with most married Bong husbands), I wondered what style I should try cooking my delicate darling. I walked back a few steps down my memory land and heard what I come across my frequent visits to Bangladesh, in the winding alleys of Gulshan market, north of Dhaka,

Aastaasi mama, eik khan gorma grom sorisha ilisher pilet ! Khaba tumi ?…

( Get you, meister, one steaming plate of mustard Hilsa? )

Sights and sounds of Gulshan market, Dhaka

Sights and sounds of Gulshan market, Dhaka


* Hilsa ~ ilish (the fish!); three to four pieces cut in triangular sizes while retaining the deem (fish roe); no borofer ilish (preserved fish) please, the fresher, the better!

* Onions ~ peyaj; One large onion sliced into the thinnest pieces, Divide in two equal portions

* Ginger-garlic ~ ada-rosun; blend into a smooth paste separately to obtain a teaspoonful of each

* Mustard oil ~ sorshe tel; a generous amount here, about three tablespoons or more

* Mustard paste ~ sorshe bata; two teaspoons, Trickiest bit is to blend them into a paste without turning them bitter ~ dry grind yellow mustard seeds with a pinch of salt, dissolve in water and some mustard oil, throw in a slit green chili and let it stand for ten minutes before cooking

* Nigella seeds ~ kalo jeere; half a teaspoon, these black onion seeds lend a characteristic flavour to the dish

* Green chilies ~ kancha lonka; four slit green chilies for added heat

* Salt, turmeric ~ noon-holud; marinate the ilish for about 15 minutes with some salt to taste and a pinch of turmeric

In case you require further help with the ingredients, please feel free to write to me at  miraj2k2000@gmail.com

The ingredients with the Hilsa

The ingredients with the Hilsa

I bet this is one of the simplest ways ilish is cooked and is definitely one of the tastiest. The gravy is prepared first. Throw in slit green chilies to a thick wok fuming with hot mustard oil. Instantly reduce heat and crackle the nigella seeds. Sauté one half of the sliced onions until soft. Fry the garlic and then the ginger paste in the oil until they let a sweet aroma out. Fry mustard paste for a second or two and pour in four cups of water. Drizzle a quarter teaspoonful of turmeric powder for a lovely yellow colour. Bring to a boil. Drop the marinated ilish wedges into the bubbling gravy and let it simmer for 15 minutes until the gravy is reduced to half. The fish would be done by now. Check for seasoning and add salt if you will. Marinate with beresta (remaining onion slices deep fried in oil)

Hilsa bubbling away to glory

Hilsa bubbling away to glory

Sorisha Ilish tastes heaven with steamed rice, a chunk of gondhoraj lebu (flavourful lime) and Tagore’s poetry :


“ Obhoy dao to boli tomay amar moner wish ki

Ek gelas sodar jole dui phonta whishkey ”


 ( Let me confide in you my heart’s deepest desire ~

Ah, two drops of whiskey in a glass of soda, sire! )


P.S. : This recipe has been perfected by, wifey-the-great who is getting increasingly known for her guest appearances in my cooking space …

Sorisha Hilsa a la Dhaka

Sorisha Hilsa a la Dhaka


4 responses »

  1. Welcome back Miraj 🙂 The fish curry looks yummy. I had a fish curry with mustard paste (am not sure if that was Hisha) from the ‘Authentic Bengali’ restaurant in BTM layout, Bangalore with your wifey once and absolutely loved it. We mallus don’t use mustard oil or paste. I am not sure my true blue mallu hubby would like the mustard oil taste but I would surely want to try this and see. If its successful, mustard oil makes entry into our kitchen 🙂

    • Thanks Seena, well mustard is delectable … start bringing it into your “henshel” or whatever is mallu for it 😛 We bongs tends to use lesser amount of spices since the cooking medium (mustard oil) is pungent enough and imparts a taste of it’s own …

  2. Aww that’s Wonderful … but Barracuda? Gawd it looks so frightening … Next time try Shad … fish closest in taste to Hilsha … as a custom we Bengali’s prefer cooking pretty pisceans and reject their uglier cousins … 🙂

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