If it is fish, that too in Bengal, I can’t help turning fishy. It’s one thing to love fish, quite another to know how to cook them. In my experience, people in the entire Indian coastal-belt and northeast love their fish and have it almost everyday. But their cooking is awful except in Bengal.
Perhaps I’m sounding parochial. But if you consider that it’s only in Bengal that you’ll find large-scale organized cultivation of fish in both sweet-water and brackish water apart from fetching catch from sea, you’ll probably accede that there’s more to fish in Bengal than anywhere else.
Visit any fish market in Kolkata early morning, you’ll be greeted with fresh catch waiting to be taken home. Other than the staple big and small sized carps, you’ll also find other smaller varieties like tangra, parshe, pabda, tilapia, bhekti, and if luck permits, boaal, topese, puti, morola, etc. Name any fish market in any big city to have such varied fresh catch every morning, I’ll run there.
It goes to Bengali’s culinary skill that she won’t prefer same preparation for all fish. She knows each type has its own smell and taste. So a carp and bhekti will be cooked differently, as will be pabda and tilapia. There is another dimension to Bengali’s cooking, which is to make clever use of ingredients – both vegetables and spices – to match the taste as necessary.
For example, try parshe smoked in mustard sauce, or tangra with brinjal and onion, or katla with cauliflower. There can be any number of permutation and combination, the underlying theory being ‘never stop experimenting’.
As if to prove my point, I turn to today’s Nigel Slater’s (of The Observer Magazine, UK) description of fish preparations in Kolkata. Here is an excerpt (read the story here):
But it is the Bengalis that are the legendary fish cooks of India. Their mantra is ‘rice and fish, fish and rice’. I have always wanted to go to Kolkata, partly to taste the fish from the surrounding wetlands, including the revered hilsa, a member of the shad family… It was no surprise, then, that I pounced on Simon Parkes’s and Udit Sarkhel’s new book The Calcutta Kitchen (£20, Mitchell Beazley) when it fell on my doormat.
Permit me now to take a dig at the strongly vocal lobby of Indian veggies. I had a hearty laugh some time back when CNN-IBN and The Hindu in an exclusive survey discovered that as much as 60% Indians are non-vegetarian, a fact that didn’t please the non-veg haters. True to their form, the ubiquitous veggies, finding their sail punctured, quickly swarmed out of woodworks to take umbrage at what they termed a ‘faulty’ survey.
The fight between veggies’ self-belief and non-veggies’ fact of life still rages on. Sample this fantastic comment from one N. Jain, collected from Rediff’s message board.
Subject: It’s all because of eating non – veg
I think the reason for diabetes being more common in south india is that generally south indians eat more meat compared to north indians. Among the north Indians, there are so many people who are strictly vegetarians like the jains, etc.