Well, monsoon is definitely the season for hilsa or ilish – fondly known as ‘queen of fish’ because of its unique taste and characteristic silvery look . These fishes are also great swimmers as they crosses thousands of miles in oceans to spawn their eggs in fresh or estuarine waters.
Some of the tastiest breeds of hilsa are those from the river Padma in bangladesh (‘padda r ilish’), river Rupnarayan in hooghly (‘kolaghater ilish‘) and river Ganges (‘ganga r ilish‘). Also saltwater hilsa known as ‘nona ilish‘ or ‘salty hilsa’ are there, but they are not as tasty as their counterparts in fresh waters.
There are hundreds of ways to cook this fish and you can really go innovative with the preparation. You can smoke it, fry it, steam it, bake it and can even prepare with egg plants, curd, green raw mangoes and coconut.
To show case this versatility of the hilsa, restaurants in Kolkata and Bengali restaurants elsewhere host ‘Hilsa Festivals’ during monsoon season. One such ‘Hilsa festival’ we attended three weeks ago was organized by ‘Oh Calcutta’. The theme was hilsa and menu was a perfect blend of both traditional and experimental recipes. Apart from the signature dish like ‘ilish macher paturi‘ and ‘bhapa ilish‘, there was ‘ilish er tok jhal’ which was prepared with green raw mangoes and coconut.
Other city restaurants has come up with more innovations like ‘ilish biryani‘ , ‘ilish anarashi‘, ‘ilish tikka’ and ‘ilish mouli’ to name a few. Though the price ranges are little on the higher side but if you are an ardent hilsa fan then Hilsa festivals are definitely a must visit, at least you will get to know what the chef can do with the fish. It is really worth a try.