A laid back Sunday lunch be like this – Tangra maacher chorchori pyenjkoli-begun diye or jhal / jhol gorom Bhaat diye which literally translates to cat fish curry with green onions and eggplants served on bed of steamed rice.
Fish is life for Bengali and we bongs perfectly know how to eat our fish and greens together. I have hardly come across any cuisine other than Bengali where fish curries are made primarily with lots of veggies and greens, like this Bengali fish stew with summer vegetables / macher jhol sabji diye. I guess that’s the unique aspects of Bengali cuisine.
Tangra maach or fresh water small cat fishes can be prepared in many ways but this one with green onions and eggplants is our family favourite. Lightly fried in mustard oil, the hint of nigella and garlic, green onions and crispy fried eggplants together brings out a beautiful flavour and makes this a unique fish curry. And believe me you will never ever want to try any other recipe of tangra fish, other than this.
“ But what this is about “fish hunting in America”?? A short misadventure story :
I know “fish hunting” is not the right word, but I could not find more appropriate word to tell you the story of my misadventures …
Fish cannot live without water. A Bong can not live without fish. So what happens when a Bong arrives in a “phoreighn” land ?
Arriving in a foreign country in the early hours of morning is a bad idea. Western cities are dreadfully silent, evening could be a much better choice.
Yet with half closed or half opened eyes (either ways), you tries to soak everything around you, the people, the streets, the sky, the landscape , the flavor of foreign food, silently making a mental note on each and everything that you see, because the very next day you will want to share these stories with your family who lives half the world away.
The quintessential question in any case would be –
“Did you get the fish ? ” Stupefied ! you further added – ” No, there is no Indian /Asian grocery nearby”.
Even before you try to clarify yourself, word went around your little world –
” They are in so much trouble, there is no fish market nearby”.
Next day, both of you on your “new” rented car roamed around the countryside or it could be a town in search of an Indian grocery, after burning a gallon of petrol, you finally stumbled upon a small, tiny Indian grocery store, and all you found are some sad looking vegetables lying in a corner and loads of spices and yes “no fish”. 🙁
Back home your very survival in a “phoreighn land ” is now highly questionable –
“They are so much in trouble, there is no fish market in the town, how will they survive ? “
After a week, with the help of few local Indians, you gained knowledge about the Asian / Bangladeshi / halal stores, does not matter if it is 50 miles away from your home, in all the excitement you go there to find few of your known fishes lying frozen for days, may be a year, yet you get excited to see the steaks of hilsa, however small it may look, and then comes the inevitable question which stares right at your face – “will you pay 30 $ for a pound of Hilsa ? ” Finally Hilsa comes along with you, to your kitchen, and you savor it with the spices brought from your home country.
Back home your hilsa feast get rave reviews and put you into the top contender of the survival of the fittest show –
“Ohh..they are so happy now, you know today they get such a huge hilsa, she make bhapa ilish, it taste so good, even better than ours .”
As the news of your bhapa ilish spread like a fire, few pessimists snatched it and turns the news into highly debatable coffee table discussion-
” Hilsa in America ? Must be from Bangladesh. Wait,who told you Bangladesh waters has hilsa, no way, there is neither any hilsa in Ganges nor in Padma river. Then where did they get the fish ? Must be local then ? Local ? Impossible ! Ask them if the fish was even Hilsa ? ” :shocked:
A month later, you realized that you have spent half of your hard earned green notes on “fish” alone ! That could have fed you four times a week in Big mac.
Finally, it dawned upon you to adopt the new life, a more economic one, as your local grocery store is just a stone’s throw away, stocked with big fillet of Tilapia , which you finally ditched it for the pink Salmon, but the Cod too catches your attention , and there are others whose names you tries to memorize – flounder, Trout , Bass, Snapper, Grouper, Herring … you returned home with huge bounty of fishes. With so many blogs buzzing around, it is never much difficult to find, which fish goes well with pasta, which fish need to be just baked and not fried, which fish loves mustard and which is right for making fish fingers.
But back home, many are not happy with your “fishy” adventure – and this is how it reflects –
” They have changed, you know ! My only child ! They no longer bother about our culture, our cuisine. She made salmon yesterday ! Can you even compare it with our beloved Hilsa ! See this is just the beginning… God knows what will happen after 5 years ! Will they ever return to India ? “
News taste bland if spices are not added to it
” Oh..so sorry to hear about your son. My cousin, oh the one in Big Blue, his cousin, who is … his son’s cousin ….son..stays in NYC, there they get all the Indian fishes, why don’t you tell them to move to NYC ? “
Next morning a voice from the other end of the world, filled with choked emotions, pleads to you –
“Why don’t you move to NYC. There are so many fishes ! All Indian you know !” ;-)”
- 12 : Tangra maach (fresh water small size fish of catfish family)
- 1 tsp : Nigella / kalonji / kalo jeera
- 2-3 : Green chillies (Indian) or more as per taste
- 2 bunches : Spring onions / green onions
- 1 : Red onion (medium size)
- 1 : Eggplant (large size)
- 1 tbsp : Turmeric powder
- 2 tsp : MInced ginger
- 2-3 tsp : Cumin powder
- Salt to taste
- 2 -3 tbsp : Mustard oil
- Clean and wash the fish. I depend upon my fishmonger to do this part.
- Rinse them again in lukewarm salted water, this is to avoid any fishy smell.
- Smear the fishes with salt, turmeric paste and leave for around 15 minutes.
- Cut and chop the spring onions.
- Wash, peel the red onion and minced it.
- Quarter the eggplants into finger long sizes.
- Heat the mustard oil in a large pan till it reaches the smoking point.
- Fry the fishes one by one, carefully not to spoil the fish. It will take 15 minutes or so.
- Take off the fishes from the hot oil and drained them on a plate lined with tissue paper.
- Now if required add more oil, or you can continue with the same.
- Temper the oil with nigella seeds.
- Add the quartered eggplants and fry them till they become browned and soft.
- Add the minced onion, minced ginger and fry them for couple of minute till the onions become translucent.
- Now add the green chillies (cut into slits), salt and spring onions and fry till the spring onions wilt and become soft.
- Add the turmeric powder, cumin powder and mix it well.
- Check for the salt and other seasonings.
- Carefully place the fried fishes on the pan, add enough water to just cover the fishes and let it simmer on low heat till done.
- Serve it hot with steamed rice.
Tangra maach / fish are mostly from sweet water , like this Tel Koi or Pabda Macher Jhol some are from salty sea water too, and they are very smelly, so I don’t prefer to use that. There are other three ways to cook this wonderful fish, which happens to be my favourite one. Will post the other recipe sometime later. If you are still wondering about “maach, mishti and more” go figure it out ! The idea of selling sandwiches to Calcuttan goes kaput from the very first scene and so the entire concept of the film that runs along very predictable story line. Some fresh ideas please!