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Ilish Macher Jhol / Bengali Hilsa Fish Curry

Ilish Macher Jhol Begun Diye / Hilsa Fish Curry With Brinjal

Ilish macher jhol begun kalojeere diye is a typical East Bengal recipe (because we still have that great ghoti -bangal cultural divide) with fried eggplants and nigella seeds. A home style rustic curry that oozes out comfort in each and every bite.

What Ilish Meant to a Bengali?

Bengali’s undying adulation for ilish is unrivalled. Come monsoon, every true blue bong heart will yearn and waited unabated for the queen to arrive, the “Ilish / hilsa, queen of fishes”. Recipes will be dug out from the forlorn antique trunk, that once belongs to great aunt or grandma’s. Notes will be taken meticulously and recipes will be sorted out according to the size of the fish. For small size ilish – a curry with vegetables will be best suited. And for large size – perhaps sorshe bhape (in mustard paste), doi ilish or with pineapples perhaps (Ilish anaroshi) and so on.

How to cook Ilish Bhape / steamed hilsa in mustard

Few ilish enthusiasts will try to fashion out new recipes for ilish, which will eventually meet the scornful eyes of the purists.

Ilish is both Bengali’s pride and prejudice and much has been written in praise of the queen. In my family I had observed this obsession with ilish which sometimes extended up to extremes .

ilish macher jhol



Such is the love for the queen. Onions are considered sacrilegious in ilish. So as the poor potatoes which fails to impress the mighty queen. And whoever had tried to break the heavenly match of mustard with coconut (a typical Dhaka, Bikrampur Ilish recipe) be doomed forever.

Having grown up in hills of hinterlands, far from the coast, I however had never had this much adoration for the queen, in my growing up years. But over a period of time, I had developed a love for the queen – ilish, specially because of my dad who just knows which ilish will taste best just by looking at it. So because of him alone, I had my fair share of luxuries. I had tasted the best ilish from Padma, from Irrawady and from Rupnarayan (Ganga, Kolaghat ).

After my dad left for his heavenly adobe, I had somewhat withdrew myself from this monsoon luxury.

You might also like our Ilish Aam Kashundi / Hilsa In Kasundi

Over fishing made the queen to behave pricey. And in last two decades the price of ilish had skyrocketed so much, making it almost impossible to touch the queen.

A week ago, the queen has arrived in our home. Traveled all the way from Bangladesh to Bangalore with an exorbitant price tag. And for a size as small as 1 kg, I prefer to cook this ilish in our traditional way. Just the way my mom, my aunts, my grandma used to cook – a light soul stirring ilish / hilsa curry with nigella and eggplants.

How To Cook Ilish Macher Jhol?

Ilish macher jhol begun diye is a traditional and ethnic recipe. This ilish macher jhol is simple, uncomplicated and at the same time much more elevated  that allows the queen (flavour of ilish) to shine through.

There are certain unwritten rules however while cooking the ilish. First, ilish / hilsa should not be deep fried in hot oil. Because it will make the fish lost its natural oily taste. So I just saute the fish pieces in oil for couple of minute or so. In my home ,this ilish macher jhol is cooked typically with kalojeere (nigella) and begun (eggplants) and nothing else. Some people also add potatoes here. But that is almost sacrilegious in my home.

This ilish macher jhol is cooked without onions, garlic and ginger. This is a very light fish curry with just turmeric powder, salt and green chillies. Ilish taste best when you handle the fish delicately and with minimal of spices.

Ilish Macher Jhol / Hilsa Fish Curry

Ilish Macher Jhol / Hilsa Fish Curry is a light fish curry or broth made with hilsa fish and brinjals, tempered with nigella seeds.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Bengali
Keyword: hilsa fish curry, ilish macher jhol
Servings: 6
Author: Sukanya Ghosh


  • 1 kg Ilish / hilsa fish (only pieces, no head)
  • 2 Brinjal / eggplant cut into lengthwise. Usually I add 2-3 pieces of brinjal per pieces of fish.
  • 1 tsp Nigella seeds
  • 3-4 Green Chillies
  • 2 tsp Turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Mustard oil as required


  • Wash the ilish and smear it with little turmeric powder and salt. Ilish should not be washed too much as it dilutes the natural taste of the fish.
  • Cut the eggplants lengthwise or finger long. The amount of brinjal requires roughly depends upon the number of fish pieces available. I generally add 2-3 thick brinjal pieces per piece of fish. This maintains a good proportion of eggplants to fish.
    Smear the eggplants with salt and turmeric and keep aside.
  • Heat enough mustard oil (around 2-3 tbsp) in a kadhai. When it is hot enough, lower the heat to medium and slide the hilsa fish pieces very gently.
    Lightly fry or saute the hilsa fish for around 2 minutes and slot them out. DO NOT BROWN THE ILISH / HILSA
    You can completely skip frying the fish pieces for this recipe too.
  • In the same oil, add some more oil if requires and fry the eggplants till soft, tender and browned.
    Slot them out from the kadhai.
  • In the same oil, if requires add 1 tablespoon oil and temper the oil with nigella seeds and green chillies (slit from the middle).
  • Add the fried eggplants and mix it very well. Add turmeric powder and salt to taste.
  • Add 3 cups warm water and let it come to a rolling boil.
    Slide the fish pieces gently. Do not stir it.
  • Lower the heat, cover and let it cook for another 7-8 minutes till some of the gravy is reduced. And fish is cooked through.
  • When the oil floats on top of the gravy, switch off the heat.
  • Serve ilish macher jhol . hilsa fish curry with steamed rice.

Wondering what to do with hilsa head / ilish macher maatha? Stay tuned for my next post.

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