Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hilsa in Mumbai

"Bengalis love fish" is a cliche which has become a community identity for us bongs, much like the "Marwaris make good businessmen" or "Brits have stiff upper lips". There should be a couple of riders here though ... First its specifically "river fish" which does it for us bongs and most us would not touch "sea fish" with a barge pole. Second if there is one specific fish which the bong reveres more than any other, and would even sacrifice his evening adda to go and buy ... its the Hilsa ( which ironically is basically a sea fish and enters the rivers to breed during the monsoons ).

The true bong Hilsa flavour comes out when the fish has spent just enough time in the river to get rid of the salt water flavour but not enough to lose all the fat swimming upstream. Kolaghat, on the banks of Ganges is the best place to catch Hisla exactly for this reason.

Finding "river fish" and specifically hilsa is not easy in Mumbai. Go to any established fishmarket - Dadar, Chembur, Powaii, Andheri and what you'll see is a sea of "sea fish" sellers :-) all garrulous marathi women with their stocks of pomfret, surmai, bombil, bangda, jhinga etc. The "river fish" ie. rui, katla, pabda, tangra, telapia, parshe etc is usually sold by one or two sellers only clearly demonstrating the skew in demand. Interestingly, the fish-mongers selling river fish are always male !!! These are the guys who also sell Hilsa and during the Hilsa season one has to constantly check with them for availability. There are two types of Hilsa available in Mumbai - the premium ones are sourced from Kolkata ( these are the Hilsa caught at Kolaghat or sometimes even from Bangladesh - river Padma ) and the rest from Gujarat.

Its difficult to distinguish the two while buying, and the fishemongers always claim they are selling you the best catch from Kolaghat ... it only when you cook the fish at home that the difference in texture and flavour makes it apparent that you may have been duped.

Recently I've started buying fish from Spinach with good results. Its a new supermarket chain in Mumbai, they also sell fish and actually specialize in the river water variety which is good news for us bongs. The guys who man the fish counters are also invariably bengali !!! They do charge a slight premium but then the quality is assured and they are very transparent about the source of their fish. In the past I've bought chital, tangra, pabda and hilsa from their 7 Bungalows, Andheri West and Mulund outlets with good results. The other benefit is that you dont have to wade thru the muddy waters of the traditional fish markets. Unfortunately their Andheri East outlet in Sher-E-Punjab is strictly vegetarian.

Today we went out to buy some hilsa and I took a couple of snaps of the 7 Bungalows, Andheri Spinach outlet.

1 comment:

  1. Hey.. If you're near Bandra sometime, drop in to the BKC Spinach. That was the first spinach store to open in Mumbai way back in 2006 and I've always picked up fish from there. Specially Ileesh!

    The promoters here are all Bengali so they even play bangali gaan in the fish counter!! hahaha. Bangla mags are also for sale here. I come here since it's 10mins from my place and the fact that only a bengali fish seller knows the right way in cutting fish!! It's an artform.