Locomotoring

Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion people and seven thousand good eats …

Eating fish in Calcutta

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Fresh caught fish

Bengalis are enthusiastic fish eaters. We eat fried fish in rich curries. We steam fillets papillote style. We fry fish heads with rice or slow cook them with lentils. The fatty fish entrails are fried and eaten with rice. In dhabas, bones from large fish are added as flavoring to vegetables. Small bait are fried whole and eaten as snacks with tea. Fish eggs are made into fritters.

I am sure I eat a pound of fish a day when I am visiting Calcutta. So when my father offered to take me fishing, I decided to follow the fish trail from source to plate. Unlike the last fishing trip, this was a visit to the a nearby village where he has friendly access to a pond. From the comfort of my city lifestyle, I sport a very romantic view of villages in Bengal with their dirt roads and banana trees, and little kids playfully swimming in ponds lined with lotus and lilies, a vision born out of watching Satyajit Ray movies. Our air conditioned car landed us within a couple of blocks of the village pond in question. A recent windstorm had shredded the leaves of the banana plants lining the dirt path. Otherwise it was a picture perfect village.

Picture perfect village

Dragging the pond

Cleaning up the fish at the village fishmonger

Our hospitable pond owner had placed a couple of wicker chairs underneath a palm tree. By the time we had exchanged pleasantries and were served the customary cup of tea, a couple of village lads were in waist deep water with a net between them. They dragged the pond a couple of times and we were richer by four fish weighing a total of 12 lbs or so. I could see myself sitting under the palm tree for a few more hours, perhaps reading an Hercules Poirot and sipping some more hot tea but in that time, the two boys would have caught the entire fish population in the little pond. So, we left  with the fish writhing in a little plastic bag. I also bagged a banana leaf in preparation for a papillote recipe, one of the few leaves that had escaped the wrath of the storm.

On our way back home, we went through the village market where a fishmonger scaled, gutted and chopped the fish in exchange for about 15 cents. I left the fishmonger amused with my photography – a common reaction in Indian villages, they find our fascination for their activities very amusing. Upon reaching home, the fish were cleaned and marinated in a mustard sauce for an hour. Then the pieces were wrapped in banana leaves and cooked and served promptly for lunch. From swimming in water to served hot on plate in less than four hours!

Fish marinating in mustard sauce

Wrapping the fish in banana leaf

Steam/bake/slow cooked banana leaf wrapped fish

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Written by Som

June 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Calcutta (Kolkata), India

Tagged with , ,

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