Fishetarians! No, it’s not a curse. It’s a major compliment.
I’ve been thinking about writing on a number of ideas lately. Ideas come and ideas go — like the high tide and low tide. You must catch them at the precise moment. Otherwise, they’re going to drift away.
Just like the waves breaking relentlessly on our Long Island sea shore.
One idea I put off over and over is on what I could have been if I had the proper grooming and nurturing at the best possible time. But I never had the proper grooming and nurturing — except for sporadic encouragement from great teachers both in India and USA. But I’ve always missed serious mentoring and hand-holding on what talents or knacks I’d always had. I want to write about it so badly.
But for now, I write on an important trait of me as a Bengali foodie. I LOVE fish.
In fact, Bengalis — both from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and West Bengal (where I grew up) — are crazy about fish. I call them fishetarians. This is another somewhat unique term in my personally compiled Thesaurus.
I don’t even remember how many different kinds of fish I’ve had in my life. Bengal is blessed with hundreds of rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes. Sweet water, salt water. The entire southern end of Bengal is wide-open Bay of Bengal. Countless species and varieties of fish end up in fishermen’s boats and hooks and nets. Although traditionally, Bengalis have more taste for sweetwater fish, but for the coastal area people, saltwater fish is delicacy. Then, Bengalis’ greatest delicacy is Ilish (Hilsa), bright-silvery, salmon-type fish that only swim from the sea into estuaries for breeding, and end up first at open-air fish markets, and eventually, on the lunch and dinner tables at Bengali households.
Ilish is so celebrated in Bengal that one of our most celebrated poets Buddhadev Bose wrote a celebratory poem Ilish to celebrate Ilish.
But here in the U.S., it’s practically impossible to get good-quality Hilsa. Only consolation is frozen imports you get at big-city Bangladeshi markets: in New York, L.A., Atlanta or Houston. For us longtime immigrants, that’s better than no-Hilsa. Here, therefore, those of us who live in small towns (like the way we did before), you go to an American supermarket to get the buffalo fish (a remote substitute for Rui or Katla), smelt (a poor substitute for Tangra or Parshe), or for no-name places, at least fishetarians can find some shrimp or lobster. Yet, Bengali immigrants’ taste buds crave for the real thing.
We truly live here like fish out of water. Especially those of us who grew up before the neoliberal cultural revolution, a time when it was an art to savor Ilish or the countless other bony varieties, carefully taking the fine bones apart, without losing the shape and contours of the species.
Alas, the neoliberal, yankee-generation Bengali kids have no clue how to master this beautiful art. Heck, they don’t even like fish. What a sad story that is!
And I once drove fifty miles in Southern Illinois to get fresh fish from fishermen on Mississippi! Oh, how badly we missed it then!
I’m going to post here pictures of some of my most favorite fish. Find a picture of an open-air Bengal fish market too. Fish markets are like holy pilgrims for Bengalis.
Yet, I deeply, deeply regret that I did not have the privilege to grow up in East Bengal, and because of that, only heard stories about the numerous, fascinating fish and their preparations. Bengal is full of poetry and songs, and bards have sung praises for Bengal’s fish too. Like, the folk fun where fish Chang is begging the boatman not to kill him because the next day he is going to attend fish Dwarika‘s wedding 🙂
Fun aside and fun included, I invite you to explore Bengali fish recipés. If you can’t handle bony types, no worries, we’re going to find you boneless ones.
Fish is a super-great source of protein, much healthier than plastic chicken or high-fat, bloody beef. Just ask your PCP.
But for God’s Sake, try Bengali fish dishes. It’s an experience of a lifetime.
Savoring Tasty Moments with You,
Brooklyn, New York
Rui (Rohu) with cauliflower and seem pod
Koi fish curry, from Mukti’s Kitchen