Aug 18, 2015
Let me tell you one thing about us Bengalis. We live for our tummies.
At an early impressionable age, I had learnt the word ‘khaddobilashi’ or he who loves to eat and is a connoisseur of good food. That describes most of us.
The flip side of this obsession is that we constantly worry about the state of our stomachs. Ask a Bengali how is life, and chances are you will get detailed discussions on the ‘popular’ stomach ailments of ‘aamasha’ and ‘pete ombol’.
For all his jatra-like theatrics, every bit of the constipation talk of Mr Bachchan’s character of Bhaskor Banerjee in Piku was very true.
You will know that a Bengali has had a good meal when he signals so at the end with an unsavoury burp! So does that stop us Bengalis from eating? Not at all.
We will pop the proverbial Gelusil and soldier on over our rolls, Kosha Mangsho, luchi, Shorshe Ilish and Biryani with much enthusiasm. Let mustard oil and chilli powder induced heart burn be damned!
And we will never give up on our fish, even when we have a bad tummy. To get around it, we make a patla jhol or light stew-like curry. I was not too fond of this dish while growing up and found it boring compared to the more regal garam masala and onion paste-based fish kaalia.
With age, and with not having to eat it every day, I now appreciate the simplicity of a good patla Macher Jhol. Also, it’s extremely quick to cook and you can even do it at the end of a work day, and after fitting in some gym time (who am I kidding) or a walk in the park before it.
On Parsi New Year, I bring you a quick version of the Bengali Macher Jhol that I did with Mumbai’s favourite fish, pomfret. It is also much loved and savoured by my Parsi wife and her family. Navroze Mubarak!
Recipe for Patla Macher Jhol with Pomfret
1 tsp mustard oil
1/2 tsp panch phoron or Bengali 5 spice mix (or you can use just whole cumin seeds or whole nigella seeds)
1/2 tsp finely chopped ginger
1/2 a chopped tomato
1 split green chilli
1 coffee mug water
1 tsp salt
1. Heat the mustard oil.
2. Add 1/2 teaspoon of panch phoron.
3. Add 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger.
4. Add half a chopped tomato, 1 split green chilli if spice not a problem.
5. Add half a brinjal sliced (I used pre-shallow fried ones). You could also add beans and/or cauliflower. You can also add potatoes, but I did not. (parboiling helps reduce oil needed)
6. Add the spices – 1/4 teaspoon red chilli, 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin and turmeric powders, which have been mixed with a teaspoon of water.
7. Add the fish at this stage. Turn it on both the sides so that the masala gets coated properly. Traditionally, Bengali-style curries have the fish first shallow fried after smeared with turmeric and salt.
8. Add a mug of water to this followed by a teaspoon of salt. Bring it to boil, reduce the flame, and cover the pan with a lid. Cook for 3 minutes more and turn off the gas.
9. Serve with rice.
Kalyan is a Mumbai-based food blogger and columnist who loves to travel in search of local tastes. He is at his happiest when eating at small, family-run places. His blog Finely Chopped won the Best Food Blog Award in 2013 and 2014 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. He is the lead critic for Mumbai at EazyDiner and is a columnist for Femina. He is also the Chief Chowzter for Mumbai, and conducts food walks in the city.
Follow Kalyan on Twitter @finelychopped