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How I replicated my mother’s Bengali fish head daal in Mumbai

How I replicated my mother’s Bengali fish head daal in Mumbai
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Macher Muro Diye Daal is usually prepared with Moong Daal

I used to travel a lot for work in my earlier years in Mumbai. Once on a flight back, I noticed that while everyone was making a beeline to get off when we landed, I sat slumped on my seat.

That’s when I realised that Mumbai did not feel like home to me. Then things changed.

It all happened one day when I went to Bandra’s Pali Market in Mumbai. A guy named Munna, who sold fresh water fish, called out to me.

He had the head of a Rohu fish to sell and asked if I was interested. I immediately picked it up for the royal price of Rs. 5 (in 2001)!

There was a reason for my buying the fish head. I had discovered a new-found love for Bengali food after I left home and came to Mumbai.

I would often go to the, now shut, mess on the terrace of Hotel New Bengal for cheap Bengali meals.

One dish that I wouldn't get there was the Macher Muro Diye Daal, which my mother made and I loved. I would always ask her to make it when I headed back to Kolkata.

I went home from the market and called up my mom to get broad instructions to make the daal. The recipe, if I was to sum it up was, prepare daal, fry fish head, mix the two.

I followed her instructions and the daal turned out to be really good and the lunch that followed reminded me of trips back home.

A few days later I was on a flight back to Mumbai. The flight landed and I jumped up to get off. I finally felt at home in Mumbai!

Munna no longer sits at Pali Market, and I go to Poonam’s at Khar Station market to buy my fish now. I often get fish heads home. I have taught our cook, Banu to prepare it and she does a good job of it and luckily, my wife loves it too.

And, I call myself a Mumbaikar now.

Here’s my recipe for the Macher Muro Diye Daal or fish head daal. It is best enjoyed with steamed rice.

Ingredients: (for 3 - 4)

1. 1 fish head (Rohu/ Kaatla or Ilish (Hilsa). The latter is more bony)

2. 1 tsp each of turmeric, red chilli, cumin powder, sugar and salt & ½ tsp of garam masala

3. 1 teacup (200 g) of yellow moong daal. Twice the amount of water (2 teacups)

4. 1 tsp of paanch phoron or Bengali 5 spice mix

5. 2 split green chillies

6. 1 tbsp vegetable oil for frying the fish head & ½ tsp for step 3

Step 1

1. Smear the fish head with a bit of salt, turmeric and chilly powder, fry and set aside.

Step 2

1. Take a cup of moong daal and roast it on a pressure pan till it turns brownish.

2. Add twice the amount of water to it, a tsp of turmeric and salt and pressure cook it - 4 whistles and 15 minutes on simmer.

Step 3

1. Heat a tsp of oil in a saucepan, add some paanch phoran.

2. Once the paanch phoron splutters, add two slit green chillies and bay leaves.

3. Once these change colour, add the fried fish head from step 1.

4. Stir a bit and add the boiled daal from step 2.

5. Add ½ tsp each of turmeric, chilly powder and jeera (cumin - not all Bengalis use this) and bit of sugar and salt.

6. Let it begin to boil and bubble.

7. Reduce the flame and cover with a lid. Let it slow cook for 10 minutes as you want the flavour of the fish head to infuse into the daal.

8. Add some whole garam masala at the end if it’s a Rohu head. Skip this for the Ilish though as that's more delicate and is best left au naturale (pardon my French)!

Photo credit: Kalyan Karmakar

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

Kalyan Karmakar

Kalyan Karmakar

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