The Fishy Goat

21 Jun

Now, everyone knows that a Bengali’s first love is fish. River (not sea) fish because it’s “sweeter”. Fish with hundreds of tiny bones, in all shapes and sizes. Some gobbled in one gulp; others lovingly chosen at the maachher-baajar to be coldly chopped in precision-directed pieces. And God help the poor fish-monger who cuts the peti even a centimetre bigger than the width shown by boudi’s two red-nailpolished-outspread fingers.

The buying of fish is perhaps as much of a pleasure as its cooking and consuming and even though a fish market in Calcutta – or in Delhi’s CR Park or even as far away as Muscat – is smelly and noisy, haggling is very much the order of the day – especially when it’s hilsa time. Perhaps that’s why Unhygienix is so popular amongst the Bengalis (when Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece was translated into Bengali, they named Vitalstatix as Bishalakritix – thank you Anchita and Wikipedia – but, for some reason I can’t figure out what Unhygienix became… ).

Unhygienix

Unhygienix

While it is also common knowledge that fish and rice are staple diet for all Bengalis (thrice a day for some), some non-Bengali acquaintances are probably unaware that the scaly creature is also the centre of much debate during the evening adda on the ‘rock’. Especially if neighbouring Bangladesh doesn’t get generous and allow the Padma-bred illish to be made available at a particular price across the border. Very few, however, would know that the fish also occupies pride of place in a Bengali bride’s trousseau: amongst the glitter of jewellery and saris, shines a very dead, beady-eyed large fish. It’s considered auspicious, you see.

So much, though for the bhadralok’s first love. His second love is mutton – goat meat. Especially tender, young goat meat: kochi paantha (that’s pronounced with a chandrabindi over the ‘aan’).

There are, however, three fundamental differences in the Bengali’s love affair with fish and mutton.

First, fish must be eaten at least once every day. For the working, single Bengali babe in faraway Delhi, not being able to eat fish daily is a cause of severe distress for ma-baba back home. Mutton is a Sunday special. Sunday lunch ishpecial, actually.

Second, fish has to be bought from the same fishmonger unfailingly. There is a great deal of trust involved between buyer and seller here. And the sudden disappearance of the fishmonger for any reason traumatises his entire clientele. For mutton, however, the babu will go to any butcher who happens to be selling goats with more fat than anyone else, more tender and more fresh. All it takes is one of the adda-cronies to mention that he has heard of so-and-so mutton shop down the lane after the third right after the second left near the sweet shop opposite the paanwalla (note: all landmarks are usually food-related) and no effort will be spared to try it out. Glee writ large on his face, the triumphant Bengali will return home sweating but salivating with a kilo full of carefully chosen chopped pieces that are handed over to his ginni to be cooked as he wishes it that day. The red flesh, it would appear, is the man’s preserve.

Third, fish is cooked in a zillion ways. With mutton, though, there is little variation. And Sunday mornings are usually spent preparing for the maangsher-jhhol or kasha-mangsho while the afternoons disappear sleeping it off.

Fish and meat don’t usually meet on the table at a regular meal unless there are guests coming over, in which case both will be cooked – sometimes, along with the inferior chicken as well.

Today, though, Bengalis are both, disturbed and delighted. In Tumkur, Karnataka, where Mohd. Pasha is presumably a popular fishmonger, he has discovered that his pet goat eats his stock of fish on the sly! Now imagine that… in this day of ‘buy one, get one free’, imagine being able to cook a goat that has been brought up on fish. That’s two culinary pleasures in one. Flights to Bangalore from Calcutta are probably overbooked with everyone hoping to outbid the other and bring home this fishy goat. This evening’s adda will be less about Lalgarh and the Lankans versus the Pakistanis – there will be much conjecturing about this odd creature’s taste. And the dadu will shake his bald head and wonder yet again what the world is coming to…

Kasha maachh anyone?

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6 Responses to “The Fishy Goat”

  1. shubho June 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm #

    I want that Kannada goat!

  2. Anjali Hegde June 22, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    Mohit…this was a superb piece of reading early in the morning as the mails were downloading. Keep them coming….the pieces I mean…

  3. Uddalak June 22, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    As impeccable as caviar (sans the mutton mutation). What’s next… the sheepish chocchori?

  4. freida kahlo June 23, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    And fish is immensely therapeutic. I, for one, managed to shed most of my homesickness after I moved to the Bong ghetto of Delhi. Although I didn’t want to admit to myself, the good doses of chingri, koi and the tangra helped, and how! And even if i ain’t the “roj-maach-chai” types, can’t deny my lurve for the species, cooked, bhajjad or bhapped…and flash a fishy smile 🙂

  5. Devlin July 2, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    Very good stuff. Some other observations:

    1. The art of cutting fish – especially big rohu or katla has to be closely monitored not just because of the size of peti. What if that damn fishmonger cuts the potka (bile bag). Who would then want to have a bitter tasting fish?

    2. The quality of Ilish is important but so is the preparation. Freshly made mustard paste over “sheel-noda” is must. I still remember I went to this newly opened joint in Patparganj called Chowringhee and those asses had crushed the mustard in a mixie making the dish totally bitter.

    3. Bongs have the art of taking-out/filtering the innumerable bones in a fish quite easily and seriously I don’t know whether such knowledge has or can be imparted to any non-bong succesfully.

    4. Despite the varied fish recipes, Bongs strangely do not have any raw fish preparation.

    5. Bio-availibility of fish for bongs is 100% – right from eye-balls to fins to tail to gills and eggs – everything is eaten. Am yet to come across any other poultry/meat products where everything is consumed (even fish entrails are consumed after frying in case of small “pona” fish).

  6. richard July 12, 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    Khub Bhalo Dada !!

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