Tag Archives: Food

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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