The One Where We Went To The Phish Market
The idea of adapting to a largely vegetarian diet was not really on the cards when we moved. No offence to the vegetarians – for being politically correct is of utmost importance – but during the initial months, we were quite shortchanged as far as daily meals were concerned. Everyone seemed to espouse these lines I read on the backside of a rather large truck:
Translation: Who’s responsible for ruining health and wellness? Eggs, Fish, and alcohol!
Although, this doesn’t sound half as poetic.
The husband stayed in a bachelor pad of sorts for the first couple of months and smuggled in eggs! Apparently, he deliberately left the shells in the locker of the lone almirah to drive home a point. I am guessing the owner probably did a shuddhikaran yajna, and cursed the day he let his room out to a ‘Bengali Brahmin’.
By the time I joined him, he had moved into the first floor of a splendid two-storied bungalow albeit with the ‘no non-vegetarian’ diktat. Eggs, it seemed, were not an issue. But how long can the Bengali not have his fill of Kosha Mangsho and Murgir Jhol. Thus began the quest for Mangsher Dokan (Meat Shop) which took Mr.B to the dingy lanes of Hasanpura until he discovered modern, hygienic stores on Grofers. From then on, murgi and patha became a pretty regular affair.
Imagine our delight upon discovering slightly cheaper and much better quality patha (mutton) in Jaipur. A gentle reminder of the royal tradition of Laal Maas. I don’t remember ever being satisfied with what we bought back home. Needless to say, the mutton preparations in even the smallest of restaurants is succulent, juicy, fleshy and melts in your mouth. Something, I can’t quite say about the Kolkata food scene.
In time, we even found a place which sells every conceivable greens, shoots, and vegetables – such as pui shaak, lal shaak, kolmi shaak, borboti, shojne data – intrinsic to the Bengal kitchen. However, until recently, obsessing over Maach-Bhaat, had become a routine affair. Three factors deterred us from taking the plunge, until about a week ago: Oppressive (to a vegetarian) smell of fish while it fries , fresh (tatka)-ness, and location of the market.
It was David Rocco who finally made Mr. B pull the trigger. A Dolce India episode had the handsome Italian chatting up celebrated Chef Manjit Gill in a mustard field. The portly Punjabi eventually rustled up a mean mustardy pomfret just the way we Bongs like it. Beautiful chunks of translucent flesh shallow fried in mustard oil, before being simmered in a liquidy paste of mustard seeds and green chilies. We could almost smell it!
A couple of days later, we made our way through a slum, barely 15 minutes away from home. We passed by rusty buses – wheels firmly jammed in soil – which served as homes, putrid smell of urine and excreta, sooty babies, hassled mothers and finally reached the stalls selling maach. Quite a collection it was. Rui, katla, pabda, pomfret, magur, chara pona, and even ilish! There was also a crate full of freshwater crabs, prawns, and lobsters. The crabs were alive and kicking with all their might.
Honestly, I am not a big fan of either sea food or maach-bhaat. I do like kanta diye daal and muri ghonto on occasions. But Mr.B’s fishy pangs are quite something else. Plus he comes from a family of awesome cooks and food connoisseurs. So Bangali Babu decided to get crabs and Labeo Rohita (Rui). We avoided the Golda Chingri because cleaning them is a dicey affair. Besides, the crabs were obviously fresh and there was a guy who dismembered the claws and partially shelled the flailing things.
It’s amusing to see a man cleaning shelled crabs and simultaneously consulting the Internet for recipes. While the unfortunate creatures boiled in water flavored with tumeric and a little salt, I was in charge of heating up a copious amount of shorshe tel. Mr.B peeled and chopped onions and potatoes in a frenzy. Few minutes later, the potatoes and crabs were shallow fried and then the husband took over completely.
In went ghee, gota gorom moshla, tej pata, shukno lonka, and onions in the remaining oil. The quintessential spices. fried potatoes and crabs, salt followed. And then began the koshano. Mr.B takes special care when he reaches this stage. That is what infuses the flavors. When the ingredients took on the desired hue and texture, a generous amount of water was poured in and the pan covered. Although the intention was to make kankra- r jhaal (Spicy Crab Stew), the gravy thickened and became more of kalia.
Considering I have had crabs only once or twice before, I quite liked the end result. However, breaking crab feet to tear out the meat inside, with my teeth, is not quite something I fancy. Mr.B had a field day though. I enjoyed the simple musurir dal and rui macch bhaja better. Oh yes, we fried a couple of those too. We have enough rui to last us a week. Maybe more. By the time I post this, we probably would have made kalo jire-kancha lonka r jhol and doi maach as well.
As for going to the phish market again, not quite sure when will that happen. For now, Mr.B’s maach-bhaat craving has been more than satiated!