A hilsa with no bones to pick in Kolkata and my doi shorshe kasundi begun ilsh hack in Mumbai. A Bengali tale of two cities.

The doi shorshe begun ilish that I made the other day and which I paired with red rice

Ilish. A love story

I guess no one will take me seriously as a food blogger, who is Bengali, if I do not publish at least one post on ilish (hilsa) during this season. Ilish is the fish most loved by Bengalis and the monsoons are when ilish is said to be at its tastiest.

So let me not disappoint you and tell you instead about a cheat's doi shorshe ilish that I made recently after I scored some excellent ilish in the fish markets of Mumbai. Doi shorshe literally translates into curd and mustard paste. Unlike in the west coast of India, in the east we do not mind mixing dairy with fish!

The story of that day ended in Kolkata though with a boneless ilish that I had later that night after flew off to the city on work.

Hilsa is an expensive fish which we occasionally manage to find in the markets of Mumbai. It is rare to get a big sized ilish here. The ilish that you get here are usually small and very bony. The ilish which are even smaller, are the ones that that are caught before they get to spawn. The fish markets of Kolkata are unfortunately flooded by these baby ilish today I am told even though this is a practise that encourages unsustainable fishing and needs to be avoided.

The worry is that the Bengali love for ilish might one day make the fish extinct just as could be the case with pomfret someday in Mumbai.

That's Sangeeta at the back cutting the ilish in the Khar fish market while Poonam in the front
cuts the kaatla that I had bought. Koli ladies from Mumbai. Their mom, Hira Bai (in yellow)
 is descaling the tyangra that I bought

Anyway, let's move to more cheerful topics. Let me tell you about what I did with the ilish that I had purchased from Poonam and Sangeeta's stall at the Khar Station market in Mumbai the other day. It was 900g in size, or medium one could say. "From Howrah," they assured me. Not the Gujarati ones that one gets here and which are called bheeng here and which Bengali ilish aficionados scorn.

I am told by Siddhartha Bose of Bhojohori Manna and Machhli Baba that the best ilish in Kolkata today come from the Irrawady in Myanmar. Go figure, or le halua as we say back in Kolkata.

Ilish maachh bhaaja, jheenge posto, bhaat

I fried some of the ilish first and had the maachh bhaaja with rice. I added in the tel (mustard oil) in which the fish was cooked to the rice. Just as I had learnt from my mother to do in my childhood.  I made a jheenge (ridge gourd) posto, sans alu, to go with it. As you know I am trying to avoid starch and carby foods these days to the extent possible. Which also explains why I chose red rice, which has lower GI, over the standard white rice.

Luckily for me my wife, who is Parsi, loves ilish and posto as much as I do. If not more!

Ilish maacher mudo diya lau and baajra roti

I added the ilish mudo (fish head) to lau (lauki/ bottle gourd) for my lunch another day. Bengali grannies didn't believe in wasting any part of the fish and nor do I. Unlike the kaatla, the ilish mudo (head) is very bony and while my mom and my granny can handle it adroitly, I can't. So I just had the lau and not the head though I loved the flavour that it imparted. 

In a hat tip to Marathi grannies, I had it with a bajra (millet) rotis made by our cook, Banu. This would scandalise most Bengalis I know but bajra has a low GI index. I have it once a week though as it is said to be heavy to digest and more of a winter food and so a higher frequency might not be prudent now.

Taking liberties with ilish in Mumbai

I made the remaining ilish the following Sunday in a way that I had not made before. It is a sort of cheat's doi shorshe ilish and the hack worked out very well and I thought that I must share with you. I added some aubergine (begun in Bengali) to add bulk to the dish and had it with red rice.

Now here’s my hack. I added kasundi, the spicy and pungent Bengali mustard sauce, to the dahi instead of adding in freshly ground mustard. It worked well and I loved the nuanced flavour palette that it gave to the dish.

Here's how I cooked it:

Doi shorshe begun ilish

Doi shorshe ilish with begun

Ingredients: 4 slices of hilsa, 2 green chillies, 100 g dahi, 1 tablespoon kasundi, 1 tablespoon mustard oil, 1 teaspoon each of turmeric, red chilli powders and salt, fresh coriander leaves


1. Smear the sliced aubergine in turmeric, salt and red chilli powder and fry it in mustard oil till it is evenly cooked
2. Remove the aubergine pieces from the pan. Add a bit more of mustard oil to the pan and a split  green chilli or two and then gently shallow fry the fish in the pan. Don't make it too crisp. You don't want to dry out the fish.
3. Once the fish is fried, add the aubergine to the pan.
4. Then add in 100 g of dahi which you have whisked first with a spoon of kasundi (the Bengali mustard sauce) and salt, and then turn off the gas immediately. The sauce might split otherwise
5. Gently try to turn the fish pieces around so that the sauce covers it evenly and you are ready to eat

I often wryly joke about how ilish enforces the values of mindful eating. Its many bones, specially in the gaada (back) pieces, commands your full attention when you eat it. You can't have a conversation with anyone else, let alone watch the TV or Netlfix while eating.

The best way to eat, as our elders would say.

Doi shorshe begun ilish with red rice

Making no bones about being pampered in Kolkata

Ironically, I made the doi shorshe begun ilish for us on the same Sunday afternoon where I later flew off to Kolkata on work. Well, there were no such bony problems that night in Kolkata as I had with the ilish in Mumbai.

I reached Kolkata and checked into the Peerless Inn Hotel and then went to Aaheli, their Bengali fine dining restaurant which has just completed 25 years, where I was invited for dinner.

I had a veg thala and with that a boneless ilish and ilish chop (croquette) which had no bones. I relished the meal without worrying about the bones and said, "who's your daddy now," at the end. The ilish quality was great though.

Boneless ilish is a rare indulgence of course as a lot of fish is required and this is expensive and depletes the stock of fish. Thankfully most red blooded Bengalis wouldn't always need this though most premium restaurants and clubs in Kolkata offer it now.

I was always bit of a spoilt kid I admit and still am. Which is why, when I was a kid, my mother would remove the bones of the fish (kaanta baachha) before feeding me.

At times it is fun to be pampered!

I took some shorshe ilish from Aaheli for my mom and grandmom the next day and they loved it too. Didu (my granny who is 90) had stayed up all day and made me a chicken curry and an 'Udiya' malpua and mom served me the food when I reached late at night after work. 

The sort of dinner whose memories one will cherish forever. 

I posted the pictures of the three of us as soon as I could as I knew that these are the pictures that many on my social media pages look forward to as much as I do when I go to Kolkata and I wanted to thank them all for their warm wishes.

Boneless ilish, ilsih chop, pui shaak with ilish mudo and veg thali at Aaheli

Boneless ilish in Aaheli

Well looked after in Aaheli

With chef Hafeez of Aaheli

Happy at Aaheli

The chicken curry and malpua made by didu with ruti and kumro
(oumpkin) fry made by her cook Anjali

With mom and didu who are both quite selfie friendly by now
Appendix: Here's a video that I did during my meal at Aaheli.

Have you subscribed to my YouTube channel, Finely Chopped by Kalyan Karmakar , yet? Please do if you want to see casual, slice of life self shot videos from when I go out to eat. Pamper me, if I might say so, and subscribe to the channel please.