We should eat more fish! Five Bengali fish recipes & a Parsi birthday girl.

What's a Parsi birthday without a chhamna

Tradition. Tradition.

"Noooo! It's a tradition," replied Pooja Dhingra, the much celebrated and very talented young pastry chef of Le 15 Patisserie, when I wrote to her saying, "I did not want to trouble you this year given the tough conditions around."

This was in response to her whatsapp to me earlier last week where she wanted to confirm Kainaz's birthday; and that is how we ended up bringing in K's birthday with a ginormous dark chocolate macaron 'cake' from our friend Pooja for the eighth year running this year.

Eight years back, I had reached out to her in desperation asking if she could bake me a cake for K on her birthday as I was yet to book one.

"What does she like," asked Pooja then.

"Dark chocolate, the macarons you make, no alcohol or fruits or Indian flavours," was my reply.

The result was a dark chocolate macaron cake which I picked up from the Le 15 outlet that was there at Phoenix Mills then.

K loved it so much that she insisted that I get it the next year and the year after, and it has indeed become a tradition since then.

It is not her birthday till K has cut this dark chocolate macaron cake from Le 15 Patisserie

When K later messaged Pooja to thank her, Pooja said that sticking to this tradition apparently gave her (P) a much needed sense of normalcy in what has been a trying year.

This kind gesture of hers made K's birthday special for us. Yes, this has been a very strange year!

A non selfie cake cutting picture became a new tradition thanks to our neighbours dropping in in at midnight

There were a few new 'traditions' started this time on K's birthday.

Our first non-selfie picture with the cake and our first picture celebrating the birthday with both Baby Loaf and little Nimki. All thanks to our friends and neighbours, mother and daughter duo Erika and Gia, coming over with a beautiful flowers and a meticulously done photo album using our pictures from Instagram, to wish K at midnight.

The lockdown and the cats have brought the four of us closer and K cut the cake and fed us all. (Not the cats)


We usually do a luxury hotel staycation on K's birthday as she loves a pampered hotel stay (as do I). After much deliberation, we did not do so this year because of the pandemic. We felt that we would not be comfortable and relaxed and hence it would be pointless.

Many happy returns. 

We should have more fish

I was at my wit's end thinking about how to make the day special and that is when inspiration struck. Poonam of Khar Market had called recdntly to say that the she was back selling fish at the market. She was not there earlier because of the lockdown and we had stopped buying fish because of that. While online options had come up, I am very picky about buying fish and can only do so from folks I know and trust. The relationship between a Bengali and his fishmonger is special. I was as thrilled to see her when she came to deliver the fish, as I was to see the fish when I opened the bag later. The first fish at home since the lockdown!

I am not overtly fond of fish and did not suffer through our fish-less five months. K loves fish though. So much so that this was one of the first things about her that had won over the hearts of my mother and grandmother when we had gone to Kolkata after our marriage to meet them. The fact that she relished all the fish they offered, unlike me who used to make a face on seeing it back then, pleased them no end.

You don't deliver still I guess, I told Poonam. "Yes we do. We have to now," replied Poonam and my plans were hatched at that moment. I called Poonam on Saturday and she came over with what turned out to be excellent quality ilish (hilsa), parshe (mullet), pomfret, prawns, surmai (seer fish) and rawas (Indian salmon). I messaged a few friends about this and wrote on social media too and three more people ordered that afternoon and it became a win win situation for all. I ordered a day in advance as K's birthday coincided with the start of Ganesh Chaturthi when markets would be closed. Most Maharashtrians turn vegetarian during this time and this helps bring the price of fish down which is a good thing for Bengali Parsi couples like us! Thankfully Banu turned up for work and helped wash and prep the fish. She bunked the next couple of days. Therefore there was was room service for K in her 'homestay', but no house keeping. Considerate of Banu to give us some privacy, as I said wryly!

Row 1: surmai, pomfret, ilish
Row 2: Rawas, prawns, parshe

Let me tell you what I cooked over the two day #SpaLifeBirthday celebrations. I will give you the recipes in short as well.

While this is how I cooked the dishes, please do not treat the recipes as the final word in Bengali cooking as each family has their own quirks and I am largely a self taught cook.

If you like food which is not too spicy or oily. then this would work for you. Most are very low effort. Interested?

Friday (Birthday eve)


Ilish machhed mudo diye daal

Macched mudo diye daal

Dal with fish head. One of K's favourites ever since she first had it. Mine too.

  • Boil soaked, or dry roasted, moong dal with turmeric and salt and set aside

  • Heat a teaspoon of mustard oil in a wok
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, 1 bay leaf, 1 dry red chilli. Stir.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and 1/4 teaspoon each of red chilli powder and cumin powder. The last is optional. Salt to taste.
  • Smear turmeric, red chilli powder & salt on the hilsa head (I add garam masala too if rohu) and put it into the wok. Gently turn the fish head around in the wok and shallow fry it.
  • Add the boiled the dal back and let it all cook together on a slow flame for  around ten minutes. The longer the better for the flavours of the fish head to embrace the dal
Caveat: If wary of bones, kaatla followed by rohu head is better. Hilsa  head is a lot more bony. This was a majestic 1.3 kig specimen and less treacherous in terms of thorns.

Ilish maachh bhaaja

Ilish maachh bhaaja

My mother deep fries the gaada (back) piece of ilish as it has more thorns and uses the peti (belly) in jhols (curries). The firmer texture which comes out of deep frying makes it easier to take out the bones. The oil left in the pan is added to rice while having it with the fried fish. Didu, my maternal grandmother, grew up in Dhaka where they had access to very fresh ilish back then. She said that her mom and her aunts would gently fry ilish with minimal salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Shaatlano as they called it. "You should not do much to fresh ilish. That masks its taste," she told me. 

  • Smear salt, turmeric and red chilli powder sparingly on the ilish.
  • Heat mustard oil in a pan and fry the fish. It is traditionally deep fried, we shallow fry it. Closer to shatlano. I add a slit green chilli to the hot oil before sliding in the fish.
  • The ilish in this season might have roe and the roe in the fish might not cook fully if not deep fried. To avoid this, I pop the roe out fry it along with the fish and then try to put it in the slice of fish before eating. This helps if you are a non-expert home cook and cannot judge is the roe is done when left inside the fish.
Machhed mudo diye dal, maach bhaaja, bhaat, Jharna ghee, salli masquerading as jhuri bhaaja


Parshe machher jhol

Parshe machher jhol

Parshe is an Indian mullet. What is called chhoto maachh (small fish) in Bengal. Left uncut, unlike kaata maachh - rohu, kaatla, betki, chitol. I am not a fan. K loves it and that endeared her to my granny and mom. The Parsis call it boi and prefer the larger version which comes from the sea unlike the fresh water one of Bengal. This machhed jhol recipe is a very simple one and rides on the flavour of the fish.

  • Smear turmeric, red chilli powder & salt on the parshe and shallow fry in mustard oil. Set aside. Parboil some sliced potatoes and do the same. I add extra potatoes as I am not that fond of the fish!
  • Add a bit more mustard oil in the same pan and heat.
  • Then add 1/2 a teaspoon Nigella seeds/ kalo jeere, a split green chilli and 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped ginger.
  • Add 1 tablespoon chopped tomato for tartness. Stir.
  • Then add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1/4 of red chilli (more if you want), 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin and coriander (not everyone does).. Salt to taste. Stir.
  • Add the potatoes back in. Mix. Some add fried brinjal or long beans too. Stir.
  • Gently place the fried fish back in the pan (might break if you are not gentle). Add a small bowl of water and bring to bowl. 
  • Reduce flame. Cover with a lid. Let it cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Add fresh coriander leaves and a slit green chilli at the end and add a few drops of mustard oil.
Turned out that the parshe was excellent and even I did not mind it. K loved it.

Sunday. The birthday!

Egg roll for breakfast to set us right

Breakfast was egg rolls. Something K loves and a street food snack I have grown up on. Made with frozen malabar parathas, the way I used to in the early days of our marriage.


Posto kasundi pomfret

I need to have fish with rice.

If ilish is the most treasured fish among us Bengalis, the pomfret would be so among the Parsis. The sort of fish that is 'birthday-worthy'. I made this for lunch with a Bengali recipe which was a bit of an ad hoc, kitchen hack based concoction of mine, but the end taste was pretty 'khaati' (authentic). The idea came as I had kasundi, the watery mustard sauce with a chilli and tangy kick, which had come with the Oh! Calcutta fish fry which was part of K's roj nu (Parsi calendar) birthday lunch. I decided to combine that with posto baata (crushed poppy seeds) that both K and I love. Thereby combining the cooking traditions of Bangals from East Bengal (which I am) through the mustard and the ghotis of West Bengal through the poppy. Heretical, but heady. Not an unknown combination to be honest!
  • Blend 1.5 tablespoon of kasundi with 3 tablespoons of crushed posto (we use a mixer grinder to grind posto like my mom does, but posto is hand ground traditionally) and a couple of teaspoons of water. Set aside.
  • Smear the fish with salt, turmeric and red chilli powder and shallow fry it in mustard oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. I fried them one by one as the fish was big and the wok was not!
  • Once the fish is fried, add the posto and kasundi paste on to the fish while keeping the hob on
  • Let it cook it for a bit and then gently turn the fish over and let it cook. You will need no further spices and salt. 
  • Once done, add some fresh coriander leaves and drizzle in a few drops of mustard oil. I had it with rice. K without.
Birthday girl with her pomfret


Prawn malai curry

Chingri malai curry

Prawns or kolmi would be right up there with pomfret in the Parsi seafood pantheon. Her parents would order golden fried prawns at Gypsy Corner for K on her birthdays while she was growing up. Making the Malay originated chingri malai curry on her birthday was a no brainer for me. K and her entire family have been fans of this ever since I first introduced it to them. I have come across different versions of the dish at different restaurants and this is how I made it the other day. Worked very well.

  • Smear the prawns with turmeric, red chilli powder and salt and fry them in vegetable oil. Again, do not overcrowd the wok. We Bengalis like to chew on the head and the tails of the prawns and Poonam kept them intact after deveining the prawns. Set the prawns aside aside with the juice/ stock that comes out while frying

  • Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the wok.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of whole cumin, a piece each of clove, cinnamon, cardamom, a bay leaf and a dried red chilli.
  • Add 1 grated onion. I skipped this. Add a tablespoon of ginger paste and 1/2 of garlic. Stir.
  • Put the prawns back in and the stock.
  • Add a pouch of coconut milk. I use store bought ones. Add a bit of water to thin it.
  • Add salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce flame. Put a lid on the wok and let it cook for 5 minutes. Turn off hob. Let the prawns cook in the steam. I had it with steamed rice. K by itself.

The prawns were excellent as was the rest of the fish and it did make the birthday special. 

A new tradition? I do not know.

I am sure that we would love to get back to our staycations when we can, but this was our first fish purchase and cook since the lockdown started and the bairi  was rather happy.

Bairi is the Parsi term for wife. Ginni in Bengali. 

As I enthusiastically told her at the end of it all,"we should eat more fish!"

I think she agreed. 

Here is Poonam's number if you live in Bandra/ Khar in Mumbai and want to place an order with her: 9876402956

More from the birthday album featuring Erica and Gia as well as some of the foodie treats K received as gifts.

The excellent brownies K had ordered the evening before her birthday from Eighth by Anurita to give 
to friends. She kept two for us.

Nicole Mody's mind blowing sourdough chocolate chip cookies that our friends Kurush and
Rhea ordered and sent for K.

The delightfully tender pork ribs which our friend M sent for K along with smoked ham from
Incendiary Kitchen in Bandra

The Sweetish House Mafia Cookies that my brother from Gurgaon ordered for K after much
deliberation with someone at their central office on phone.

The delightful black forest cake and de;icious bakes that Richa Sharma from ITC Hotels had sent
via Atika and the ITC Grand Central team
Cake, flowers and a lovely glass tea kettle sent by our friends
Kaniska & Manishita from Kolkata


Keka said…
Birthday best again to Kainaz di!
Excellent quick-fix recipes that I am sure to try!
Hope you two had a great time!
Sanjay N Lulla said…
Happy Belated Birthday Mrs. Kalmakar hope you had a good one. Best wishes for the readt of the year and years to come 🙌. Dark Chocolate and Macaroons hmmmmmm sounds like fun.
Udayan Bose said…
Very nice. Happy birthday wishes to your wife and best wishes. How is Nimki now? Thanks
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Udayan thank you so much Dada. Nimki is a lot better and is now in full form needling his dada
@Sanjay thank you so much for your wishes. This particular macaron cake is always fun
@Keke thanks so much. We had a most wonderful time