Fishy Affair

 


A Delectable Tale for Fish Lovers

by Rajat Sarkar,Hamburg

Some days back a friend told me that the ‘fish’ in ‘some’ restaurant was good. She got to know about it from her brother. She is herself not a fish eater.

I said to her, “Never say anything to a Bengali about fish and their quality. Leave the Bengali alone! Fish exists in the Bengali psyche from the womb to the tomb! Satyajit Ray even made use of fish scales in one of his movies.  The world, including Hamburg, may boast about its fish but none can match the Bengali’s affairs, both licit and illicit, with fish. While the EU and Britain may continue to fight over fishing rights on the North Sea, Bengalis handle fish with care so that there is no real culture clash, domestic disharmony, marriage mistrust, relationship rupture, and sport strife. Fish exists in the everyday existence of a Bengali. Fishy politics ensure pride of Bengaliness. And a Bengali eats fish with his/her hands – not with cutlery or chopsticks. The path to fish-related sensation is through nerves connected to the soul.

Fish sold in the ‘suave’ world is without passion - The maacher tel (fish liver, fat, and intestines) are thrown away. I have also been witness to a Bengali, in Germany, discarding the fish head while buying carp. It was an insult to my conscience.

Fashion, sophistication, and style are devoid of emotions. Life is meaningless without emotions!

Possibly only the Japanese can match a Bengali’s appetite for fish. However, unlike the Japanese, a Bengali never eats raw fish (Sushi). For a Bengali, it has to be cooked. Bengalis’ fish cooking is a different subject altogether.

And in Germany fried fish in a batter and/or fried plain and served with garlic sauce, remoulade, or dill sauce (horrible) makes the Bengali feel like a beggar. Life is a tale of compromises.

The puffery of caviar is irritating to the Bengali atman. It is of no significance that caviar is served on mother of pearl spoons to prevent blighting of its taste. It is indeed weird that caviar is served as a garnish or as a spread. A Bengali grows up eating fish roe, fish head, and fish liver, fat, and intestines (maacher tel). The taste of the roe of the Hilsa(Illish) can be matched by nothing, taking into consideration that caviar is the most expensive food in the world.  Money cannot by taste!

One may argue that tastes are a matter of individual predilection. If that were true, why is there hype about caviar and salmon? While accepting that salmon tastes awesome, the Bengali cannot be bullied by any taste mafia in respect of fish! The humble pabda, chital, koi, topshe… can beat all fish from the great oceans and other water bodies on the planet. And then there is Ilish (Tenualosa ilisha). All discussions end there.

fish preparation
A sorshe (mustard) preparation of Hilsa Fish

Overfishing due to the rising population and greed is heartbreaking for the Bengali. Bengalis, as it is, are gradually losing their connection to the kitchen. Fish is crucial to Bengali civility, hospitality, and sensibility. It is the vivers of the beauty of Bengali women. That fish is gradually disappearing from the plate of the Bengali due to unaffordability and change of tastes, reflects a civilization in decline.

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