Five hours to ecstasy

June 11, 2010

5 pm

October 27, 2007.

It’s a Saturday evening, devoid of the partygoer’s fever, for a lonely me.

Stiff bored in the flat, i decide to trawl the entrails of Rohini, a leafy colony in the northern tip of Delhi.

New to the city, I am surprised at everything. From the countless malls to the bakery shops at every corner, from four eateries named Punjabi Rasoi in a 200-metre stretch to thelawallahs hawking warm cookies, which i was later told, are called naankhatais.

I lazily soak in the experience while keeping a sharp eye on what all Bengalis invariably look for in a new place: a fishmonger.

So far — i have shifted to the flat three weeks ago — the search for the angel with a big handi of fish, the rusty weighing scales and a carving knife has not met with success.

6 pm

I walk up to a vegetable seller while debating within about the weekend bhaji that will mitigate the kaali dal-paneer routine. Absentmindedly, i nearly stumble upon a stationary bicycle.

And all heaven breaks lose.

For, nestled like a dream on the carrier of the cycle is a pot i know for ages. In a slow-motion whirl, i turn to the man holding the cycle and call him. No word comes out of my mouth.

Raw glare (Meanest Indian/Flickr)

I point to the pot. The sound of the splash of water in it sets my blood on fire.

Dumb with pleasurable shock, i point to the handi again.

The man — my angel — pulls out a fish in a flash and drops it inside again.

I peer into the pot in a daze.

7 pm

My kitchen is in a mess, the bloody arena to a near-gladiatorial battle: a knight in a cooking apron versus two slippery, slippery opponents. The moment i attack the mrigels — all of 800 gm each and thankfully frozen to death in my freezer — they slip out of my knife’s range and dive into the kitchen sink. Scaling them is, it appears, out of question.

I break into sweat, which, not very appealingly, stinks of fish!

The carps have got better of me.

I retreat from the kitchen.

8 pm

In the frying pan (Flickr)

I call up my mother in Kolkata and tell her everything. She laughs out loud and says how a one-rupee coin can do what no knife can.

I cake my hand in salt, grasp a fish and use the coin against the grain. And bingo, the scales fly in all direction! I cheer lustily and bring out a bottle of Fosters from the fridge.

Cleaning the entrails and carving out the pieces appear easier than what i had thought. A quick wash and generous dabs of salt and turmeric later, the fish lie in a bowl, seasoned and ready to be fried.

Round Two goes to me.

9 pm

“It’s been more than a month that I tasted the meat of fish,” I say.

“That’s not surprising. India’s capital is not the place to be for fish lovers,” I reply.

“The fish fries they serve you in restaurants here are made from surmai, a fish that we don’t think highly of elsewhere,” I make a point.

“What else can beat the taste of a crisply fried carp?” I wonder, biting a chunk of a fried piece.

“Nothing,” I nod, “except for hilsa and prawns”.

The soliloquy keeps me busy till six pieces and two bottles of beer are polished off.

10 pm

Ready to eat (Flickr)

At dinner, I serve myself steaming rice, flick a spoon of ghee into it and gently place two large fillets of fish on the plate.

The first mouthful, and rice, ghee and fish melt into each other. Bliss…


7 Responses to “Five hours to ecstasy”

  1. Sharmi said

    While you were struggling with these opponents, I was serving Shorshe Tilapia to guests at home in Kolkata. I remember you calling up. What an evening right? But, I guess it’s that day’s experience that makes you enjoy the process of dressing the fish so much now 🙂 Great learning experience 🙂

    • netdhaba said

      Thank you for your encouraging comment.
      That was the first day ever i dressed a fish.
      And, suddenly i realise i haven’t cooked fish for a long time.
      This weekend, then 🙂

  2. Abhi said

    Mr D, Aargh my room is stinking of fish after reading your post:D I ac hear them slithering about you have made them come alive! I think have heard about this fish adventure of yours and that was I think before Mrs D happened:) Boy your sizzling write-up is like that fish getting deep fried and choking this fish-haters nostrils:P

    • Sharmi said

      Mr A. Right you are. This was before Mrs D happened. So, now that both Mr & Mrs D are proficient in dressing the fish and cooking it, too, would you care to try a fishy delicacy or two at our humble abode soon? 🙂 Naki shei chagol curry? 😀

  3. netdhaba said

    @Abhi: Thanks for your compliment, mate.
    Feels nice to know i could torment you to such as an extent!

  4. Alcazar said

    Your post reminds me of all that I miss from back home. And while I shudder to step into a kitchen (except to taste the broth and comment on it), there is a lesson to be learnt in how to de-scale fish. Hope this info helps me whenever I take the plunge to give cooking a try 🙂

    • netdhaba said

      @Alcazar: Come any day for lunch if you miss home.
      And invite me over to your place the day you decide to de-scale a fish and throw it into oil 🙂

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