Beauty and the bones

June 26, 2010

Even as i write this blog, my fingers, i know, are stinking of fish. For, a while ago, i washed and packed off a hunky foloi maachh into the freezer.

Come Sunday, the fish which tastes sweet but poses a level-3 hurdle for even the most hardcore fish lovers, will be out of the fridge, given time to thaw, marinated with turmeric and salt and left to lick its own wounds by the gas burner.

While it’s tough explaining people outside Bengal what a foloi is — surmai is the reigning king, queen and knight in the north Indian belt save in the Himalayans where the rainbow trout is the sex symbol on your plate — to even many Bengalis of our generation (i am pushing 35), it’s a relatively unknown entity.

The foloi just before it was consigned to the freezer (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

Over drinks and fried prawns at a nondescript joint in Calcutta’s Tangra — the original China town of India — i was shocked that eight of my 10 friends did never hear of anything called foloi and that they didn’t care.

“Is it something like rohu?” one of them asked me. Another tried to be a tad smarter: “It must be something like a tilapia,” he said. Just when the debate was dying out after someone emphatically pronounced that he only liked rohu and hilsa fry, a quiet guy mumbled: “I have heard foloi is full of bones.”

He couldn’t have been more right. Foloi is tough to handle, very tough. Even bata, khoera, chitol, puti, mrigel or hilsa (am sorry, i don’t know their English names, may be, because most of them don’t swim in and around England!) can’t match up to it when you talk of cracking the code of its intricate bones.

Best had fresh from ponds (or small rivulets) dotting those harabhara Bengal villages, the sweet-water fish is generally small in size — the bigger ones are just, say, 500 gm in weight — silver in colour and covered with minute scales.

It looks gorgeous — every vein bursting with blood shows from beneath its glistening veneer and around a haunting filigree of thin bones. Take it out in the moonlight and you will agree with me if hilsa is the queen of fish, foloi surely is the crown princess.

But like all ethereal things in life, it is rare to find now a days and difficult to tame on the table, reason why i can’t really blame my friends for not knowing how it looks or tastes.


I must start for office now. Tomorrow (Sunday), after a hearty breakfast of blini topped with caviar, i will proceed to the kitchen, mustard oil and coriander leaves in tow, and try matching my mother and wife in whipping up a mean foloi maachher jhol (thin curry).

By evening, before England take on Germany, i will surely let you know how it all went, and if the dish looks nice, post a couple of pictures also.

PS: The caviar in the breakfast, you guessed it right, was wishful thinking! It will either be honey on blini or may be, if it cools down a bit, luchi with alu chorchori.


2 Responses to “Beauty and the bones”

  1. Sharmi said

    Very smart!!! I’m talking about the breakfast bit!!! Quite a tactful way of telling me what you want for breakfast tomorrow!! If you would have done the same in the morning I would have not spent the sweltering afternoon buying eggs and bread for an English breakfast of toast, scrambled eggs, fruits and tea for tomorrow!!!
    Anyway, now that I know, luchi and alu chorchori it will be Sir. Blini with honey, next Sunday. For, your wish is my command 🙂
    And, I’m sure that Foloi maachher jhol will turn out super 🙂

  2. netdhaba said

    @Sharmi: Hmm. My trick’s up, i guess! You have emerged smarter!
    Luchi, only if it rains overnight. Otherwise, toast and eggs, but fried not scrambled.
    Thanks for tolerating my tantrums and for your comment 🙂

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