A few of us were invited to Esplanade for the Hilsa Festival last week. Hilsa fish – or Ilish maach is the most delicious, and definitely the most popular fish known to Bengalis. And well, since we are effectively subject matter experts in all things fish, you could take our word for it. Ilish is indeed the best fish God created on earth! The promotional menu features some classic creations, and some creative dishes with the fish offering 12 varieties of preparations. Yes, we were spoilt for choice.
First things first for the uninitiated – fish, and especially hilsa is eaten only with steamed rice, preferably gobindo bhog. Hilsa has a lot of bones, very fine ones – so it is advisable to exercise caution while eating. At the dinner we attended, we tasted most of the dishes on the menu. And that was our entire meal, followed by dessert. But typically, there’s a dry vegetable, a fried fish in the starting, lentils curry and more sides and finally a fish main course that makes up an entire meal. So true to tradition, we started with Ilisher Maach Bhaja. Shallow fried fish in mustard oil – and that oil is served to be eaten with rice (add salt to taste). It’s one of my favorite dishes, and I have a lot of happy childhood memories of eating this, and fish eggs. So I absolutely loved it!
Boneless Ilisher Paturi with Sorshe (Mustard) and Aam Aachar (Mango Pickle) was next on my plate. Marinated boneless hilsa, banana wrapped and steamed – absolutely soft and beautiful. Extremely well made. One of the curries that deserve special mention is Kumro Beguner Ilish Jhol. A simple curry with the fish, pumpkin and brinjal. I don’t think I ever had this at a restaurant, but it was made exactly like a home styled preparation. Tetul Ilisher Jhol was a popular dish on the table – a tangy tamarind curry, with the favored pieces of the fish – a spicy dish that added an extra relish to the taste of the fish.
Another dish that deserves a mention in the Hilsa Festival is the Ilish Machher Tramfrado. This is a curry made with coconut milk and Gondhoraj lime. If not balanced well, the flavor and aroma of the gondhoraj lebu can overwhelm the taste of even the royal fish Hilsa. Here it was subtle, but a tad too sweet for my taste. For most of the traditional folks, and others who want to eat Ilish like most Bengalis love it – Ilisher Tel Jhal and Bhapa Ilish would be my recommendations. Both are in spicy mustard sauce, and is a quintessential dish on a Sunday in a Bengali household in this season.
The Virgin Gondhoraj Mojito was delicious. I don’t think I will ever go back to the usual mojito anymore, there’s just no romance. Tapash binged on the Gondhoraj Ghol – a buttermilk equivalent. The masala cola is just plain nostalgia for us, so I had that as well.
Esplanade has an all new avatar, with a simple decor and photo frames that stir up wistful memories. There’s a nice sit out as well. The dishes are priced between 800 to 1250, offering a selection of around 12 dishes. The Hilsa fish is sourced from Calcutta. The Hilsa Festival is on until 15th August, 2017. Don’t miss having the Ilish Machher Tel – I guarantee you’ll love it. And baked Mishti too. Go check it out!