Bengali girls are supposed to be steeped in culture. We must dance like Mamata Shankar, sing like Suchitra Mitra, paint like Shanu Lahiri…so on and so forth. To top it, we should also excel in Aabritti (recitation), natok (play-acting), shelai (needle-work) and shahityo-chorcha (culturing about literature). In my life and time thankfully I’ve done almost all of them (barring the painting bit). But that is not the point. The point is the events that unfolded in the process of making me a quintessentially “cultured” Bengali girl.
Enter Mithu Mashi, the first victim of my obstinacy. Let me introduce Mithu Mashi here. She is a phenomenal singer and has been giving us music lessons for almost the last 25 years. “Us” means my mother, because ever since I went off to journalism school in 2009, my lessons have stopped. She is also my Rika’s (my jyethi/aunt) relative and has been honing the musical skills of the women in our family for more than two decades. All good there. Now when I was 8-9 years old, my folks thought that time has come to groom me into a lady and so started my classes with Mithu Mashi. I would come back from school at 5 and no sooner than I would finish my food, she would step in, the most adorable smile plastered on her face. Grudgingly I would sit with my harmonium and after a couple of Rabindrasangeets would inevitably get bored. Then would start my tantrums. I would lie down on the divan, cushion below my head, and declare that I would certainly not proceed with Aaj dhaaner khete roudro chhayay and Poush toder daak diyechhe unless I was first taught Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam and Yeh kaali kaali aankhen. Mithu Mashi is one of the most good-natured human beings I’ve come across in my life, and the poor thing could neither frown, nor scold, nor even raise her voice at me. She would humbly request me…almost plead…to get up and carry on. But no, I was not the one to give up that easily! Finally I ensured that Mithu Mashi learnt the songs!
I happen to be a good mimic, and my favourite object of mimicry is, you guessed right, Mithu Mashi! Even today “Mithu-r moto gaan geye shona (Sing like Mithu)” is a common demand that is made to me in family gatherings. And when I start singing in her style, Mithu Mashi turns a brilliant shade of beetroot red. This is all done in good humour of course because she is such a sport. In fact, I think my life wouldn’t have been half as meaningful had I never heard Mithu Mashi sing. She is a gem, somebody for whom I wait eagerly every Wednesday, because I know the moment she closes her eyes and utters 2 words I’ll be transported to another world.
It was Mithu Mashi’s birthday in the first week of July and my parents went over for dinner (No, I don’t attend dinner invitations. I only have dinner in office, thank you very much!). She was sweet enough to pack for me whatever was there on the menu. And among them there was this Shorshe Narkel Bhapa Rui. Now, traditionally ilish/hilsa is best suited for bhapa, but since I’m allergic to ilish (the only thing I’m allergic to other than eggplants. So if you invite me over and offer Begun diye ilish maachher jhol, I might seriously consider killing you), I found the rui to be a brilliant substitute. It’s not as oily a fish as ilish, so if you plan to make it with ilish, go easy on the oil. I love the pungency imparted by mustard (a Bong thing really, you may reduce the quantity if you want it to be milder) and I actually used a decent amount of sugar to balance out the flavours. The result was absolutely brilliant. I think I’m going to make it for Mithu Mashi the next time she’s over.
Rohu Fish, cut into pieces: 6
Black mustard seed: 1 tbsp
Yellow mustard seeds: 1 tbsp
Coconut, scraped: 1 cup
Green chillies: 6
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Lime juice: 2 tbsp
Mustard oil: 5-6 tbsp
Salt, to taste
Sugar: 1 tbsp
Boiling water: as required
1. Soak the black and yellow mustard seeds in water for 30-40 minutes. Make a paste with a little water. Set aside. (Try not to use a mixer/blender. It runs the risk of turning bitter.)
2. With a few drops of water, make a paste of the scraped coconut along with 2 green chillies.
3. Marinade the fish pieces with 2 tbsp of the mustard paste, 4-5 tbsp of the coconut paste, turmeric, salt, sugar and 2-3 tbsp of mustard oil. Refrigerate for 2 hours at least. (I kept it overnight)
4. Bring the marinated fish to room temperature before you put it inside the steamer. In a steamer-proof bowl, line the fish along with the marinade next to each other taking care that they don’t overlap. Sprinkle a little salt and sugar in case you think they need more seasoning. Sprinkle the lime juice on top of the fish pieces and drizzle the remaining mustard oil. Slit the remaining green chillies longitudinally and tuck them between the fish. Cover the container with a lid or aluminium foil.
5. In a steamer (I used my idli-stand), put the container in the middle. Pour boiling water around the container so that it is half-immersed in it. Close the lid of the steamer.
6. Turn on your gas to medium heat and let it steam for 12 minutes. Check once after that. The fish should be cooked through and flaky now and a tester should come out clean. With the edge of a fork/knife scrape out a bit to taste. If you think it would cook more put the lid back on and let it steam for another 5-7 min on lower heat.
7. Serve hot with plain rice. Yes, nothing else.
Eat Like a Bong: Day 6