World Food Day: Here’s How the Hilsa Unites the Two Bengals

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Cameramen: Athar Rather, Abhay Sharma
Camera Assistant:
Anubhav Gupta

(This video from The Quint’s archives has been reposted to mark World Food Day on 16 October.)

Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Kishore Kumar, Sourav Ganguly.

If Bengalis don’t trip over them. Then just give them their dose of fish. One particular fish is the cocaine for the bongs. For them the undisputed king of fish is ‘Ilish’ or Hilsa. So what’s so special about the Hilsa?

Hilsa or Ilish is one of the most favourite fish for the Bengalis. 

"The best Hilsa is found in the Padma river in Bangaldesh. And for us ‘Bangals’, who have their roots in Bangladesh, the Hilsa has a deep nostalgic significance. It reminds us of what was left behind in Bangladesh. The partition divided a nation but not its taste.     " - Tata Bhattacharya     

The Hilsa swims upstream from the Bay of Bengal to procreate. The cocktail of the saline sea water and the sweet river water adds a unique flavour to the fish. This happens during the winter months, particularly between November and February, and people usually avoid eating Hilsa during this period.

The best Hilsa still comes from Bangladesh. 

The best Hilsa still comes from Bangladesh and costs a whopping Rs. 2000 per kilo. And for a Bengali politician, no political bonhomie is possible without a Hilsa. When Mamata Banerjee returned to power, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina greeted her with 20 kg of Hilsa. With a geographical identification (GI) tag the Hilsa is now a bona fide Bangladeshi product now.

The GI tag reaffirms the Bangladeshi connection of Hilsa.  

Though it can be cooked in many ways, it is the Hilsa fry, and the fish steamed or cooked in mustard that’s really popular.

The Ilish Bhapa or Steamed Hilsa
The Ilish Bhaja or fried Hilsa.
The shorshe Ilish or Hilsa cooked in mustard. 

For a Bengali, none of their festivals like Poila Boisakh, Durga Puja or Jamai Shoshti is complete without the Ilish or the Hilsa. So chew on that.

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