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Ilish: A symbol of taste and culture

  • Published at 10:22 pm December 31st, 2019
Ilish Pic
Shorshey Ilish Dhaka Tribune

When the fish is plump with roe, the eggs are fried in mustard oil and served with plain steaming rice

The home of ilish is considered to be in the Chandpur district, located on the banks of the Padma River, where the localsare blessed with an abundance of all kinds of fish.

It was not a long time ago that ilish delicacies were a must-have in every important Bangali occasion. For generations, this fish has been loved and revered for its rich flavour and texture. The dishes made from ilish stand as the testament of its importance to Bangali cuisine – and culture.

There are at least 15-20 mouthwatering and delicious dishes made from ilish in the Bangla cuisine, including Shorshey Ilish (cooked with mustard paste), Ilish Pulao (made with fragrant, long-grained rice and garam masala), Bhapa Ilish (steamed in a paste of mustard and poppy seeds, dried coconut and green chilli), Nona Ilish (salted and sun-dried ilish, then preserving it in earthen pots to be savoured throughout the year), and of course the classic ilish curry made with pungent, black nigella seeds.

These are only a few among ilish delicacies that are still seen in modern kitchens. Many dishes,like Tetul Ilish, a tangy curry infused with tamarind pulp, and Ilish Jhuro, fried ilish with chopped onions, garlic, and green chillies until it turns crisp and starts to crumble, are rarely seen on the dining tables anymore. 

When the fish is plump with roe, the eggs are fried in mustard oil and served with plain steaming rice.

Non-Bangalis may be put off by the smell and the exorbitant prices of ilish, but for Bangalis, it is a part oftheir identity.

The ilish lives in the sea and swims upstream into Padma to spawn, and that is why the people of Chandpur are the first to be able to try its fine taste. 

However, growing demand and overfishing have put the ilish population at risk, driving the prices high and the fish out of reach of most people. 

If greedy fishermen continue to fish Ilish before they can grow to full size, and during its breading season defying fishing bans, ilish may very well disappear from the rivers, and the lives of Bangalis.