Adiba Mahbub Proma: Bengalis are not called ‘machhe-bhaate-Bangali’ for nothing.
We Bengalis truly do love fish, and the fish fanatic will always go the extra mile for the freshest, most shiny fish that is out there.
Thankfully our riverine country comes with enough delicacies for all fish lovers. From large fresh water fish to exotic sea fish, each comes with its own taste and specialty.
Other than the numerous health benefits, nothing provides as much variety as fish does. From catching the liveliest fish to finding the right spices, the Bengali cuisine is closely intertwined with the massive variety of these riverine delicacies.
You can either deep-fry a koi or a rupchanda, or enjoy a magur curry with onions. And nothing beats a spicy shorshe-ilish on a rainy day!
Moreover, fish also allow for the sense of nostalgia for the good ol’ days. You probably remember watching them make tiny ripples on the pond’s surface, occasionally showing off their shiny or scaly skin, and how delightful they tasted when your mother or grandmother cooked them right after they were caught.
How to detect bad fish
Before the search for the right fish starts, you need to learn to differentiate the good from the bad. What gives stale fish away is its strong unappealing stench. Their once shiny skin will be dry, and their clear eyes, cloudy and dull.
Soon enough the scales flake off, and the fish itself becomes soft.
To start off the search
A real fish lover would go out of his way to find the perfect fish – fresh with bright red gills. Right outside the city are riverine areas like Bhairab and Arichaghat where fishermen actively spread their nets to catch only the best ones from the river giants – Meghna and Padma.
From faisha to boal, only the freshest ones are selected, while the rest are put back into the river. Though mainly sold in wholesale auctions, you could probably still get some fishermen to give some to you at a good price.
If you do not mind looking a bit further, the Chandpur fish markets are a real treat, where fish are directly caught from Meghna and sold on-spot.
The city hotspots
One hotspot for fish lovers is the Sowarighat market. Being the hub of the city fish business, it supplies its delicacies to many stores inside the city too.
Coming straight from Barisal, Khulna and Faridpur, freshwater fish in Sowarighat excel both in texture and in taste.
You can find pabda at around Tk800 per kg or even a 10kg rui straight from Meghna at around Tk600 per kg. While Saydabad hosts the biggest roadside wholesale market of the city, Karwan Bazaar dominates with its massive collection of both freshwater and sea fishes.
You can find a medium sized telapia with as low as Tk150 per kg, or opt for shorputi costing around Tk200 per kg and prawns from Tk500 to as high as Tk2000, depending on its size.
In fact, sea fishes such as korals and rupchandas are also sold at rather high prices. Moreover, Mohammadpur Krishi Market, Town Hall Market, and New Market are also popular places for fish lovers, but be sure to arrive at the earliest hour if you want the best bunch!
With showrooms in Karwan Bazaar, Motijheel and a few other places, Bangladesh Fisheries Development Corporation is reputed for selling top quality fish by maintaining the cold chain.
This is a process of directly freezing the fish as soon as it is caught, thus allowing the fish to retain its original freshness. Directly transported from the Chittagong sea port, BFIDC offers an extensive range of sea fish to choose from, often travelling around the city in vans to make it easier for the busy city dwellers.
All the restaurants
Even the booming restaurant business in Dhaka has understood the fish fascination, and restaurants such as Fish And Co. and Manhattan Fish Market are just one of the many restaurants offering a variety of fish dishes, both rich in colour and flavour.
From the international salmon to the deshi snappers and shrimps, they serve poached, grilled, baked or even flamed fishes, with all sorts of exotic sides.
Taking the fishy business up a notch, these adaptations have added an international touch to the favoured element of traditional cuisine.
Where the fish at?
And yet, our love for fish remains at risk. With rivers being clogged up with dirt, many of our fishermen are now left wondering where our wonder fish hilsa is, although this year there seems to be a boon in hilsa.
Similarly, the markets no longer have the massive boal fish or the tiny kachkis as almost half of the top quality fishes, especially hilsa, are exported abroad. But the true fish-fanatics will find a way, and with cautious fishing, our rivers will once again be filled with the glorious ayr and chapila.