Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013

FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD

Fish-fish

In Bengali, it means to speak in a hushed voice, to whisper. I will come back to that. Meanwhile, there is a restaurant by that name that has opened in Calcutta. Billboards announced the clever but not too subtle logo. The billboard also featured the chef.
He looked young. He looked sharp. And there was a buzz around the restaurant.
I have been meaning to go there, but something or the other kept me from going. Finally, got to go about a month and a half back. My uncle was in town and all of us went there for dinner.
The menu is all about fish and seafood barring the dessert and drinks. Starting from the humble lote (mango fish) to the pricey salmon to the exotic calamari, it was all there. A little prodding revealed that the salmon they serve is really an Indian white fish, akin to kingfish, without the obvious fishy taste.
That apart, we diligently pored over the menu, which can be accessed online. Among the choices, what caught my attention was the “lote macher bora” (mango fish croquet). Lote is a fish that does not get its due place in the sun. In my mind, it is brilliant stir fried with loads of onion and garlic.
Also superb when dried and cooked with red chillies and garlic. The croquet was a study in contrast. Crispy outside. When I bit into it, a billowy soft inside. Distinctly fishy, delicate edible bones made it oh so authentic.
A great beginning.
We moved on to “chitol macher sheekh kabab”. Chitol is feathered humpback and is a delicacy. While the belly is famous for its fatty goodness, the back goes into making a defining fish item of Bengal, mutha. Basically, a kofta shaped by hand, steamed or fried and then made into a curry.
So the “sheekh kabab” treatment got us going. What came was “sheekh kabab” all right in shape and taste. But the fish sadly got lost in translation. All I could taste was “garam masala” and rubbery texture. It could well have been chicken gone wrong. The mint and tamarind sauce served with it was also neither here nor there.
Our main orders started coming in. My uncle ordered a baked fish. A pretty looking dish came. Slab of fish, topped with some greens, with veggies on the side. He was happy with it.
I ordered a grilled seafood platter. I got prawn, fish and squid, charred, not grilled. No amount of sauce could save that. I ate pure carbon.
My wife ordered a stir-fried squid. It came in a stew-like form, with no sign of stir frying. It must also be said, whatever that was, it tasted good. My mother ordered English fried fish with tartar sauce. She got good old fish fry, nicely crumbed.
Needless to say, it was not a very happy dinner. And at the end of it, my wife discovered a cockroach climbing up her purse. Let me fish-fish (whisper) that it’ll take an army of horses to drag me there again.