Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 53, Tuesday February 3, 2009


the Chittagong Connection

Googling 'shutki' can reveal some interesting results- from a populous region of Russia to our familiar, dried fish. In Chittagong, however, shutki is more than just your common dried fish. Shutki is to Chittagonians what caviar is to Russians. It is a culinary delight, a delicacy that is also considered a symbol essentially Chatgaiya!

Cooked with crunchy beans or gooey eggplants, or simply mashed with onions aplenty and flavourful mustard oil, shutki curry is one thing without which any typical Chittagonian feast is incomplete!

Dried fish around the world is invariably associated with the pungent reek that emanates whenever one comes anywhere near ten feet of it. Then why is it that people still brave the foulest of smells to taste something that is not even visibly very appealing? “For the same reason people like caviar, oysters and green olives!” states Ishtiaque Hussain, student of North South University. “At first glance, oysters look very unappealing, when you touch one, the slimy thing wriggles like its alive, but a real connoisseur considers oysters a delicacy. The same thing applies to Shutki.”

Dried shrimp, or icha shutki as it is known in Chittagong, is by far the most popular of its kind. Balachaw, which is actually a type of pickle of Burmese origin, made from dried shrimp, is relished with steamed rice by scores of people around the country. “I abhor the other types of shutki, but balachaw is too good to be ignored,” gushes Saad Chowdhury, a young businessman from Chittagong. While fried Hilsa is a staple in a typical Pohela Boishakh lunch in Dhaka, the first lunch of the Bengali New Year in Chittagong is incomplete without a generous helping of balachaw with panta bhaat.

While icha shutki is preferred in the mashed form more than the curry, lakkha shutki curry is a grand affair. Weighing in at an astounding Tk 2600 per kilogram, it is by far the most expensive dried fish available in the country. Other varieties include chhuri, loytta, chapa, chanda, etc., which are no less delectable but much more affordable. “Chhuri shutki is best complimented by eggplants while loytta shutki curry is made mouth-watering with lots of garlic,” opines Saad. Chapa shutki, however, is enjoyed like chutney with chitoi pitha.

The Kajer Dewri kitchen market in Chittagong is famous for selling the widest variety of dried fish in town. Scores of kilograms of dried fish are brought in from Cox's Bazar and Saint Martin's Island, where industrious fishermen spend days drying the fish to perfection. Karwan Bazar in Dhaka also sells many varieties of dried fish, but the prices are bound to be a bit higher than the prices quoted in Chittagong. Dried shrimps cost between Tk 200-400 per kilogram, depending on their size, while the prices of the other types vary from Tk 180 for chhuri shutki to as high as Tk 1500 for chanda shutki.

Having said all that, shutki is not for the weakest of souls (me for one)! It takes more than a clogged nose to actually brave the acrid smell, but connoisseurs like the ones mentioned above remind you that if you have what it takes to try out this unusual delicacy, you will not regret it!

By Wasia Mehnaz Minna
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

Special thanks to Farzana Nazrul and Lamia Wajeehah Hossain for arranging the photo shoot

Shutki lara
25 gm chapa shutki (dried fish)
1 cup onion paste
1 large garlic, sliced
4 tsp garlic paste
1½ tbsp red chilli flakes
salt, to taste
3 green chillies, sliced
½ cup oil

Soak the shutki in water for 15-29 minutes, then rinse thoroughly to remove any remaining scales and grind to form a paste.

In a wok, heat oil, add the sliced garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the shutki paste and stir for a few more minutes. Then add all the remaining ingredients one by one, and stir well. Cook for a couple more minutes. Add water, if consistency seems too thick. Finally add the sliced green chillies, and stir well until oil rises. Remove from heat and serve with steamed rice.

Chapa Shutki bora
25gm shutki
100gm onions
1 large garlic
7-8 dried red chillies
10-12 leaves of gourd plant (lau patha)
salt, to taste
a little oil for frying

Soak the shutki in water for 15-29 minutes, then rinse thoroughly to remove any remaining scales. Roughly slice the onions and garlic.

In a wok, add a few drops of oil and sauté the shutki, onions, garlic and chillies together. When the shutki gives off an aroma, empty the contents of the wok onto a grinding stone, and grind well with salt to form a paste and keep aside.

Meanwhile, gently wash the leaves and cut off the thick stem. Then one by one, put 2 teaspoonful of the shutki mixture on each leaf and roll carefully. Then very gently shallow fry the shutki bora and serve.

Mixed vegetables with shutki
25gm chapa shutki
10-12 beans (seem)
1 raddish
1 eggplant
100gm potatoes
4-5 cauliflower florets (lau doga)
4-5 gourd plant stems
4 onions
1 medium sized garlic, crushed
3 tsp turmeric powder
8-10 green chillies
4 tbsp oil
salt, to taste

First cut up all the vegetables into medium sized slices. Then, in a cooking pot, add together the veggies, shutki, and rest of the spices, along with a cup of water. Allow to cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender. Then add the chillies, and stir well. Finally, in a small pan, heat oil and sauté onions and then pour this over the cooked vegetables and serve.

Shutki with coconut
150gm lakkha or bhetki shutki
1½ cups onions, thinly sliced
3 tbsp coconut paste
1 large garlic, thickly sliced
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp chilli powder
4-5 green chillies
½ cup oil
salt, to taste

Cut the shutki into small pieces and soak in water overnight. This enables the otherwise tough shutki to soften up and the pieces will increase in size due to the water. Then wash the shutki thoroughly in lukewarm water.

In a wok, heat oil, add onions, garlic, ginger pastes and sauté well or until the spices give off an aroma. Then add shutki and stir some more. Then add the coconut paste and salt. Finally add 1 cup water and cook further until the water dries up and the shutki resembles a curry like consistency. Remove from heat and serve.

Loitta shutki and tomato curry
150gm shutki
2 tbsp thinly sliced garlic
½ a medium sized garlic paste, thickly sliced
1½ tbsp garlic paste
1 cup sliced onions
1½ tbsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp chilli powder
1 tbsp ginger paste
150gm tomatoes, thickly sliced
5-6 green chillies
½ cup oil
salt, to taste

Cut the shutki into small pieces and soak in water overnight. Then wash the shutki thoroughly in lukewarm water. Remove the bones and roughly chop into smaller pieces.

Heat oil in wok, and one by one, add garlic, ginger pastes, onions and sauté. After 1½ mins, add shutki and stir further. Add a little water to allow to cook thoroughly.

After about 5-6 mins, add the tomatoes and cook further over low heat. Once the oil begins to rise, remove from heat and serve.

Shutki with jackfruit seeds
100gm chhuri shutki
150gm jackfruit seeds
1 cup onions, sliced
2 tbsp sliced garlic
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
4 tsp chilli powder
3 tsp turmeric powder
½ cup oil
5-6 green chillies
salt, to taste

Soak shutki and jackfruit seed in water overnight. When soaked, rub the now soft seeds vigorously to remove the reddish covering, then slice lengthwise and set aside.

Heat oil in a wok and one by one add all the spices and sauté well. Then add the shutki and seeds and stir well. Then add 1½ cup water and allow to simmer until water dries up and the curry is cooked through and the oil rises. Remove from heat and serve.

Balachao and tomato curry
4 tbsp balachao
½ cup onions, thinly sliced
3 tbsp oil
2 tbsp garlic, sliced
6-7 spring inions
1 cup tomatoes, cubed
3-4 green chillies
2 tbsp coriander

Heat oil in wok and sauté onions and garlic until softened. Add tomatoes and stir, then add balachao, and stir some more. Finally add spring onions and coriander and cook for a few more minutes and remove from heat and serve.


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