From East To West: Hilsa Fish Holds A Strong Cultural Significance For Bengalis Even Today
Updated : June 29, 2021 10:06 IST
Bengalis are to fish like bat is to ball. One cannot function without the other. The fact that Bengalis across India and its neighbouring countries thrive on fish is not unknown.
You’ll find fish varieties for everything, from a festive occasion to a normal Sunday lunch. This freshwater produce isn’t just a matter of cuisine, but loudly sings the song of undivided Bengal.
The glory and royalty were just one side of the coin. When you flip the other side, you’ll see the gore and grim realities of war, partition, and division of not just lands but hearts too. Today’s Bangladesh was yesterday’s East Bengal. The tradition of eating fish began way back in the pre-partition days. The fresh catch of Illish from the Padma river was a specialty of the Bengali platter.
A dispute in the catchment area of Hilsa over a fish called Illish led to this freshwater fish being called Hilsa thereafter. From Illish paturi to Hilsa bhaja and Illish maccher te jhol, there are plenty of ways in which the fish is served across East and West Bengal. Its identity as the National Fish of Bangladesh and State Fish of West Bengal gives a stature like no other.
The cultural significance of the fish is undoubtedly the most important thing when you think of this soft, smooth, and flavourful fish with an oily texture. The history and taste are not all that Hilsa has to offer. It has a range of health benefits too that are often undermined in the face of rich cultural heritage and pride.
The association between Bengalis and their machh goes way back in history and is an intrinsic part of their cuisine and culture.