Ilish Macher Dum Polao, A Recipe From The Bengal's Royal Homes
Image Credit: Ilish Macher Polao / Pic-

Come monsoons and Bengali homes can’t ignore the aromatic high of Hilsa or Illish. From a bhapa to a tel jhol to a bhaja and more, Hilsa has for the title of “Queen of fishes” and it’s also the National fish of Bangladesh as well. Ilish (Hilsa fish) is very popular in South Asia, especially in the Eastern part of the country primarily among Bengalis and Odiyas.

Of all the recipes that are there the recipe of Ilish Macher Dum Polao is attributed to the 17th century ancestors of Siddhartha Bahubalindra of the Moynagarh Rajbari. The Dum pulao that sees the aromatic delight of garam masala, ghee and basmati rice or Gobindobhog rice has all the characterises of a good Nawab pulao. This culinary fusion depicts two cultures. Moynagarh in East Medinipur is surrounded by waterbodies and sees a strong influence of people of different faiths — Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists along with a strong Vaishnav culture.

The hilsa pulao is a result of Raja Paramananda Bahubalindra’s visit to the court of Mughal emperor Jehangir. Not to miss that this fish, the hilsa The fish, was not the first choice for this dish though. This pulao was initially made with vegetables due to the Vaishnav influence, but later the fish took the centerstage. When he came back he was much influenced by Mughal and Turkish flavours and other middle eastern dishes. And hence as a part of an experiment tried the pulao with Ilish. The fish is delicately cooked with boiled onion and coconut milk. This so called fusion dish from that era still is a big hit. 

Here’s the recipe of Ilish Macher Dum Polao 


    5-7 pieces Ilish Mach / Hilsa Fish 

    Gobindobhog rice or any aromatic short grain rice 500 g

    3 medium size Onion paste of

    4Onion chopped


    Garlic: 8-10 cloves

    Green Chili: 8-10 (based on your taste bud)

    Dry Red Chili: 2

    2 Bay Leaves

    4 Green Cardamom

    1 Black Cardamom

    2” Cinnamon Stick

    Clove: 8-10

    2 Tsp. Turmeric Powder

    1 Tsp. Kashmiri Chili Powder

    Plain Curd: 1 cup (75 g)

    Salt to taste

    Mustard Oil: 4 tbsp. 

    Ghee / Clarified butter: 2 tbsp.

    Cashew nut: 20g


Making of Hilsa Gravy:

    Wash the Hilsa and rub 1 Tsp. turmeric powder and 1 Tsp. salt and keep them aside.

    Fry the fish chunks, you can also use raw fish for the gravy

    In a pan add the oil and fry add onion paste and fry for 3-4 minutes till it turns golden brown and then add ginger and garlic paste. 

    Cook for 5 more minutes in medium flame.

    Now add Salt and Kashmiri Red Chilli powder

    Add the curd and coconut milk and cook till oil comes out

    Now add the Ilish Mach and cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes on low flame.

    Turn the fish and check the consistency. You can add one spoon of water if needed. 

    Remember we don’t need too runny gravy 

Making of the Rice:

    Wash the rice and drain the water and then cook it in a deep bottom pan. 

    Add a few chunks of whole cardamom, bay leaf, clove, and cinnamon in the boiling water while the rice if getting cooked.

    Once the rice is 90 % done it’s time to assemble the rice and the fish.

    Take Ghee in the Pan and add bay leaves, dry red chili, cinnamon stick, and cardamoms, and add to the cooked rice.

Assembling the Rice and Fish:

    Take half of the rice on a plate and place Hilsa pieces on the top. 

    Spread the Hilsa gravy over the fish and rice mixture.

    Now add some “Beresta” and slitted green chilies.

    Now add the remaining rice over the fishes and put the remaining Beresta and slitted green Chilies.

    Now cover the pan with the lid and cook on low flame for 5-7 minutes

    After that switch off the flame

    Keep it like that for 5-7 minutes before serving

    The fish is very delicate hence serve carefully