- Food and Cooking
Hilsa or Ilish: The most popular Bengali Fish
Hilsa fish is considered to be one of most favorite and delicious fish in the world. It is the most popular fish to the Bengalis who call it as Ilish. It is found in Indian sub-continent especially in Bangladesh. It is the national fish of Bangladesh.
The most amazing fact about hilsa is that it is a sea fish but lay eggs in the large river especially in Padma-Meghna-Jamuna delta at Bay of Bengal. And after being raised as Jatka (name of the young hilsa fish in Bangladesh) in the river it swim back to Bay of Bengal. However, hilsa is also caught from the sea. But those caught from the sea are not considered to be as tasty as those caught from the river. This fish also found in some area of Gujarat in India where female hilsa is known as Modenn and male hilsa is known as Palva. This fish carries a good economic value. Every year a huge number of hilsa is caught and sold. It is very pricy comparing other fishes.
Physical Profile of Hilsa Fish
The body of hilsa is very dense and fairly deep with dorsal and ventral profile equally curved. It equally spread medium-sized scales give a metallic silver shine. Usually it’s length may vary from 40 cm to 60 cm. A large-sized hilsa weighs about 2.5 kg. Female hilsa are usually larger than males. The hilsa is known to be a fast swimmer and can cover even 60 kilometers at a time. It attains maturity in 1 to 2 years.
Hilsa as Food
Hilsa is an oily fish and rich in essential omega 3 fatty acids. A recent experiment has shown it has beneficial effects in decreasing cholesterol level and insulin level.
In Bangladesh this fish is prepared in a lot number of varieties – people say in more than 50 different ways. It can be smoked, fried, steamed, baked, prepared with mustard seed paste, curd, brinjal (eggplant). Some common hilsa menus are Fried hilsa, Khichuri-Ilish, Sorshe Ilish, Panta Ilish etc. It takes a very little oil to cook hilsa as the fish itself is very oily. In North America and UK (where the fish is not always availavle) hilsa-dishes are found especially in Bengali cuisine.
Hilsa in culture
Hilsa is one most important fish in the world in terms of cultural importance. It is an obvious food in a good number of festivities in Bangladesh and India. Most of the Hingu Bengali families buy two Hilsa fishes (known as Joda Ilish) in auspicious days, like some Saraswati Puja. The custom mainly prevail Hindu Bengalis from former East Bengal (Bangladesh) in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura in India. In the dawn of Pahela Baisaksh (Bengali New Year) people of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India welcomes the new year with Panta-Ilish (wet rice, and Hilsa fish).
But this custom is prevalent mainly among the Hindu Bengalis of former East Bengal (now Bangladesh) many of whom now live in West Bengal, Barak Valley (Assam) and Tripura in India after the Partition of India. Some of them give Hilsa fish as an offering to the goddess Lakshmi, without which the Puja is thought to be incomplete.