I have a problem in managing lobsters. Baba never used to have chicken or mutton. An early age visit to the slaughter house made him lose all his desire for eating mutton. So it was always fish for him and like most ghotis (people with their roots from West Bengal), chingri machh was a delicacy for him. When I say chingri machh, it’s prawn loosely but shrimps at a macro level. I have grown up listening to all about Bagda and galda prawn while accompanying him to the market, the difference being the former being Tiger prawns and the latter, scampi. Remember de-veining the shrimps was a big task and most of the times, the seller had to separate the heads and de-vein the fish. Daab chingri was where medium sized prawns were cooked and presented inside a tender coconut shell, so the coconut cream also added up to the flavour; while for malaikari, the size of the prawns were considerably larger. My mamas (maternal uncles) used to be prawn addicts and other than the fish, sometimes they would buy heads separately to make curies, since all the flavour was in the heads.
Most of the restaurants in general, use medium or large sized prawns which invloves de-shelling the fish,carefully scooping out the flesh and enjoying it. Although the lobsters taste way better and there is a sense of mission accomplished when you leave your plate victorious with only the shells of the lobsters lying around but my personal feeling toward this crustacean is that it is too attention seeking in a public place, which is why I have always felt uncomfortable about eating it. I hold people and food lovers in high esteem who effortlessly glide through their prawns and that too, with the help of a knife and fork. It almost looks like a veteran cardiac surgeon at work.
Just realised, one of our favourite on screen characters Forrest (Forrest Gump) could finally become a successful shrimp businessman and how he kept his promise for his mate Bubba. Remember what Bubba had said about shrimps?
“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”
What were my favourite childhood chingri dishes? Ma used to make a rich mustard paste gravy with green chilies. As she used to serve the food, unlike the other dishes, this was easy to distribute as she used to count the shrimp pieces and distribute equally. However, by the end, either she or me would end up asking for more from Baba. Shrimps floating in the rich mustard gravy and then the counting process and getting shared across plates – was one of the high moments of Family Bonding.
Ma also used to make chingri machher baati chorchori. I am yet to learn why the name baati chorchori? Chorchori is almost like a free style of cooking in Bengali cuisine where almost all vegetables can be added, a dash of mustard oil and slow cooked. Perhaps the name bati chorchori comes from the fact that it gets slow cooked in a bowl (bati). I assume in the past, where cooking was slow and time consuming and large families and multiple kids to manage, the housewives used to resort to this as an easy solution. It has always been my favourite for the strong and pungent smell of mustard oil, steamed but not fried slices of onions in between and the shrimps getting an elevation for the steaming process.
Chingri machher baati chorchori can be had with rice and roti both, however rice is more preferred.