The first time I had Daab Chingri was at a restaurant, when I was nearing 30. A friend had ordered this along with other Bengali dishes. Soon, the wait staff came with a green tender coconut and placed it on our table. I could see that the head of the tender coconut was cut and was removable. However, it was my first time and I didn’t know how to tackle it till the wait staff served it. He opened the lid with an élan like “khul ja sim sim”
Chingri or prawns at a Bengali home
My family loves prawn much more than Ilish, which is a Bengali’s love. Baba (my father), always struggled with the Ilish bones and was a non-meat eater. So, chingri was the next best option. Chingri is a delicacy at Bengali homes and it involves prior planning to welcome the fresh catch of the day from the market. It was always at the mercy of Baba’s fish monger, whether he would give good quality prawns, clean and send, ready to cook prawns at home or Ma would have to spend laborious hours in cleaning the fish. Many a times, Ma threw a fit of anger when Baba didn’t get ready prawns.
Baba’s Wimbledon moment of getting the perfect chingri machh
It comes up as a memory snapshot of Baba saying, as if he has just won the Wimbledon ”Shunchho, aajke bhalo chingri peyechi” ( Listen I have got some great prawns today) and Ma would immediately respond with “chhariye niye eshechho?” ( Have you got the dressing done for them?) and if the answer was negative, it was a different saga altogether. At the lunch table, we got our desired prawn dish loaded with mustard, drenched in mustard oil, or even a simple Bati Chorchori (made with small prawns and onion and potato). We forgot how much effort Ma had put behind the dish.
Fast Forward to 21st Century
In my home now, we have a machh katar bnoti (curved cast iron cutting blade held down by foot and endemic to Bengal, Bangladesh and some eastern part of our country) but Madhushree doesn’t know how to use it. It is occasionally used by our maid. Most of our generation wouldn’t know how to cut a fish with a Bnoti and I am sure the next generation wouldn’t even know what it looked like.
Our generation is the one that embraced frozen prawns with open arms. Like many necessary things, which are needed for a working couple and parents of two, a packet of ITC Master Chef Frozen Prawns is always omnipresent. Take it out, thaw it and make your favorite recipe. Life is easier, especially without the hassles of anything which Ma had to go through. These prawns are real juicy and freezing doesn’t take away a whisker of freshness or the plump feeling, when you bite.
Prawns- a brand icon for Ghotis
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal football clubs are iconic brand identities of Ghoti and Bangal (people who migrated to West Bengal after Bengal got divided). As a pure Ghoti (people originally from current west Bengal from then undivided Bengal), prawns were more of a symbol of Ghoti-ism than Ilish. A clash between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is the local derby, just like a La Liga Derby between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s often said that depending on which club wins the Kolkata derby, Ilish or Chingri is in high demand the next day in the local market. A celebratory meal means either of them. Hence they vanish within no time on the day of such event.
Daab chingri was never made at home
With so much love for prawn, it may sound surprising that Daab Chingri is not very common at Bengali homes. In fact, while growing up, I wasn’t even aware of its existence. It’s not a recipe or a dish which finds a mention in history too. According to folklore, Daab Chingri used to be cooked in zamindar houses under a wood fire. The prosperity of the zamindars meant abundance of manpower and vast agricultural lands. In summers, tender coconut water was used as a thirst quencher. The coconut cream inside was an added bonus. The troupe of servants would engage in making the wood fire, getting the tender coconut ready and hence it was easy cooking then.
Quick easy cooking for housewives in rural areas
The food of the kings always gets replicated amongst the masses. At the lower strata of the society, the women of the house would catch small prawns in their sarees while bathing in the house pond. With limited resources and an abundance of tender coconut, they would simply do a quick mix of the prawns with mustard paste and other spices and then pour it into the tender coconut shell. This was almost a no expense dish for them, as it was farm to plate with backyard grown ingredients. Also, cooking was only in wood-fired clay-oven in those days.
Skeptical about using frozen prawns?
Our previous generation could never think of frozen prawns but after so much use, I can safely say that frozen prawns are a blessing. With ITC frozen prawns, the prawns are frozen within 15 hours of harvesting and when you open and thaw them, unless told, no one can differentiate. Baba passed 4 years ago and ever since, Ma has been lonely. Now when prawns are cooked at home, there is no usual banter. We didn’t tell her that we have used ITC frozen prawns for this Daab Chingri, she can never think of frozen prawns and a Bengali dish together. After the meal, she remembered Baba and his love for prawns. We remembered him too. Just one element has got changed. It proves that progress and convenience is not a hindrance to emotions and nostalgia.
After reading all this if I don’t share the recipe of Daab Chingri with you it will be a crime. Why not check it out for yourself ?
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