Its Hilsa festival at Taj Gateway Kolkata – So the season formally starts – Madhushree and I were beaming from ear to ear.
Summer means introduction of Mango in the kitchen where it starts ruling the kitchen and tantalizing the taste buds, from sweets ( Mango Sandesh ) to chicken mango salad (link here), the footprints can be found everywhere. While the onset of monsoon also means bidding goodbye to summer and mangoes, it also means welcoming the queen of Monsoon – the Hilsa or “Ilish” as we Bengalis’ call it.
Monsoon is the time when the Hilsa tastes best and just like mangoes in the summer, this becomes a household name during monsoon. On behalf of Kolkata Food Bloggers, we were invited at the Taj Gateway Hotel – Kolkata for a preview of their Hilsa Festival.
The biggest surprise was bumping into my old colleague from Taj Bengal – Chef Ashish. Chef Ashish is now the Executive chef at Taj Gateway Hotel after his stint at Rambagh Palace as Executive chef . Ashish was Executive Sous Chef at Taj Bengal when I knew him. I was assured that I am in safe hands. Reminiscing old memories on a drizzling afternoon with a wide variety of Hilsa is always worth an experience.
The platter consisted of a balanced mix of various preparations of Hilsa from West Bengal as well as Bangladesh. Its the national fish of Bangladesh afterall, so some of the recipes definitely required an inclusion in this menu. For starters, we had Shukno Lanka diye Ilish Bhaja ( Ilish fried in Mustard oil with deep fried dried red chili) – this is a must have dish whenever people have Ilish, atleast at our home. The trick lies in how crispy the skin becomes but the fish is not overdone and retains the moisture and the saltiness inside. This didn’t disappoint us. The surprise amongst starters was the next one – Ilish Pithe – a recipe from Bangladesh – Boneless Ilish stuffed in a savoury dough, quite like a hand rolled pie. This was something we had never heard of before and definitely had some novelty.
The mains had Ilish Pulao – which is Ilish cooked in Dum along with finest hand picked rice. The distinct taste of the spices coupled with the umami from the Ilish made it a killer dish, almost like a Ilish Biryani.
Ilish is such a household name in Bengal that every family boasts of its own grandmothers recipe which tastes the best in the world. Taj Gateway did manage to keep the flavour of every dish very authentic to a home cook.
Ilish Tok Jhal – may be little spicy for some but it was well balanced with the sweetness of onions and the tanginess of the tamarind. This was a great flirt for the taste buds.
Doi Ilish – Typically cooked in yogurt and mustard gravy. However, we thought this did not do justice to its glorious traditonal taste. Unlike the authentic one, this had a hint of onion and garlic paste and we yearned for the Doi Ilish which my mother has been cooking for years.
Ilish Mishti Kumror Jhol – This is a specialty from the Eastern part of Bangladesh where roasted pumpkin is used along with tempered Nigella seeds in this very mild gravy of Ilish. The sweetness of the pumpkins sort of mellows down the string flavour of the Ilish making it a soft and gentle Ilish curry. Being from West Bengal and having to taste pumpkin with Ilish for the first time, both Madhushree and I had mixed reviews for this dish. It would be a taste to be developed over time.
The winning dish was the Smoked Hilsa. For the ones who are challenged at picking the fine bones off the Ilish, this is a perfect dish. It is boneless and is smoked with flavour of Jasmine rice and some herbs and tossed in some Dijon mustard, honey and a dash of pommery. It is served with some garlic bread. All of us at the table were floored by this hit.
The menu also consists of the regular Hilsa dishes like the Shorshebata Ilish (ilish made in stonegrounded mustard paste), a traditional dish from both sides of Bengal and a definite must have every time Ilish is consumed. It has Kalo jeere begun diye Ilisher tel jhal, a favorite of Madhushree and a very simple yet flavorsome recipe easy to consume with rice. Another classic in the menu is Narkol diye Ilisher Paturi. This is another boneless variety, marinated in grated fresh coconut and mustard paste, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed to perfection.
The high point for both of us was meeting our fellow Kolkata food bloggers – Sayantani , Anwesha and Kamalika along with Vishal and Amrita
The Hilsa festival begins on the 10th of July and will continue till the 26th of July 2015.
Timings- 12:30 pm to 3:00 pm; 7:30 pm to 11:00 pm
Meal for two would be approximately Rs. 1500 inclusive of taxes.