Good Morning World: A (very) Bengali Fish Curry

Fish are Bengali. They are too. River fish are anyway. They are too. I, on the other hand, am not much of a Bengali. Or so I have been told. But there are aspects of me that are very Bengali. Like the fish curries I like to make. And there are many. Many to the point that each fish has its own curry. Or two. Or three. Some have more. Some are so famous that they have their own curries from village to village and: recipes can differ from house to house even.

Our family (all branches of it) too had its own recipes that were well preserved across centuries and handed down from generation to generation … till they came to me. I have no clue where they are. This is where the Bengali DNA steps in and I am able to concoct my own recipes after deep meditation … and quick reference to the notes I have kept, watching my parents, uncles and aunts cook over the decades.

Today is Poila Boishak. The Bengali New Year. (Among other New Years). And like with all festivals and celebrations, Bengalis cook fish (at least) for the festive meal. I say at least because I am reminded of my late maternal uncle (endearingly called Maamaa in Bengali and many other Indian languages) who was a real smart man: He never learnt how to cook. But being the philanthropic gentleman that he was, he went out for a stroll and came back with family and friends for breakfast, lunch, dinner, evening snack, tea, after-dinner munch, mid-afternoon post-lunch-pre-tea chomp … As a result, my Maami (you guessed it, my maternal uncle’s wife) used to start cooking from morning tea time. She’s (still) got the habit of asking you every ten minutes: “Why don’t you eat something? I’ll make you a chicken roll.”

My cousin, Shubhonkor (now head of his family) takes after my Maamaa. He also looooves non-vegetarian food. (Daal and vegetable dishes are all good for decoration purposes on the table). And he loves fish curry. Now he’s a proper Bengali.

But he can’t cook. I can. So here’s my version of our family recipe of a simple fish curry made of Rohu fish.

Rohu Paatlaa Jhol

Ingredients for Marinade & Frying

Rohu Fish – 1 kg

Salt – take a measured guess

Turmeric – a little more than the salt

Mustard Oil – to fill a third of the Kadhai

Ingredients for Jhol

Mustard Oil – 1 tablespoon

Green Chillies – 2

Tej Pata (Bayleaf) – 1

Tomatoes – 2 big ones

Sugar – a sprinkle

Turmeric – 1 tablespoon

Salt – 1/2 tablespoon

Coriander Powder – 3 tablespoons

Red Chilly Powder – 1/2 tablespoon

Jeera Powder – 1 tablespoon

Coriander Leaves – Handful

Water – to fill the pot

The Method

Pretty straight forward: Deep fry the fish in mustard oil, put it in the curry and simmer for 15 minutes. Before frying the fish, marinade the (washed) pieces in salt and turmeric. After the frying, make a thick paste with all the powders and a little water (mix everything in a bowl). Take some mustard oil in a deep pan, add bayleaf, sugar and when the sugar turns pink, add the paste and stir fry on a medium flame for 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, and fry, fry, fry. After about 15 minutes, add a little water and fry, fry, fry. Then add some more water and fry fry fry. And then add the fish and add enough water to immerse the fish and simmer for 15. Eat with rice.

Good Morning World. I love family recipes. They give people a sense of tradition, of belonging and of ownership of something bigger than themselves. Pretty much like households in a society, societies in a district, districts in a state, states in a country, countries in the world …


  1. Niloufer

    I’m going to make this….soon as I can lay my hands on a decent fish. What with the lockdown, fish isn’t reaching Pune…..or my corner of Pune. Will Surmai do if I can’t get Rohu?

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