This article first appeared in The Juggernaut on November 23, 2022
The steaming banana leaf arrives on the table, enclosing a signature dish: bhapa hilsa. At London’s Chourangi restaurant, chefs coat the ilish maach, a beloved favorite of Bengalis, in a coconut and mustard marinade, painstakingly deboning it before wrapping it in leaves. Bhapa hilsa is a reassuringly expensive dish, the priciest on the menu at £27.50.
For those who are unfamiliar, ilish maach is a tender, bony fish rich in omega-3 acids — equally known for its concentrated flavor as it is for how difficult it is to eat. It is to Bengalis what wagyu beef is to the Japanese. Bengalis have written poems in honor of the fish. They proffer ilish maach to the goddesses Saraswati and Durga during pujas.