You, dear reader, may already be aware that I am a Senior Lecturer and Barrister at City Law School. You may also know that I teach on the Bar Professional Training Course, helping Wannabe Barristers realise their dreams by training them in the essential skills and knowledge they will need for practice.
Well, many of my students come from Commonwealth nations, whose legal systems are founded on the basic principles of the law of England and Wales. It means that their young lawyers are able to qualify here, and creates a rich cultural exchange. I am often surprised how often that exchange relates to food. It appears that our common need to fill our bellies and our common desire to experience tasty food is one of the great barrier breakers. It helps us all sit across the same table from each other in an honest and genuine way.
I meet, through my work a whole host of amazing young people. Rupa Aminuzzaman is one of my lovely former students. Originating from Bangladesh, Rupa completed the course last academic year, through her steely determination, good humour and work ethic.
Elish Maanch is a quintessentially Bengali fish, much beloved in Bangladesh and in the East of India. My family originate from the region, but were displaced in the partition of 1947. They, like many other Hindu Bengalis, moved to West Bengal post Partition. There were many atrocities both during and after the Partition, on all sides of the 2 borders. It is a sad set of episodes in the history of the subcontinent.
However, Bengalis, whether living in Bangladesh or West Bengal in India love their Elish (or Ilish) Maanch (or Maach, meaning "fish"). It is a key element of the culinary heritage of their people. Fish is plentiful, cheap and nutritious.
Bengalis have a reputation of being intellectuals. Nobel prize winning poet and author Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali (incidentally, he gave a certain M.K. Gandhi the title 'Mahatma' meaning great soul). It is thought across the rest of India that this is due to the high consumption of fish. There is an Indian saying mothers tell their children: 'Eat your fish and become brainy like the Bengalis'. When they say it, they are thinking about bright buttons like Rupa. They are not thinking of me.
Looking into Elish Maanch, it appears that it is high in Omega 3 oils, which assist good brain function. Apparently, they provide "insulation" to the nerve cells of the brain. This improves their efficient communication and it is thought that those whose diet is low Omega 3 oils are more susceptible to bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, depression and schizophrenia. Who would have thought what sounded like an 'old wives tale' turned out to have some truth to it?
Elish Maanch is available in some Indian and Bangladeshi shops in the UK. I am sure you can substitute with other fish. If you want to know more about Elish Maanch, have a read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilish
I'm really proud to host this recipe which is part of my cultural heritage, even though I have never lived in India or Bangladesh and do not speak the language. It is still part of my life experience, having had my mother, aunties and granny make this for me, which I ate with relish.
Now it is over to Rupa who wanted to say a few words before launching into her recipe:
Eating or cooking Elish maach always reminds me of home, sitting around the dinner table with my mum, dad and my little brother. It was the one fish that we all agreed upon. My father is an avid fish eater, my mother loves her veggies, my little brother was a hardcore carnivore and usually only ate red meat, while I was a lover of all things poultry. So in a way elish maach unified us.
My mother could cook elish maach safe in the knowledge that we would all eat it, and moreover eat with relish and without complaint. It is because of this that I will always have a soft spot for elish maach. It makes me nostalgic and reminds me of my family especially as now we are all scattered across the globe.
So bon appetit everyone!
Elish Maanch (Fish) Dupiaza cooked in Mustard Oil
To serve: 3 to 4 people as a main with plain long grain or basmati rice
6 or 7 fillets of Elish fish
2 medium to large onions, roughly sliced
2 whole green chillies, slit down the middle
Half a teaspoon of turmeric powder
Half a teaspoon of coriander powder
Quarter teaspoon of cumin powder
Quarter teaspoon of bay leaf powder
2 tablespoons of mustard oil
Half a lemon
Half a cup of water
Salt to taste
1. Put the fish fillets in a non-metallic bowl or large plate and squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the fish.
2. Add the sliced onions to the bowl with the fish fillets.
3. In a separate bowl add the spices: turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and bay leaf powder. Add a tablespoon of water until the mixture forms in to a paste.
4. Add the spice paste to the fish fillets and onion. Mix in the spice paste until the fish fillets and onion are completely marinated with the spice paste.
5. Add the mustard oil to a frying pan over medium heat.
6. Add the fish fillets, onion and spice mixture to the frying pan. After about 5 minutes check to see that fish fillets are adequately cooked and browned on one side and then carefully turn each of the fish fillets over.
7. Once the fish fillets are adequately cooked and browned on both sides add half a cup of water to the frying pan. Simmer for 5 mins on low heat.
8. Add the green chillies and salt to taste.
9. Serve the fish with steamed/boiled long grain rice or basmati rice.