The diversity in India always amazes me. I often think that it’s no less than a miracle that India still survives as a ‘united’ country in spite of all the differences in language, culture, ethnicity and religion. Bengal is no exception, and especially Calcutta is like a melting pot of all the states. However, coexistence does not automatically translate to mutual appreciation, and conspicuous differences exist even between close geographical neighbors. A prime example of this comes from Bengalis, who generally belong to two sub types: ghotis (people who are originally from West Bengal) and bangals (people originally from East Bengal, now Bangladesh). More than forty years after the latest wave of bangal migration into India, the Bengali zeitgeist shows no inclination towards a unified ghoti-bangal culture. Personally, I was very proud of my bangal heritage and used to engage in long heated arguments with my ghoti friends to prove that we were the superior when it comes to food and hard work. I was stupid and ignorant. I blindly repeated things which were told to me by my close and extended family members (and so did my ghoti friends as well). We didn’t learn to rationalize or discern if there was any truth to these arguments.
Over time, my rigidity in this matter has lessened. Part of this may be due to the location of my childhood home. Till the age of sixteen, I lived in a ghoti neighborhood with very few bangals. However, despite the distinct sociocultural differences, there were no animosities, no exclusions and definitely no negative feelings. We lived together happily and learned from each other, sharing food with our neighboring jethimas and kakimas (aunts) and distributing the prasad (offering during the religious occasions) to our ghoti neighbours during kojagori Laxmi pujo (autumn festival of the goddess Laxmi). I loved the knacha narkol bhora sedhdho puli (steamed rice dessert filled with raw coconut and eaten with liquid molasses) made by my neighboring jethima (elderly aunt). I loved it so much that my mother had to learn from her and it’s a staple in my household now. Even though both of my parents are bangals, we have a distinct ghoti influence in some things we eat, as my mother was a newlywed bride when she moved to that neighborhood and she learned much of her early cookery from our ghoti neighbors.
However, things may gradually be moving in the direction of integration. Younger people from both communities are sharing each other’s food. Still sometimes jokes about bangals and ghotis creep into adda (pointless chitchat unique to the Bengali
race community) but it’s more for fun than to claim cultural superiority. In keeping with this spirit, the recipe I am sharing below on this does not belong to any particular group and has no identity except that it’s a Bengali recipe and this is how my mother makes it.
Fish head/Muri/Muro: Half a large head or one small head, preferably from a freshwater carp
Cinnamon: 2-3”, broken into smaller pieces
Bay leaves: 2
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Garam masala: ½ tsp
Ghee: ½ tbsp
Mustard/vegetable/corn oil: 3-4 tbsp
Potato: 2 medium or one large
Gobindobhog rice: 11/2 cup
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Red chili powder: 11/2 tsp
Tomato: One medium
Green chili: 3-4
Garam masala powder: ½ tsp
Salt to taste
How to cook:
- Wash the rice with several changes of water and then soak with water for 15-20 minutes. Drain all the water or as much as possible.
- Marinate the washed and clean fish head with salt and turmeric and keep it aside for 15-20 minutes.
- Add chili powder to the ginger-garlic paste and make a paste of it (GGC paste).
- Heat up the oil and add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Sauté them a little bit and then add the bay leaves.
- Once the bay leaves change color, add the chopped onion. Sauté until translucent.
- Add the GGC masala paste, cook on medium flame for few minutes.
- Drop in the chopped tomato, add turmeric, half a tsp of salt and then cook it until the oil separates.
- Throw in the potatoes in the masala paste and coat the potatoes with the masala and let it cook for 5 minutes or so.
- Finally add the drained rice and cook it for 5-10 minutes.
- Add water, salt to taste, stir and cover the pot. Let it come to a boil and then reduce the flame to medium.
- After around 10 minutes, uncover the pot and add the fish head and add the green chilis.
- Cook it on low flame and after few minutes, break the fish head a little bit to incorporate the flavor into the rice. Mix well.
- Cook for few more minutes until all the water is absorbed and both the rice and the potatoes are cooked.
- Mix the ghee with the garam masala powder and add it to the rice mixture. Mix it well and immediately cover the pot so that the aroma doesn’t escape.
- Serve hot.
PS: My husband eats this with rice. I eat this by itself. That’s how we ate it at my parent’s place. If you do not find the above mentioned rice, you can cook it with any atap rice you find, but the best is the Gobindobhog variety. It is sold as Kalijeera rice in the Bangladeshi stores here in the US. I prefer the tomatoes to be red, plump and juicy. I absolutely hate the thick skinned, hard, pale red roma tomato variety. But if you have only that in hand, go ahead.
Muri or muro is the Bengali name for fish head. Ghanto is a preparation where individual components of the dish is not completely intact. It’s like mishmash. You can find two more murighanto recipes here and here.