Monday, November 8, 2010

Pabda mach'er Shorsher Jhaal - Fish in spicy mustard sauce

It has been raining since yesterday night continously.Purbaon Pal was left worrying about what lays ahead in his life. He has piles of work to do. There are few Deliveries to be made on Sunday morning. People from Beliaghata and from Dhakuria are coming on Sunday morning to fetch their Barwarir May’er Protima.
This year he was pleased to get few orders from overseas also, far off places like Poland and even one from Switzerland. He was glad that he finally managed to deliver the protima/clay idols just in time. It has been two weeks now that his helpers have shipped the clay idols to those countries. He felt a sense of contentment that at least people from overseas will perhaps get their protima in time.
He looked outside and up in the sky, and seeing grey thick clouds hovering again, started to worry about his so many unfinished works. Sharavan Maas has started yesterday and he has still many idols left to finish off.

People around him knew how good he is in making Clay Idols. People often say he has “Magic hands”, which brings lifeless clay idols into being vivacious and full of life. He has been a pioneer in this business and had crafted many fine pieces of clay sculpture or Idols. He and his forefathers have been in this business for almost a century or so now. He is one of the best “Kumar’s” (Potters or sculptures who make Durga Idols) in this famous landmark of Kolkata known as “Kumartoli”. But sad part of his life was that his two sons don’t want to pursue their family business and make protima for livelihood.
People from Belighata are insisting him to finish rest of the work of painting and “Chokho-daan” in the make-shift Pujo Mandap itself. This makes him little uneasy as it involves to and fro bus journey and spending quite an amount of time outside his home. He would have gone out there, but with growing age he has lost the agility of a young body. He perhaps would have asked his eldest son to do the “Chokho-daan” but being the head of the family he has to perform this ritual. And moreover his eldest son is not very keen on making Protima either.
A loud sound of thunderstorm broke the chain of thoughts and he realized that he needed some more clay to mold the hand. He quickly started to concentrate on finishing, molding of Idol’s hand. He knew proper sunshine is required for drying up the hay and mud structure. He finished the “protima” in few more hours. As “Godhuli Bela” was approaching, he thought perhaps he would freshen up a little bit with a cup of tea.
He asked one of his helper to keep the newly finished idols in a separate workshop adjacent to the working area meant for drying up the idols. They have kept some pedestal fans on for drying up the Clay idols in that workshop also. He felt nervous imagining the amount of work that still is left unfinished.
Imagining the situation, he shouted on Bhola , his one of associates - “ki rey Bhola , koto deri hoche plaster of paris ta banate”.Bhola,put down his cup of tea on floor hurriedly and started working on making plaster of paris.Two other helpers also started to speed up their working on other protima- Ganesh and Karthik.
Monsoon is one notorious season in Bengal.
In a small kitchen Purbaoun‘s wife, Nirupa was working on her “sheel nora” with some mustard seeds and some green chilies.And occasionally she would start worrying about the continuous heavy showers.
She remembered few days back “Purot mashayi” told them that this year Ma Durga is coming on “dolna”/swing and her “gaman” or returning to her home Kailash is on “gaj”/elephant. Usually gaman on Gaj meant prosperity and happiness.
She was grinding Mustard seeds on Sheel Nora to make shorsh’er bata for Pabda mach’er shorshe batar Jhaal.Nabin her eldest son has brought fresh fish from the fish market this morning before going to his work as a dutiful “Bengali Bhadralok”.They were a family of four, husband –wife and two sons.Nabin used to help his father in making clay idols but not anymore now. He has got a more secure job in a local bank as cashier and making clay idols for hours was not his first preference now.
Youngest son Niladri was still in college and for him life meant a big session of adda with his friends, and spending time on big city multiplexes. He is least bothered about his paternal profession or anything that goes inside his home.
Purbaoun Pal and his forefathers have been churning out Durga Clay Idol for the past 60 years now or may be even more .He had seen his grandfather work enormous amount of time with his father and other helpers to make Durga Protima/idol.
He realized that journey ahead is tough as he is getting old and his children don’t want to pursue his dreams any more. He looks up in the sky, more dark and thick clouds starts hovering around sky. Clear and blue sky seems a far cry here.

The story is a work of fiction but is inspired by those talented artists who churn out so beautiful and mesmerizing clay idols year after years which we worship as "Ma Durga".

Many like Purbaon Pal are struggling to make a decent life out of making Clay Idols. So, when ever you stop and gaze over beautiful protima/Clay idols, just try to recall those highly gifted and able hands that molds such beautiful creations. And manifest larger than life Protima/idols despite their difficulty in sustaining a decent life.

Few Bengali words

Barwari- A place where Durga Puja is conducted. It’s usually a local area where people form a sort of community and make a temporary Puja Mandap to worship Ma Durga.
“Purot Moshayi”- A priest who performs any Hindu rituals like Puja etc.
“Godhuli Bela”- Evening time of the day when sun is still not set.
“Kumars”- A clay idol sculpture or potter who makes clay idols. They live in famous landmark Kumartoli in Kolkata.
“Chokho Daan”- A very important ritual of making Clay Idol’s Eyes specially the third eye over the forehead .As this brings out the beauty and vivacity to the lifeless clay idol. This ritual is often performed by the elder or head of the Kumar Family. It’s even heard that many a times for “Kumars” this acts as a transit mode where they connect with God and often go on uncontrolled crying. They can feel God and so sometimes it becomes difficult to control tears. A very heart touching experience.

Pabda mach’er shorshe bata diye jhaal

Recipe procedure and requirements
5 pabda fish or about 500 gms of pabda fish
Ground mustard powder –approx 1 tsp
Salt as per taste
Wash and clean the fish well.
If you are using frozen fish like my case here. Then perhaps take them out prior 1-2 hrs and soak the entire packet in a big bowl with enough water. Usually fish here comes in packets and layered inside ice.
Remove and clean the gut of the fish well with water. Be careful as sometimes if you are lucky, fish may contain egg or fish roes.
And if you get fresh pabda fish then nothing is comparable.
Heat up a wok or kadhai, add approx quarter cup of mustard oil or any cooking oil. I would say please do not use olive oil as it will overpower the flavor of mustard seed paste.
Now fry the fish over medium flame. This fish is slimy so be careful while frying it as it splutters quite oil. Tip- if you think you may sprinkle some plain flour over it before frying the fish. This may stop spluttering.
Now after you have fried the fish. If there is still some oil left, then its good otherwise add some more oil to the wok/pan or what-ever you are using it at the time of making. Add apporx 2-4 tbs of mustard oil.
Then add about 1 cup of water, 2-3 garlic pods chopped, 3-4 green chilly slit in between, 1 tomato chopped finely.
Bring the mixture to one strong boil and then add fried fish.
Now prepare the mustard seed paste
Mix about 3-4 tsp of mustard seed powder-recipe Here
2-3 heaped tsp of red pepper powder
Salt as per taste
2 -4 tbs of yogurt
2 tbs of mustard oil
Mix well and prepare this thick paste.
After 7-10 mints at low flame, fish will be cooked or become soft.
Carefully take off the wok/pan from the flame. Add the prepared thick mustard seed paste, mix well.
Add some chopped coriander leaves and cover the pan/wok/kadhai with lid. No need to cook further as the mustard seed paste will become bitter.
Serve and enjoy with rice.
This is a very spicy and tangy preparation of Pabda fish; if you think you can’t handle that much of spiciness then reduce the hotness and spice. But trust me unless Shorsh’er bata makes you perspire on your forehead and nose, hammering in head and tears in eyes while eating, you haven’t eaten the real deal here.
You can substitute green chilly with Jalapenos or Serrano peppers.And addition of tomato is not compulsory but it really lifts the tangy , spicy taste of pabda shorshe jhaal.

This post is for Chalks and Chopsticks  being hosted here and a brainchild of Aqua at Served With Love .Send in your entry before Nov 30 and join the fun.

Happy Cooking friends


  1. First I thought you were writting about what was going on inyour life :-)
    Delicious looking curry , i would love to have it inus the head with rice :-)

  2. Beautiful story and the pabda jhol looks delicious

  3. Very tempting curry, just drooling here..

  4. ddelicious curry and a lovely story.

  5. Okay, now I have to go in search of food. This fish curry has me drooling.

  6. Aargh! The story event, how can I forget? But I did. It looks like plenty of time now but ... I hope I don't miss this.

  7. Happy,
    really? that would be very interesting then, imagine myself making those beautiful idols..yes it goes well with rice..thanks for coming ..


    Even whenever I see it , makes me crave for it.

    how are you?
    and thanks for coming by..

    wow! what a pleasent surprise here and thanks for coming..

    dont tell me you forgot the story event :-),it seems you are really very busy..we have plenty of time ,do send in some of your masterpieces , alright!

    thanks for following and warm welcome here ..enjoy your stay here..
    Thanks all for coming here
    hugs and smiles

  8. What a beautiful story you have here! Thanks for sharing! I am so impressed with the whole idea.

  9. Such a lovely story and best part were those Bengali terms sprinkled all over the post. They render nice authenticity :-).

    Thanks for sharing with us all Jaya and hosting this event.

    Happy Holidays,


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