I am certain all traditional Bengali wedding feasts have served the Rui Maacher Kalia, before the buffet days came and spoilt it all with their chowmeins, vegetarian machurians, and chicken jhalfreizis. Not to mention the Fish Begum Bahar!
I am yet to understand why traditional Bengali wedding feasts had to be replaced by these modern-day buffets where everything pretty much tasted the same. Plus you had to queue up in front of the food with cheap China or melamine plates, instead of being “served” like a queen!
As a kid, the only thing that got me excited about weddings were their feasts. I would plan for days what I’d wear and more importantly which were the things I’d eat or say no to. To the Bubais and the Baantys who would come loaded with “items” to be served for the biyer bhoj (wedding feast). They would come serving rows of guests sitting cross-legged on dhurries from a certain Raja Tent House, eating off shaal paata’r thala (sal leaf plates).
Sitting cross-legged at wedding feasts, sometimes with complete strangers had its own challenges. I was often troubled by the feeling of my knees rubbing with other people, and if I was flanked by my cousins, it would soon become a war of the knees, knocking each other’s knee caps – tomfoolery becoming very violent until one of us got screamed at by some elder. But what tormented me most was that leaking khuri, or a missing wedge of lemon which Shontu da forgot to drop on my plate while his brother Montu was neatly giving pinches of salt to everyone.
I would be a finicky eater too, carefully declining the less interesting shaak or begun bhaja and waiting for the real delicacies. I mostly swayed between luchi-cholaar dal and mansgho-pulao. Nothing in between.
The in between was always the king of all fish- Rohu in its kalia form. I was definitely not going to eat Rui Maacher Kalia which always preceded the mutton curry. Why would I, when I got to eat it at least once a week at home! And this is how my Mum would make it the days the maach wala (fish monger) got paka rui (a full grown fish of about 2.5+ kilos).
Ingredients for the Rui Maacher Kalia are:
4 pieces of Rohu (gaada pieces)
2 medium size potatoes cut into halves
1 medium size red onion finely chopped
1 medium size ripe tomato, coarsely chopped
Handful of finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons garlic paste
2 teaspoons ginger paste
Pinch of garam masala powder
2 + 1 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 teaspoons red chili powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 small cinnamon stick
2 green cardamoms
1 black cardamom
2 bay leaves
Rub salt and a couple of teaspoons of turmeric powder on the pieces of fish. Heat mustard oil in a wok and deep fry the fish.
In the same oil, fry the potato halves till they get golden on the edges. Keep aside while you ready ingredients for the gravy.Heat the leftover oil from frying the fish (reduce if more than two tablespoon), add whole spices – bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms and sauté for a minute. I always add a pinch of sugar and let it caramelize before I add the chopped onions. This way the gravy gets a rich, dark color, the trademark of a kalia (a rich preparation of fish, meat or vegetables using generous quantities of oil or ghee and a sauce made of ginger-garlic paste and onions, flavored with gorom moshla).
Fry the onions till they get a nice golden color, but not burn.
Now add the ginger-garlic paste and fry till they get cooked.
Now add the powdered spices – red chili, cumin, coriander and turmeric.
Add the chopped tomatoes. Keep pressing the tomatoes with the back of the ladle to get the juices out. All this cooking needs to be done on low-medium heat. Season with salt and sugar.
Add little water along with the pieces of fried potatoes and simmer.Once the potatoes are cooked, add the pieces of fried fish. Cook on high for five minutes. Season with some garam masala powder (I make a homemade powder of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom).
Fried fish is already cooked, and overcooking would be disastrous as the pieces get mashed and start disintegrating.