I have been very vocal about my love for Bengali food and my obsession with Illish or Hilsa. You will be surprised to know that even though I have been a non vegetarian since I was a child, I would always skip Illish because I was under the notion that it smells bad. I don’t really remember where that came from, but I tasted a proper piece of Hilsa only about five years ago at a friend’s place. I was invited for lunch and her mother had very lovingly prepared a meal comprising chorchori, kakrol bhaja and shorshe bata Illish. The only reason I convinced myself to eat the fish was because I did not want to come across as disrespectful and rude as a guest. and the moment i took my first bite from a fine piece of illish generously coated with the pungent mustard paste I nearly cried. Nearly. That flavour of a very fresh, soft illish with the richness of mustard still lingers in my mouth. I still regret for having missed out on illish for the first twenty plus years of my life and if you read further into my post about Bengali Pice Hotels, you will get a clear picture about the great lengths i go to for an illish meal. So when The Gateway Hotel extended an invitation to me to come over and preview their famed annual Hilsa festival, I was super excited! ( I may or may not have slept due to sheer excitement the night before)
The Gateway Hotel is one place where a simple tasting event with fellow bloggers becomes a hearty adda session with friends, filled with laughter and enjoyment every single time. Devraj Singh, GM, The Gateway Hotel ( and a very well informed bird enthusiast and photographer) always greets us with a warm smile and makes us feel at home.
Chef Ashish, (who probably has some magical wand with the help of which he manages to create some of the best dishes ever) is a sea of knowledge about local, regional and international food, cooking styles and ingredients. Anindya from Pikturenama has rightly named him ‘The Magician’ . This time the magician floored us all with his brilliant Hilsa preparations.
We started on a very unconventional and continental take on Illish – The Baked Hilsa with Parmesan, Herb Pilaf and Vegetables. Though I am sold to the Bengali style Illish, this dish tasted so good and I feel that its a great option for people who are not fond of the taste of mustard or the presence of bones in the fish. It was accompanied by their homemade multi grain bread which I absolutely loved the last time I was there for the South Indian Food Festival.
And then came some brilliant illish dishes, one after the other which had me spellbound by the fact that this fish is actually very versatile unlike most notions. The llish Korma was a different, north Indian take, while the Doi Illish tasted very comforting because the presence of curd in the gravy gave the dish a very creamy twist which I absolutely loved. Of course there was the traditional Shorshe Bata Illish cooked in Dhakai style and there was this stand out dish which I must mention – The Aam Kashundi Illish – Illish in a raw mango – mustard sauce – a tangy fruity Illish preparation which was one of the best dishes in the spread that day.
The stars of the show for me were however the simple, crispy Illish Machher Bhaja, with a huge chunk of precious Illish Caviar or Illisher deem & the Illisher Chop – crispy on the outside, the filling was a little sweet and spicy, complimenting illish’s own original flavour very well. Strangely, every rainy evening I find myself craving a plate of Illisher Chop with some kashundi and peyanj. That’s the magic of monsoons in Bengal – It makes life difficult for a Hangla like me (incase you don’t know what that means, as a Bengali friend).
The preview ended on a sweet note, with Gateway Hotel’s Ghore Pata Mishti Doi or Home Made Mishti Doi. You will be amazed to know that they make all their sweets themselves, from the mishti doi, roshogolla, gulaab jamun to the rabri, kalakand etc and they will never serve you sweets purchased from a sweet shop.
This Hilsa festival began on 14th July and is on till the end of August and if you love Illish, then a visit to the Gateway Hotel for the Hilsa Festival is highly recommended. The menu with pricing is listed below.