Bengali kids are initiated into eating fish head from a very tender age and so very soon they learn to do it with a panache that very few non-Bongs can contend.
By tender age I mean at the age of 6-7 months when they have not tasted anything beyond mother's milk or formula. At their Annaprashan or Rice Ceremony, an occasion to mark the intake of first morsel of rice by a Bengali baby, they are offered to suck on a finger dipped in Paayesh and then presented with a silver plate with rice, dal, bhaja, maacher muro(fried fish head), fish curry, chaatni, mishti. Of course the baby is not even allowed to eat such stuff but a moment with the fish head is captured on either a film roll or a piece of memory(not human but digital). For fish loving Bongs anything fishy is "not fishy" but auspicious and might even bring good luck.
When we were kids we were pushed into this barbaric activity (of eating fish head) with an incentive that devouring fish head especially the brain part of it would enrich our brains and also make our vision stronger."Khub buddhi hobe (You will have a high intelligence)", my Ma or Aunt or some other such person would shout over the din and we would deftly manouevre a tricky head and suck with might. What we would do with so much "buddhi" was a question that was never asked.
By the time we were teenagers and had lost sight to myopia and also lost faith in "more buddhi" when we saw veggie eating South Indians topping the IIT-JEE every year, we were so used to eating a fish head that we relished it even without the added incentive.
The deed was done, we were now fish head loving converts for life.
Muri Ghonto is a dry dish made with fried fish head (known as maacher matha or muro in Bengali), potatoes, very little rice and myriad spices. Don't turn up your nose, it smells nothing but heavenly and tastes more so. If you haven't sucked onto a piece of fish head and pondered on the complexities of life while doing so, you have not lived a full life.
To eat and relish Muri Ghonto you need a long leisurely afternoon, enough time to deal with fish head pieces without being rushed, family banter in the background to convince you that everything is right in the world, company that will let you sit cross-legged on your dining chair and rest your elbows on the table, people who will not make fun of your facial expressions and of course a nice nap afterward.
Get this recipe in my Book coming out soon. Check this blog for further updates.
Now I was always used to a Muri Ghonto with rice and potatoes till the other day I had a discussion with the nanny. She is a Bengali but from Bangladesh and I had no idea that there was so much difference in cuisine across the borders. She said she had never even heard of Muri Ghonto with rice and instead they make it with Dal or Lentils. What she makes is more like our Maacher matha diye Dal(Lentil with fish head) and nowhere near my dear own Muri Ghonto.
So I made Muri Ghonto our way last week after a long long time. I don't make this very often so I eyeballed the ingredients and the measurements are approximate. It tasted great and while I had mine with Rice, D had his just by itself. The kids in my home, they are the generation of Bengali kids who are not pushed into eating a Maacher Matha and so avoid it, maybe the time will come for them to get "more buddhi" soon.
Muri Ghonto -- a dry dish with Fish Head
Makes just enough for two bong fish lovers
Prep: Wash and clean fish head, sprinkle salt and turmeric and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. I used half of a regular sized fish head for fish like Rohu or Rui. I have not used fish head of salt water fish or any other fish than Rohu for this dish ever and do not know how it might taste.
Heat Oil in a Kadhai/Frying Pan
Fry the Fish head till its nicely fried, it should turn a nice shade of yellowish brown. While frying try breaking it into medium sized pieces, kind that is easier to suck on but will not choke you. Remove and keep aside.
Fry 2 cut and cubed potatoes to a light golden, remove and keep aside
Temper the Oil with a large Bay Leaf, 2 green cardamom and a 1/2" cinnamon stick
Add the paste of one medium sized onion and fry till the oil separates and the onion has taken on a light brownish hue
Add 1-2 tsp of fresh grated ginger, 2-3 slit green chillies, 1 tsp of Cumin powder and saute the masala with a sprinkle of water for couple of minutes. Now add back the potatoes
Saute for a minute
Add 1/3 cup of uncooked and washed Basmati Rice. If you have Gobindo bhog( a variety of rice popular in Bengal), it's better.
Fry for a couple of minutes and add the fried fish head pieces.
Add 1 tsp of fresh Garam Masala Powder, 1/4 tsp or less of Red Chilli Powder, salt and mix well.
Add about 1 cup of water and cover and cook at low heat.
Check to see if you need water in between, and stir in between.
Cook till the rice and potatoes are done. It should be moist but will not have a gravy.
Top it with a little ghee, lends a wonderful flavor
*Buddhi -- intelligence, brains
Trivia: The reason fish is so good for the brain is the so-called omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Oily fish, like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, bluefish and black cod, are the best sources of those special fats. One of the omega-3s—DHA—is the main constituent of cell membranes in the brain, and a deficiency of it can weaken the brain's architecture and leave it vulnerable to disease.