It was a backstage kinda dish. I mean while the choicest pieces of Ilish were fried and served as is in a bhaja, the beautiful steak pieces steamed as a bhapa in clinging mustard sauce with fluffed white rice, the fish roe were fried and served with the tel and fresh green chili, the head and the tail led a sad life in waiting.
"Too many bones. Can't eat it", said the young girls in the family with a toss of freshly washed step-cut hair.
"Not enough meat in these pieces", said the grown up men who thought it beneath themselves to be served a lyaja -- a fish tail.
"Rohu heads are better. This has a strong smell", said the younger men, their faces till gentle, their opinion yet not chauvinistic.
And so the matha and the lyaja -- the fish head and the fish tail -- waited in my Dida's kitchen till she was done with the bhaja, the jhaal, the jhol. By then the sun was high up, the crows sitting on the Neem tree outside the kitchen were tired of all the cawing, the neighborhood cat had a princely meal of Ilish fish scales and was patiently waiting by the kaltala for the remains from the men's lunch plates who could never chew on the fish bones. The kaajer mashi--the house help-- Minoti'r Ma was hovering around the back door waiting to see which piece she would be taking home.
It was then that my Dida opened up a green lidded plastic jar where lay a block of tamarind, brown, ripe and sticky wrapped in a piece of Bartaman.
The matha and the lyaja heaved relief. They loved the tauk. They loved being in that tangy, sweet liquid where they were the stars of the dish.
Minoti'r Ma stopped fretting and came to sit by the stove. I kept telling Ma that I would have lunch later with Dida and the older women. Dida put the kadahi back on the unoon and poured some more Mustard Oil in it. Minoti'r Ma rubbed the tamarind in a bowl full of water to take out the seeds and make the "kaath". The water slowly turned a deep burnt sienna and the kadhai hissed with scarlet red chili and mustard seeds. The matha and lyaja nudged each other and smiled. Their moment had come. As they bubbled in the tamarind gravy of the tauk sweetened by jaggery I waited patiently for the last course of my meal. The Ilish maacher Matha'r tauk.
My Mother made this tauk way back in March when she was visiting. I merely hovered around in anticipation. She and I are the only ones in the family who will eat this dish nowadays. So I wait for her--to visit us---and amidst many other things to cook me a Ilish Maacher tauk.
Ilish Maacher Matha'r Tauk -- Hilsa Head in a sweet-sour gravy
Clean head and tail piece of Hilsa. Rub with turmeric powder and salt and then keep aside for 15-20 mins. Fry head of Ilish till it is golden brown.
Make about 2 tbsp of tamarind paste by soaking ripe tamarind in warm water and then rubbing to take the seeds out.
Heat 1 tbsp Mustard Oil
Temper Oil with 1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds + 2 Dry red Chili
Add the tamarind paste and fry for a couple of minutes. Next add the fried fish head and fry for a minute. Add about 1 cup water and 4-5 heaped tbsp sugar or jaggery. Boil till the chutney thickens
Sprinkle with some bhaja masla
Ilish Maacher Matha diye Ambol at KichuKhonn