Where Fish is Culture, 10 Must Try Fish Recipes from the East

After exploring seafood from the South we move to the East in our seafood journey. The East has a unique bond with fish, especially the fresh water fish. Fish here, completes a meal. Even though fish is undoubtedly the toughest edible item to buy, handle and cook, the locals here do it with such panache that you will be surprised.  Relish the exquisite taste of authentic seafood from West Bengal, Odisha & Bihar where sensational seafood is mixed with heart-warming masalas and cooked home-style. Trying these will give you a glimpse of the culinary tradition of these states as well as the regional variations. Without a doubt these aromatic delicacies will get you hooked.


Fish is an integral part of Bengali culture, be it auspicious occasions like Annaprashon (a child’s first rice-eating ceremony), JamaiShoshti (an annual ceremony where sons-in-laws are fed an elaborate meal), PoilaBoishakh (Bengali New Year), Durga Puja, Kali Puja, wedding feasts and even the totto (wedding trousseau)! Fish is the dominant kind of protein in Bengal. More than forty types of mostly freshwater fish are common, including carp varieties like Rui (Rohu) , Koi (Climbing perch), the wriggling Catfish family—Tangra, Magur, Shingi, Pabda (the pink-bellied Indian Butter Fish), Katla, Ilish (Hilsa), as well as Shuţki (small dried sea fish). Chingri (Prawn) is particularly popular and comes in varieties—Kucho (tiny Shrimp), Bagda (Tiger Prawns) or Galda (Scampi).

1. Daab Chingri – Prawns cooked in Tender Coconut, West Bengal

A Bong classic! Daab Chingri as the name suggests is an amazing Bengali dish where the prawns are cooked inside the green or tender coconut, acquiring the rich taste and flavor of tender coconut or daab. Pungent mustard sauce, with soft melt in mouth prawns and the fresh hit of green chillies, pair with a mound of simple white rice. That’s perfection on a plate.The tender coconut imparts a subtle and distinct flavor to the dish. The number of spices used for this recipe is so less that it would suit any palate. The soft and creamy gravy makes up for a lip smacking experience. Serve it in a rustic manner right in the tender coconut itself for a party and amaze your guests.

Recipe: Daab Chingri

2. Ilish Macher Kalojeer Jhol – Hilsa Fish with Nigella, West Bengal

Ilish or TenualosaIlisha is popular in many states, called Bhing in Gujarat, Pallain Andhra and Illish in Bengal, connoisseurs eagerly pay any price for a fresh piece of Ilish.  Rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acid, Hilsa is best harvested in the monsoon when it migrates upstream from the sea. Apart from the rustic Shorshe Ilish (Hilsa in mustard gravy), Ilish Paturi (Hilsa cooked wrapped in banana leaves), BhapaIlish (steamed Hilsa), Aam Ilish (Hilsa in a green mango curry) or the Ilish Biryani (Hilsa Biryani), you might come across scrumptious fusion Ilish recipes in Bengali restaurants as well. Come monsoons, Bengalis are hooked to this fish. It’s said no part of the fish is wasted, everything is put to use from its oil, fish eggs to fish head and is fondly eaten too. This fish is high in fat content and the oil that comes out after frying this fish is also used in fish curries. Having IIish is an acquired taste, the fish is bony; it has a distinct flavour and smell. But if you do dare to try this recipe, you will see how the flavors come together perfectly. And if you do not know how to choose the prefect Hilsa, look for some who can or get hold of already prepped fish for this recipe.

Recipe: Ilish Macher Kalojeer Jhol

3. Pabda Tel Bori Jhol – Butter Fish Curry with Lentil Dumplings, West Bengal

Pabda is one of the many sweet water fishes that Bengalis love to eat. It’s a very delicate fish and is also known as Pabo Catfish. Pabdais one of my favourites too. It only has a central bone making it hassle free to eat. This Indian Butterfish is full of flavor making it perfect for a light gravy or jhol as it is called in Bengal. The addition of handmade lentil dumplings, also called bori, add to the taste of nostalgic home cooking.  A very traditional dish that one must try at least once. It is quite spicy and has a thick curry sauce. It is served with plain white rice.You will find many different recipes that include this fish, one of the most famous being Doi Pabda,  Pabda Fish with curd.

Recipe: Pabda Tel Bori Jhol

4. Chingri Malai Curry – Prawns in Traditional Coconut Cream Curry, West Bengal

This elegant Bengali classic uses coconut milk to flavor large juicy prawns. This rich and  creamy preparation doesn’t taste too spicy, and you can experience the flavor of the shrimp or prawn at its epitome! This dish is generally a part of a Bengali menu, especially on occasions. Be it jumbo prawns or small shrimps, Bengalis love to include them in their cooking in myriad ways. There are other traditional dishes in Bengal where shrimps are cooked with bottle gourd (Lau Chingri) or cabbage (Badhakopir Ghonto Chingri Mach Diye). So, go get yourself some nice, fresh de-veined and de-shelled prawns to cook up this delight, you can find the recipe of this simple and subtle curry here:

Recipe: Chingri Malai Curry

5. Topse Macher Bhaja – Mango Fish Fry, West Bengal

An exotic dish,Topse comes from the word Tapas which means means sage. Topse is a delicious sweet water fish. These are small fish with a single central bone and such fish are very good for deep frying.The Topse also called the Mango Fish, is a sea fish that swims upstream to breed in the river waters during the mango season. Like the Hilsa, which shares a similar journey, it is also a Bengali favourite. The day before a marriage in Bengal is celebrated as Aiburobhat and on that day a typical traditional lunch is served to the bride or groom in their respective homes as their last lunch before marriage. Topse Macher Bhaja finds its coveted place in this important ceremony. The besan (chickpea flour) coated method of frying is one of the tastiest ways of having this fish. You can serve this Topse fry as a snack or with steamed rice, ghee and kasundi (Bengali mustard sauce) and hot green chilly. Way too tempting!

Recipe: Topse Macher Bhaja


Odisha, previously known as Orissa is traditionally famous for its mouth watering delicacies. The coastal state boasts of a huge menu that spans over different varieties of rice, lentils, desserts and seafood. With a simple yet delicious cuisine, Odisha (Orissa) follows a food pattern that is somewhat similar to the neighboring states. A typical Odia meal will comprise rice, dal, a vegetable dish or two, something fried, and a fish curry or mutton curry. A significant proportion of population here relishes fish and other sea food delicacies like Prawns, Crabs and Lobsters that are found in plenty at the vast coastline of the state.Popular fishes are Rohu, Pabda, Katla, Bhetki as well as Chingudi (Shrimp). Mustard oil, besara (mustard seeds pounded with garlic), panchphutana (panchphoron / five spices) are three important ingredients in the cuisine.

6. Macha Tarkari – Odia Style Rohu Fish Curry, Odisha

A lip smacking curry from my humble state and one of the classic curries that the Odias love to showcase. A journey to Orissa is never complete without slurping the Macha Jholo. Macha in Odia means Fish; and Jhola means to a light gravy.  So if you are looking for a light, simple and flavor packed fish curry, then this Odia fish curry recipe is definitely a keeper and worth a bookmark.Made with only a few ingredients this fish curry has a distinct flavour. The addition of potatoes adds depth of flavor and texture to the dish. There are numerous ways of cooking fish in the state depending on the texture, size, fat content and bones. It could be fried, roasted in a spicy tomato based gravy (lal jholo), a mustard based sauce with green chillies and posto (poppy seeds), with seasonal vegetables, or even cooked with yogurt.

Recipe: Macha Tarkari

7. Kankada Tarkari – Crab Curry

Another Odia delicacy which is an important part of special weekend lunches is the Crab Curry cooked with a delicate balance of spices. A spicy Crab Curry cooked with hot Indian spices, sliced red onion, and sliced potatoes will surely make your day. A fragrant medley of spices and aromatics, have it with a typical Odia Thali and get ready for that afternoon snooze. Cleaning and prepping the Crab may get quite tedious for you, so try to get hold of ready to use cut, cleaned and prepped crabs to make this one.

Recipe: Kankada Tarkari

8. Janhi Chinguditarkari – Ridge Gourd and Prawn Curry, Odisha

Did you know that prawn goes well with certain vegetables like Ridge Gourd (Turai), Brinjal, Lady’s finger, Drumstick and Bottle Gourd (Lauki)? In Odisha local vegetables are added to fish curries to enhance their flavor. You will find that the Macha Chencheda, fish head and tail cooked with seasonal vegetables especially cabbage is another delicacy of the region. I grew up eating a concoction of spinach, potatoes and prawns in light mustard gravy.So take my word, the combination of vegetables and seafood totally works. This home-style spicy recipe with prawns and ridge gourd not only serves as a delicious recipe but also helps to give a simple vegetable recipe a hearty flavour of meat.
Aunique dish to serve up to your guests if you are willing to experiment in your kitchen.

Recipe: Janhi Chingudi Tarkari
9. Macha Besara – Fish in Spicy Mustard Gravy, Odisha

Besara is a genre of Odia cooking style which is prepared with the soaked mustard, poppy seeds, garlic and chillies and ground to a fine paste. It is a base for most curries, leafy greens and vegetables cooked here.  Odia cuisine is known for its simplicity and delicate treatment of the ingredients. This is the most renowned fish recipe of Odisha. Fresh fillets of Rohu (Fresh Water Carp) are uniquely treated in this culinary classic from Orissa. Far from a regular fish curry, this dish is wildly aromatic, rich with the bold flavour of fresh turmeric. The special preparation technique of Machha Besara involves the Rohu first being marinated in a thick, mustard-ginger-garlic paste, then lightly pan-fried, dry mango pieces or ambula are added to the gravy to impart sourness and cut down the bitterness of mustard. Macha Besara can be made with Hilsa, Rohu, Tilapia or Cat fish. Served along with steamed rice and aloo bhaja (potato stir fry) on the side, it’s a complete meal.

Recipe: Macha Besara


Bihari cuisine is predominantly vegetarian because traditional Bihar society is influenced by Buddhist and Hindus. The cuisine of Bihar is primarily characterized by its use of locally available ingredients. The use of hand-picked vegetables and freshly crushed spices are a hallmark of this cuisine. In non vegetarian fare fresh water fish and mutton are quite popular.

10. Bihari Fish Fry

A very simple to make fish recipe that will take your breath away. All it needs is the freshest Carp that you can lay your hands on, marinate with the simplest of masalas and oil to pan fry. Squeeze a lime, sprinkle with the chaat masala and serve it with onion rings. The perfect recipe for your instant fish cravings.

Recipe: Bihari Fish Fry

Make sure you bookmark these home-style recipes. Stay tuned with us as we explore the seafood from North East next week.

About the Author
She day-dreams about new recipes, 
devours cook-books, writes, cooks and 
takes pictures of delicious food.
Monalisa Mehrotra

Image Credits:

Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: Prawns cooked in tender coconut
Image Credit: Hilsa Fish with Nigella
Image Credit: Butter Fish Curry with Lentil Dumplings
Image Credit: Prawns in Traditional Coconut Cream Curry
Image Credit: Mango Fish Fry
Image Credit: Odia Style Rohu Fish Curry
Image Credit: Crab Curry
Image Credit: Ridge Gourd and Prawn Curry
Image Credit: Fish in Spicy Mustard Gravy
Image Credit: Bihari Fish Fry

One Thought to “Where Fish is Culture, 10 Must Try Fish Recipes from the East”

  1. Thanks Guys, Your Recipe Was Too Fantastic. Me and My Family Loved it. I Will Share your Rrecipe with my friends. Hope they will love it too.

Leave a Comment