Bengali’s Fish Curry – A cultural identity

The other day, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a post from Mallika Basu (Food Consultant and Indian Food Writer) about traditional Indian staples that haven’t quite made it to the mainstream UK Indian Restaurant scene. And the first thing that came to my mind was the humble Bengali fish curry, or Bangalir Maachher Jhol. It made think, what is it about this dish that makes it such an important part of the Bengali culture?

Like many others, food is a very important part of the Bengali culture. So much so that sometimes it even defines the culture. It is not something is you just eat to survive or consume with your family within the walls of your home. It is something that brings the community together and fosters a sense of togetherness. In a land not affluent enough to share material gifts, it is something you give your friend, neighbours, and sometimes complete strangers, as a token to appreciation, affection and adulation.

In my personal experience and opinion, historically affluent cultures do not have a culture around food. It is more the non-affluent ones where food takes over the culture. When you think about the most popular cuisines in the world, it would normally involve Italian, Indian, Mexican or Greek – all countries that haven’t been very affluent in last few centuries. You don’t really hear British, American, Australian or Scandanavian cuisines stirring a storm in the restaurant scene, outside their native countries. I have no research to support this, but is that because the population of these countries became so obsessed with success on an economic field, they forgot to nurture the basic joys of life, such as good food? Perhaps a question to ponder another day.

Growing up in the Indian state of West Bengal, fish curry is something you cannot escape from. For the gastronomical Bengali race, a day without maachh-bhaat (fish & rice) is considered a day wasted. Personally speaking, I have never quite been the fan of a fish curry in India and hence, never quite understood the Bengali’s obsession with this dish. Although I am a big foodie myself, I have always preferred meat over fish. Perhaps it was the innumerable bones in the fishes my mother cooked which made it extremely difficult to eat or perhaps, it was simply a rebellion against the stereotype that got attached with Bengalis and the desire to break out from it, fish was never on top of my list.

But this all changed when I moved to England back in 2010. The longer I stayed here, the craving for a simple fish curry grew stronger. For the expats, like myself, food can be seen as a link to their cultural identity, and something that connects you to the motherland. In the constant internal (and sometimes external) struggle for cultural identity in a foreign country, food and religion are the two strongest identifiers that gives comfort to an individual. I am not much of a religious person (but like all good Bengalis, I do love Durga Puja), so food has become even more important to me to keep hold of my cultural identity. This is something that not just reminds me of home, but also who I am and keeps me grounded.

And perhaps that is the reason, the longer I stay here, the stronger is the craving. It is also a bonus that the fish we normally get in the UK hardly have any bones. I remember the first time I tried to cook a fish curry, it was probably around eight years ago (yes, resisted the urge for more than two years). I am primarily a self-taught cook, and don’t follow any recipes to the T. I let my heart take a lead on this subject, and often, the results are pretty damn good. Although I must admit that I do ask for tips from my mother from time to time.

Coming back to the fish curry, I do remember the first time I made a fish curry. Salmon was the fish of choice. Probably for the first time in my life, I was genuinely looking forward to maachher jhol and bhat (fish curry and rice) and I can honestly say that the result was absolutely delicious. I finally understood why this was a comfort food and was actually surprised that it brought me joy. For those who don’t really care about food or come from a non-culinary culture, this will be a very alien and probably confusing concept to grasp but, I am sure the others (like me) will be able to appreciate and connect with this. I have still not got to the stage of a typical Bengali who cannot survive a day without it. I am content with having it once a while, every few weeks or even months. But it is probably the one dish I want the most when I want to feel close to my Indian family, upbringing and culture.

So, the question is, why has the humble Bengali (and stress on the “Bengali” here) haven’t caught the imagination of the general public in the UK? I have never seen it being served in any Indian, Pakistani or even Bangladeshi restaurants. Is it because it is too simple for the clientele? Or is it because it goes away from the narrative created by the subcontinental chefs post-Independence that Indian food is all about making it super spicy and hot? I am glad that modern-day Indian restaurateurs and chefs are breaking that mould and creating dishes that are culturally and gastronomically accurate. Long may this continue. And hopefully, someday soon, Bangalir Maacch Bhaat, will come to a restaurant near us.

Paranormal Storytelling by Shinjan

Transcript from S01E01 – Intro to Paranormal Storytelling by Shinjan

Hello and welcome to this special intro to my brand-new podcast, Paranormal Storytelling by Shinjan. Now some of you might be familiar with me and my other podcast called Mythical Storytelling by Shinjan. But for those of you who aren’t, I’d ask you to check it out if you are interested in mythical stories and folklores. But anyway, I’m not here to talk about that. I am here to introduce Paranormal Storytelling podcast to you.

But before I give you an insight into this podcast, let me ask you a question. Have you ever questioned the paranormal events that might have happened to you, your family, friends, or perhaps the ones that you have read about or seen a video of on the internet? Have you ever thought, was it really paranormal or was it something that can, perhaps be explained by science? Are you curious to find out the truth behind the paranormal and unexplained?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you are in the right place.

In this podcast, I will be exploring some of the most famous or infamous paranormal or unexplained events from all over the world to try and determine the truth behind them. Now, let me make one thing very clear, I am not a denier. In fact, I am always looking to explanations because I know that if there aren’t any, then it must be something beyond our comprehension. Something paranormal.

In each episode, I will explore one paranormal phenomenon and try to get to the bottom of it. I will reflect on it from different viewpoints and then decide, if I think that phenomenon or event was indeed paranormal. And as we take that journey together, I would love to hear your thoughts about them as well. Whether you agree with my hypothesis or whether you have reasons not to believe in either the paranormal event or the supposed science that can perhaps explain it.

You can reach out to me through my Twitter. My Twitter handle is @blabberingshin. Or you can reach out to me through my website, which is And if you like my show, then you can support me and the show by buying me a coffee, my id is shinjanb. All these information is detailed in the show description.

Before I wrap up this introduction, a special thanks to Holiday Whisperers who specialise in building bespoke and personal holiday itineraries. So if you wanted to visit any of the locations that I will talk about in this podcast, but wasn’t sure where to start, hit up Holiday Whisperers. And they do it for free! Their website and contact details are also listed in the show description.

With that, I’ll wrap up this introduction, with the promise of sharing the first full episode of Paranormal Storytelling by Shinjan, right after this.

For future episode transcripts, visit my Buy Me a Coffee page!

Mythical Storytelling – Season 03

Hello everyone, I am so excited to let you know that season 03 of Mythical Storytelling by Shinjan podcast is now live! Thank you for your love and support to the podcast so far.

In this season, I will be bringing to you Native American mythical stories and folklore. I really hope you enjoy them! Don’t forget to subscribe and share. And, if you want to support the show, you can noy Buy Me a Coffee, by clicking on the banner below – thank you!

Sackville Street – Chapter One

Steve Hobart

It was a clear summer morning. The wind was brisk and blowing through Steve’s hair as he sat on his patio, enjoying his morning cuppa. “Life is a ritual”, that’s what Steve Hobart has always believed in and followed. Drinking his morning tea was a part of that ritual for him to start his day. Even in his early voluntary retirement days, he struggled to let go off his routine as it was the most relaxing thing for him in a stressful and chaotic world. He never understood how some people can live their lives without a following defined routines and rituals. Everything has to be laid out, planned and followed to the tiniest detail for him, probably the only thing that he didn’t like about Peter.

It has been 42 summers since Steve first met Peter. In those days, Steve’s dream was to be a professional football player and he was working hard to achieve it. School, training and homework. He loved the discipline and the predictability in his daily life. He wasn’t the most popular student in his school but he was a different person on the football pitch. His coaches had promised him a trail with one of the biggest clubs in the country, if he kept on doing what he was doing. It is through football that Steve met Peter.

A year younger that Steve, Peter was the brother of one of the coaches, Roger, and Steve met him at a barbeque party at Roger’s house to celebrate a successful U-15 season. They hit-off instantly, as if they have known each other for years, and thus began their strong ad lasting friendship. Nothing could keep them apart, not even the incident that effectively killed Steve’s ambition to become a Premier League footballer. He was never the same person again, the only thing that kept him going was his routine and Peter. He became a loner and cut off contact from almost everyone else apart from Peter. It was as if something had left a huge vacuum in his life and he was trying to fill it up with his strict routines and dislike of people.

As Steve was sat at his patio, reminiscing about the days gone by, his smart phone rang. “Peter Tashkin” it displayed as the caller. The corner of his eyes lit-up as he picked his phone.

“Steve! Something has happened” – shouted Peter from the other end, without even giving Steve a chance to say “Hello”.

“Calm down Peter. What’s the matter? Is this another of your failed attempts to brew your own beer?”

“There is no time to explain. Just come over to mine … it’s very urgent”

“OK but at least tell me what is it about? Do I need to call anyone else? Do you need a doctor? Ambulance? Police?”

“Oh for God’s sake Peter, just stop trying to organise everything perfectly all the time and come over as soon as you can. I got to go”

The phone line went dead, leaving Steve in doubt and anxiety. His best friend seemed to be in some sort of trouble and he needs to be there but that was not the plan for this day. He was supposed to drink his tea, read the news on his smart phone app, take a shower and then fix the chest of drawers. He had the morning planned! But now this.

Mumbling something inaudible under his breath, he got up from his chair and limped towards his car. The limp in his left leg has stayed with him since the incident, the reason why he couldn’t pursue life as a professional footballer anymore but, he does not like to talk about it. He didn’t want to remember the pain, not the physical but, the emotional pain of losing not only a promising career in football but also the one person he loved more than anything. They say, it’s better to have loved and lost than to not love at all, but Steve wasn’t so sure.

to be continued ….

Sackville Street – Chapter Two

Peter Tashkin

It was another glorious summer morning, the fourth day in a row! Quite unusual for this part of the world. Peter Tashkin woke up with a mild headache and a grumpy mood. Last night was a leaving do for one of his now ex-colleague and he overdid on the alcohol. His memory was quite hazy but something was definitely bothering him. He rolled over the bed to find his wife of 31 years, Anne, still sleeping. She looked very beautiful, more than ever. The radiant sunshine was creeping through the gaps in the blinds and landed perfectly on her face giving it a divine glowing aura. For a moment, Peter was happy. He was content. His love for Anne only grew with each passing day, even after so many years of marriage. It was then that it came back again, the guilt that he wakes up to for the last 38 years. He wished he could become his favourite superhero, the Flash, for a day and run back in time to stop the incident from happening. He thought that after that evening his best friend Steve would never speak to him again but, their bond only became stronger after that incident and he was grateful for that.

Sitting on his side of the bed, Peter’s thoughts were drifting back to that eventful evening.

It was a late spring evening. He was supposed to hang out with his friend Steve. They had planned to meet at the north-west corner of the Trident Park, a lush green park with beautiful flower beds, grass trimmed to perfection and a small lake in the centre.

It was an exciting day! Steve had earlier told Peter about this girl he loved and finally mustered enough courage to ask her out. He couldn’t wait to hear all the details from Steve as he biked his way to the park.

But, that was not all. He was also excited to share with Steve the thing he “acquired” from the shady senior at university, a packet of marijuana. However, he was not sure if Steve would approve of it. For all his good qualities, Steve was too uptight and didn’t know how to have fun, thought Peter and he wanted to help change it that evening.

Peter got to their meeting place a bit earlier than scheduled. Steve preferred this north-west corner of the park as very few people would come to this side. This meant he had some privacy in a city where he was quickly becoming the next big thing in his club. He was a very popular player who got fast-tracked to the first team from the reserves team.

Peter was tempted to make use of this quiet corner of the park and smoke his marijuana whilst waiting for Steve. It was his first time and he made himself a generous joint from the packet he bought.

Steve couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing when he finally got there. Peter was high on marijuana! He shouted some expletives at him and snatched the load from him to put it in his pocket.

“I’m going to burn this all. What the hell were you thinking, you idiot?” – He barked at Peter.

A bit scared and trying to change the topic, Peter asked Steve about the love of his life, Janet.

“Umm sorry mate. I don’t know what took over me but let’s not talk about this. Promise me you won’t tell anyone. My father will kick me out of the house and I’ll be homeless!” – Perhaps he was being a bit too dramatic.

“Fine I won’t, but you need to promise that you’ll never do drugs!” – demanded Steve.

“I promise, I won’t! Now, tell me about Janet. Did you speak to her? What did she say?” – Peter asked.

“Yes, I did” – suddenly the corner of Steve’s eyes lit with excitement and he smiled – “She said yes! She said she’ll go out with me. I am so excited about  …”

Before he could finish his sentence, a guy came from nowhere, picked up Peter’s bike and ran off with it.

Peter was still very high and was in no state to react to this. Thankfully for him, the athletic machine named Steve sped after him on his own bike to catch the offender.

The chase did not last long. The first bend out of the park saw a speeding car ram into Steve’s bike. He was lucky that he wasn’t dead, but his leg was broken in many pieces. What was worse that during the accident scene investigations the Police found marijuana in sufficient quantity in Steve’s pocket and arrested him for possession. He tried to explain it to the Police but they wouldn’t listen. He was caught red-handed and two years is what he got. The public prosecutor, Mr. Sanders, wanted to make an example out of this new-age young and flashy footballers who thought they could do anything they wanted to and built a very strong case against Steve, as if he had some personal vendetta against him.

It was then when suddenly something struck Peter about the evening before. He jumped of his bed as the realisation sunk in.

“It can’t be!” – He said to himself. How did he not put things in place last night? He hated himself for overdoing on the alcohol. His choppy memory was coming back, little by little. He reached for his wallet, and ransacked the visiting cards he had in his pocket. As he saw the name on the card, he knew he had to call Steve.

to be continued …..

Sackville Street – Chapter Three

The incident

Steve screeched his car to a halt in Peter’s driveway.

“Don’t turn the engine off” – Peter shouted at him, as if something has possessed him – “43 Sackville Street” – he instructed Steve and he jumped into his car.

“What? You called me to come over urgently so that I can be your taxi? What the hell man?” – Steve wasn’t impressed.

“Just drive Steve, you are not going to regret this”

“Ok! At least tell me why we are going there? Isn’t that where they have built all the new offices?”

“Yes they have! We are going to Sanders Law Firm”

“Law Firm?! What have you done Pete? Why do you need a lawyer? What’s going on?”

“Oh for God’s sake Steve, can you not just concentrate on the road? I have not done anything, yet”

“Yet? So what do you plan to do? Why are you acting all so weird?”

“Ok, so I went to this leaving do last night and had a bit too much to drink”

“Hah what a surprise!”

“Stop being such a judgemental arsehole. Fine I’m not going to say anything.”

“Oh come on! After all these years, if I can’t be a judgemental arsehole to you then what’s the point of being your friend?”

“True. After all you did for me, saved my life, went to prison for my crime, had to give up on your dream of playing professional football but more than anything, you gave up your life, joy, happiness and love for me. To protect me. How can I ever forget?”

“Hey don’t you get all emotional right now. How many times do I need to tell you that it was not your fault? The law, the society is screwed up man. That’s why I don’t like to talk to or mix with anyone. You are the only friend I have got and I appreciate you very much”

“Stop the car!” – barked Peter suddenly

“What?” – Steve was a bit shocked at Peter’s aggression.

“We are here, stop the car”

“Oh yea, sorry. Let me find a parking spot”

“No time, just leave it here by the pavement. We need to go”

“What is wrong with you today Peter? I am not going to keep my car on the pavement! I am not going to break the rules”

“You have played by the rules all your life, one parking fine won’t ruin it for you”

Steve couldn’t be swayed. He could clearly see the urgency and anxiety in Peter’s face and voice, so he stopped the car in front of this giant steel structure.

“Hurry, come with me Steve” – Peter ordered Steve as he jumped out of the car.

With no clue about what’s going on and no answers forthcoming he followed Peter. It was not always that Peter called the shots and Steve followed.

The “Sanders Law Firm” was on the 12th floor of the building. Peter dashed out of the lift, followed by Steve and went to the reception.

“I want to meet your Managing Partner” – said Peter, short of breath

“Sure sir, do you have an appointment?” – The receptionist asked her back

“No I don’t but it’s very important”

“I understand sir but I am very sorry. You cannot meet her without an appointment”

“Of course I can, do you know who I am?”

“No sir” – the receptionist hesitated

“Tell her Steve Hobart is here to see her”

Suddenly this got more confusing for Steve.

“Why the hell is he using my name?” – he thought to himself.

“Hey why are you using my name” – Steve mumbled to Peter in a stern voice

“Just relax for a moment!” – Peter said back to Steve and then turned his attention back to the receptionist

“Can you please call her and tell her that Steve Hobart is here to see her?”

A bit confused and overwhelmed, she dialled the number to the Managing Partner’s chamber.

“Hello ma’am, I am sorry to disturb you but some Steve Hobart is here to see you and says it is very urgent and that you know him?”

There was a pause at the other end of the line.

“Ma’am are you there?” – enquired the receptionist.

“Yes, sorry. Please send him in” – came the reply

“Ok ma’am” – she hung up the phone – “Sir, you can go through. The third office on your left”

“Thank you very much” – said Peter as he started dragging Steve towards the aforementioned room.

Confused and lost, Steve couldn’t figure out what was going on. He had no idea what he was doing there, and before he could even react, Peter had barged in to the chamber. Suddenly, it all became very clear to him. It was as if he was teleported back in time, 38 years ago.

Quietly, Peter slipped out of the room. He took the visiting card out of his wallet for one more time, and smiled. It read:

Janet Sanders

Managing Partner

Sanders Law Firm

43 Sackville Street