The way we got the idea and inspiration for Boal Mach Bhapa is very interesting. In the movie, Kishore Kumar Junior (2018), Prasenjit plays the role of an artist, who is famous and earns his living by singing Kishore Kumar songs. In one of the scenes, like a true blue Bengali Middle class Bhadrolok, he picks up Boal Mach from the market for his wife to cook.
Did Kishore Kumar have Boal Mach Bhapa?
I like the sequence of how the Boal Mach Bhapa gets introduced in the film. After a show in Paikpara, a late night drunken showdown at home, next morning it’s all normal for Junior Kishore Kumar. He picks up a 2.5 Kg Boal mach and then heads towards the neighborhood tea shop. He explains the cooking process to a friend. It’s his wife’s special Boal Machh Bhapa. Add mustard oil, onion, garlic paste and turmeric powder and let it slow cook in a kadai on the gas oven. After a while, add split green chilies and salt to taste. Towards the end, add some more mustard oil.
He doesn’t stop here. He also claims before Amanush was released, Kishore Kumar had come to Kolkata for a Kishore Kumar Night and our protagonist had made him taste this. Cut. So, on request, he starts singing – ‘Ki ashay bandhi Khelaghor’. This is significant, as the song is sung by Kumar Sanu, who also made his name by singing Kishore Kumar Songs. One of my favourite sequence of all time.
Mach Macha and more
This could have been like any other blogpost but it involves one of my favourite aspect for performing artists – Macha. No, it’s not matcha, the Japanese green tea. What connects – Tochon Ghosh, Bonny ghosh, Atanu Sarkar and others? They were the some of the biggies, who used to organise these whole night concerts. This was before the cut off time of 10 PM. These were known as Jalsha and even big names from Mumbai used to grace the occassion. Macha however, is another common term for the low budget ones. Low budget meant that you cannot get the original singers/artists but the copy artists. Therefore, Kishore, Rafi, Lata, Asha copy singers used to rule the charts. Many artists, who started with a dream of making it big, this is the best compromise of earning livelihood.
Goutam Ghosh has been one of the pioneer cover singer and most popular Kishore Konthi. There are many many more. Some could make it big and some couldn’t. In peak season, which is primarily from September to March (max), these artists cover length and breadth of the state. At times, other states also. Some get lucky to go overseas. Therefore, long road journeys, irregular meals, less sleep and continuous working are the pitfalls. Some play it for long, some burn out soon. It’s said that, there was a time, when Gautam Ghosh used to do 4 shows in the same night, hopping from one to the other.
Boal Mach was never made at home
The reason why Boal Mach was never cooked at my Ghoti home is again a classic Bangal and Ghoti food culture differentiation. Slimy, without scales and no bones were few of the primary reason. Boal machh belongs to catfish family which normally come only wth a central bones. The skin is thick and oily and is rarely made by frying in oil. Wallago Atu or Boal is otherwise a very popular fish in West Bengal. It’s also known as Bol or Boali. No wonder, the preparation needs special care and often a generous amount of onion and garlic paste remains the key. I just checked that there are actually18 places in West Bengal which has villages or small areas named after Boal. Boalia, Boaldaho, Boalmari are some of the names.
Finally Boal machh Bhapa
My verdict on this dish is simple. Looks gorgeous. Ingredients like coriander leaves, mustard oil, green chili and onion and garlic paste can turn any bland food into a mesmerizing one. Still, if you have not tasted this before, then you may face initial hiccups. For Boal Machh Bhapa in particular, if not the fish then try out the gravy atleast.
Bangladeshi poet Aal Mahmood has a beautiful poem on Boal, where he explains that Boal is a carnivorous fish and they live by eating other fish.
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Boal Mach Bhapa
- 5-6 pieces Boal mach steaks
- 2 no onions
- 15 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 4-5 nos green chillies
- handful of coriander leaves
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup mustard oil
- Wash boal mach thoroughly under running water and then pat them dry.
- Make a paste of the onion and garlic.
- In a mixing bowl, make a marinade of onion paste, garlic paste, salt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and 1/4 cup of mustard oil.
- Add the fish to this and rub the marinade over the fish.
- Take a non stick frying pan or a kadai. Heat it and then simply place the fish steaks along with the marinade in the kadai or frying pan.
- Keep the heat at high for a minute and then reduce it to low. Cover it and cook for 8 - 10 minutes or until you see that the masalas are sticking and one side of the fish has cooked.
- Flip the fish pieces gently and sprinkle some warm water if required. Stir around to check the masalas. If you notice that the raw smell of the onion paste and garlic paste has gone, then just cover again and cook the other side for a couple of minutes to fish to completely cook.
- Once the fish has cooked from both sides and the masalas have all come together, add split green chillies. Sprinkle some more water if you need extra gravy. This is not exactly a fish with a lot of gravy. It's mostly made in oil and onion paste.
- Add the balance mustard oil and srpinkle coriander leaves and stir.
- Turn off the heat and serve boal mach bhapa with rice.