Kolkata diner Aaheli's newest festival will give you a hilsa hangover
Every monsoon we unapologetically devour any and every kind of Ilish (hilsa) speciality there is, so it goes without saying that we wouldn’t give the hilsa festival at Aaheli a miss. Aaheli has been one of the most beloved fine diners when it comes to authentic Bong spreads, and the ‘Pade Pade Ilish Pujo Festival’ didn’t disappoint us either. Between August 9 and September 17, you can make the most of this food fest at both Aaheli outlets, at Peerless Inn and at Axis Mall. Unlike most hilsa festivals around the city, Aaheli’s line-up does not take a lot of chances, and sticks to the well-loved hilsa preparations; so you’ll find the basic Bhapa (steamed) and fried options, along with a number of spiced, gravied items which you expect in a traditionally curated menu.
But that’s not to say the festival’s menu is predictable since no Hilsa number can ever disappoint us. Although we were expecting to find a few more boneless alternatives, considering how popular they’ve become among the city’s gourmands. We started off with Ilish-er chop or Hilsa croquettes, and the breaded fries really worked for us, as they were simple and undemanding. The chops can also make very good replacements for your usual kebabs or grilled options, as hilsa appetizers always open up your palates. We found most of the hilsa items to be quite elaborate, which should work in the festival’s favour as most people stay away from exhaustive, time-consuming preparations at home.
Pui Shaak-e Ilish Maatha, is a commonly found dish in most Bong households, but Aaheli’s simpering rendition is refreshing and hassle-free, and definitely a must-have. We decided to taste something familiar and settled for the steamed Ilish, and found it to be pleasantly spiced, which is ideal for a summer menu. Most of these Ilish numbers are easily palatable and quite light, as none of their flavour profiles get too carried away, so you’ll find a balanced blend of usual Bong condiments.
Some of the most adventurous numbers include Jholsano Ilish, which is a smoked variation in which the Hilsa is roasted and served with mustard. The Aam Tel Ilish, which is a steady number in Hilsa festivals across the city, and can never really disappoint you. The hilsa is prepared in a pot with pickled mango oil and you can always have it with some plain rice. Luckily, Aaheli’s Ilish festival has an Ilish Pulao (featuring boneless Hilsa chunks), which has become our recent favourite and is priced at Rs 1,555. Aanarasi Ilish is a rather fancy number which features curried Hilsa served with pineapple and can cost you Rs 2,555.
Items like Kalo Jeere Ilish (cumin hilsa), Ilish Matha Diye Dal (lentil cooked with a head of hilsa) and Ilish Postor Nabarup (basically a Posto or poppyseed hilsa) can be good options if you want to go for something familiar. In case, you want a mix of a number of dishes, the Ilish Thali, titled Ilish Thaalir Sanjog can be a good way to go, as it features three dishes from the festival menu and is priced at Rs 2,755. Price for two: Rs 3,500+