The Paturi Machh at Rice-N-Curry is like a mini performance on a plate. When the dish is served,lovingly wrapped in dark green banana leaves,the sense of anticipation is similar to the feeling just before the curtain is raised in a theatre. The leaves are slowly peeled away to reveal the softest chunk of Bekti fish soaked in mustard paste,yogurt,green chillies,coconut and lemon juice. ‘Mouth-watering’ is an understatement for this traditional Bengali delicacy.
Paturi Machh loosely translates to fish in a leaf. It is usually a steak of Bekti fish,marinated in mustard sauce and then steamed in banana leaves. Rice-N-Curry on Bund Garden Road is one of the many places that serves this delight in the city,such as Oh! Calcutta on Dhole Patil Road and Bong Appetite near FC Road.
Bengalis love river fish,which is why we use Bekti fish. Traditional Paturi is made with Bekti because it has the right sweetness to it and has very few bones so it is easy to eat, says Subrata Chakraborty,executive senior manager at Oh! Calcutta.
Parsis too have their own version of this classic,called Patrani Machhi. While the Bengali version is made with Bekti fish in a mustard base,the Parsis make theirs with Pomfret and marinade the fish in a paste with coriander,coconut,green chillies and garlic. King’s,a Parsi restaurant in Camp,for instance,serves an entire Pomfret fish divided in two banana leaf packets. The combination of fresh coriander and green chillies packs a punch and every bite is a surprise with a burst of fresh and full flavours.
We use Pomfret because it is the king of all fishes. Traditional Parsi patrani machhi will only use Pomfret and we never debone it but we serve the whole fish,just the way it is,simply divided in two. Every big Parsi wedding or Navroze celebration will have this preparation as we are very fond of it, says Bahram P Zadeh,the owner of King’s. Another place to find traditional Patrani Machhi in the city is Dorabjee’s,also in Camp.
Apart from Bengalis and Parsis,further down the coast,Kerala has its own version of fish in leaves,called Meen Pollichathu. At Chopsticks Spice Malabar in Viman Nagar,the Pollichathu is served fried and then wrapped in banana leaves; a striking departure from the Bengali and Parsi methods of steaming the fish. The Keralite specialty is considerably spicier and uses more masalas than the other two cuisines do. Chopsticks uses Surmai,a popular sea fish that is also easy to eat,owing to fewer bones.
Patra Machhi is well known for its taste and health benefits,no matter which cuisine it comes from. It is steamed and keeps the overall calorie count down and is nutritious. In all three cuisines,it is considered a delicacy that requires great attention and care while cooking and is served at major occasions such as festivals and weddings. In Pune,some other places to explore for a taste of the dish are Rahul in Aundh and Mahesh Lunch Home in Camp,apart from other Bengali and Keralite establishments.