For the Love of ‘Shidol’

Loved by a few, loathed by many…

The pungent smell filled up the air as I sniffed the familiar mouthwatering aroma. Shidol Chutney it was! You don’t need a sharp nose for a smell as strong as that. I ventured to the kitchen for a quick glance to make sure I was right. And, Oh yes I was! Lunch time was a good two hours away and I wondered how to divert my attention and control my already salivating tongue till then.

chutney
Pic 1: The spicy and pungent Shidol Chutney

It was that time of the year when my parents were visiting my home in Bangalore. Food is always a top priority during their stay here. Going with the firm notion of their daughter being deprived of all the good food life has to offer, every day during their stay is nothing but a feast. Their misbelief, fueled by parental love and affection, is true to a certain extent especially considering the authentic, indigenous food that only moms and aunts can cook. And in my case, Shidol Chutney (also known as Shidol Bhorta) is definitely one of them.

Shidol Chutney is a heavenly mishmash of Shidol, onions, and garlic spiced up with a generous dose of red chilli powder.

Savored with white rice, this and its variant Shidol Bora fall in the category of most eagerly looked forward to dishes from Ma’s kitchen.  Shidol is a traditional fermented fish, popular in North East India. It is nothing but the freshwater Punti fish, the scientific name for which is Puntius sophore, and the common English name is Pool Barb.

shidol
Pic 2: Fermented Puntius ready to be cleaned and cooked

I never bothered before, but just learnt from Google that Shidol is prepared by stuffing earthen pots with the sundried fish. The earthen pots are then sealed airtight to provide the anaerobic conditions for fermentation and stored at room temperature for 3-4 months. Bamboos are also used sometimes instead of earthen pots. Pretty interesting, isn’t it!

I am not a foodie, but when it comes to Shidol, it’s a different story altogether. My Shidol affiliation has to be attributed to my lineage – the Sylhet district in Bangladesh. Sylheti Bengalis are tad touchy about their Shidol and I am no different. In fact, without my love affair with Shidol, I may lose my credibility of being a true Sylheti*!

Many Sylhetis lovingly call it ‘Hidol’. Shidol is our pride and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Shidol Chutney and Shidol Bora have evolved to become a cultural identity for us.

*Sylhetis are an ethno-cultural group of Bengalis, who speak the Bengali dialect Sylheti. Native to the Sylhet region of Bangladesh and Barak Valley in Assam, they have a significant presence in Meghalaya and Tripura.

Bora 1
Pic 3: Shidol Bora with white rice

And, being a Sylheti with roots in Shillong, my craving for this dish can only be understood by fellow Sylheti Shillongites. Shillong supposedly has the best quality Shidol in the country (maybe world, for all you know). And with an epidemic of Chayote (called squash locally) plants all over, the popularity of Shidol becomes even more pertinent. After all, the leaves of Chayote plants are considered the best for preparing Shidol Bora. Pumpkin leaves (Kumro pata) are otherwise used.

Shidol is also popular amongst the communities of Khasis, Tripuris, Kacharis, and Manipuris, in North East India. I am not quite sure how they cook their Shidol though.

Back home, the pungent appetizing aroma was only growing stronger as Ma had closed all the doors and windows to prevent our neighbours from having to put up with something they may find rather repulsive. During the process of cooking, Shidol emanates a rather obnoxious smell. And that smell is definitely not for the faint-hearted! It’s strange to think that a delicacy for one becomes nauseous for another. The pungency of onions and garlic balances out the smell in the cooked dish.

Finally, the much awaited lunch time arrived and I gorged on a sumptuous meal of white rice and hot and spicy Shidol Chutney even as tears streamed down my face and my nose ran. Only a Shidol-lover will understand the utter joy of my gastronomical delight. My mouth waters even as I write this. Can’t wait to have it again, which can happen only when I go home or Ma comes here. I haven’t tried my hand in preparing it yet….  Too used to the taste of Ma’s hands. The dish has to be prepared well in order to taste well and not everyone prepares it well. Hopefully, it’s in my genes and I’ll do good!

loitta
Pic 4: Loitta or Bombay Duck

Besides Shidol, something else that truly delights a Sylheti is Loitta or Lotka (dried Bombay Duck). Shidol and Loitta, collectively known as Shutki mach can be prepared in various other ways – combined with brinjal (eggplant/aubergine), or with a variety of vegetables, or simply with potatoes. While my Shidol favorite is the chutney and the bora, my Loitta favorite is the roasted dry fish mashed with onions, mustard oil, salt and chilli powder…………….slrupppp!

Here’s Ma’s recipe for the adventurous you:

Shutki process

Slide2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

19 thoughts on “For the Love of ‘Shidol’”

  1. You brought back many old memories and you wrote it so well. Felt like reading it out to my husband and daughter, but I don’t think they will understand. Only a sylheti will understand. Will share it with my sylheti friends on fb. Keep writing..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, my view: 😊
    Now, I really loved your description of shidol; there’s no doubt about it. It is mouth-watering indeed, as someone else wrote too; it can make anyone not interested in it become interested enough. It also has the right touch of nostalgia, of the feeling of how food cooked by one’s mother is always the best, and the yearning, rightfully, to hold on to one’s roots, as much as possible practically.

    Now coming to the practical side of it: 😜☺ The problem is the smell of sun-dried fish, or shuntki maach. I’ve taken in the smell many times, and I’ve smelt the smell during its cooking too a few times, though not in my home. And, to put it frankly, the smell is overpowering. I can easily relate to the description of doors and windows being closed to prevent putting neighbours off. Hope you don’t mind. ☺ Hence, I’ve never managed to cook up the culinary courage needed to taste it, though I’ve heard that with onions and garlic and red chilli it does taste good. My mother’s mother is also from Assam, and of course, she has had it.

    However, in all fairness, your writing does, to borrow from you, “balance out the smell in the cooked dish”; makes shidol all the more appealing for the gourmet. ☺

    But I think I would still need to work up my courage. ☺☺ Keep writing. Looking forward to reading your next blog.

    (An afterthought about smell, in a completely different context. I’ve always loved watching programmes on wildlife and nature on TV, starting from the time when channels like Discovery and Nat Geo started beaming into our homes. I’d always had the view that what we see is a very sanitised view, because without the associated smells of nature, be they the good or the bad ones, watching the wildlife is gathering only half the experience. Since then, I’ve experienced the wilds a few times, courtesy visiting national parks, and have always cherished the experiences.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the smell is really overpowering and someone not used to it will definitely find it difficult to bear. And there’s absolutely nothing to mind here :)……I literally have a mindblock to so many kinds of food, and I haven’t dared to try them….if your Dida was from Assam, she would have surely tasted it. As for watching programs on wildlife, never thought of it that way and now this makes me wonder, you are so right.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I don’t quite think so! The bora is stuffed with the chutney, so it very much has the taste of shutki 😀 ….In fact you can attempt the preparations with vegetables to start with…but you would have to find someone who is well versed in the cooking of shutki, as I mentioned that preparing it well matters 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, best wishes :D…..btw, shidol chutney doesn’t happen with vegetables. The chutney is a separate preparation and with vegetables separate. Both the varieties , that is Shidol and Loitta, can be prepared with vegetables 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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