Though I have been rather fond of eating fish right from my childhood days, the ‘fish head’ was one part of the anatomy that was strictly off limits for me. I always found it too intimidating and it was much later (sometime in my mid twenties) that I gathered the courage (plus some accompanying good sense) to attempt a go at it. And it was made possible only because some good Samaritan introduced me to a fish head curry without giving away the secret ingredient. Most of them are quite delicious and with a multitude of ingredients, it is tough to pick out the fish unless one encounters the bony pieces.
But in most Odia homes, the head of the family and the fish head are considered to be a match made in heaven. The uncanny Odia folks do know a thing or two about good (read nutritious) food. While many communities discard the fish head or dress it up to a such an extent that whatever remains is barely a few pieces of bone joined together by a bit of cartilage. The Odia people however place a lot of stress on preserving every possible bit of the fish head which they believe to be highly nutritious. And regular consumption is rumored to make a person intelligent. Although the last statement is highly debatable, the fish head contains high levels of Vitamin A, Omega 3 fatty acids, iron, zinc and calcium. No wonder the head of the family, who is often the one making the highest contribution to the household kitty, stakes an undisputed claim to it.
But during the community feasts, there would have been too many claimants on this bounty. Any kind of refusal could only lead to slighted egos and fights. Hence, some devious chef might have come up with this idea to appease everyone’s egos and palates. Instead of dunking the fish heads into the gravy, they were cooked with an assortment of vegetables, leafy greens or even lentils. Not only a new non-vegetarian dish was added to the menu, it was also extremely delicious . And it also spared me the horror of looking into those lifeless eyes. Or the guilt of tossing it into the waste.
Here is a list of those delectable ‘Fish Head’ preparations that grace Odia cuisine. Usually river fishes like Rohu or Catla are used for these curries . These 5 are the more common ones –
1. Fish Head cooked with Malabar spinach and other vegetables ( Poi Chenchedda ) – The leafy greens and vegetables like pumpkin, colocassia, potato give it a deliciously mushy texture which is broken by the crispness of the fried fish head and tail . Recipe Here
2. Fish Head cooked with Cabbage (Bandha Kobi Chenchedda ) – What could have been just another cabbage curry is given a delectable twist with some crushed fish head going into it !! Recipe Here
3. Fish head cooked with lentil dumplings (badi), potatoes and mustard paste
( Maccha Munda Besara ) – A pungent mustard and garlic paste adds a nice touch to this rustic preparation. Heat from green chilis and some raw mustard oil drizzled at the end, takes this curry to another level. Recipe Here
4. Fish head cooked with split Bengal gram and few vegetables (Mudhi Ghanta) – The spiciest one amongst all of these, it is considered fit for serving at most feasts !! Unlike the other ones which are generally served with rice, this one goes rather well with roti and parathas. Recipe Here
5. Fish Head cooked with a medley of seasonal vegetables (Maccha Mahura) – Boiled veggies are seasoned with aromatic spices and added to the crisply fried fish head . Recipe Here