Hello World! Doi (Dahi) Maach

Doi (Dahi) Maach – Fish Curry in Yoghurt from Eastern India

A popular dish in Eastern India and Bangladesh, majority of people think this is a Bengali dish, but that is not true. It is popular in Orissa and Assam as well, neighbouring regions with whom Bengal shares many of its cultural traits. In Bangla it’s called Doi (ie yoghurt) Maach (ie, fish), because of the way fish is cooked in this dish – in a yoghurt gravy. In Orissa Doi is replaced by Dahi (again, yoghurt). Hence, it is better to call this dish as belonging to the Eastern part of the sub-continent.

In these fish eating regions – and also in Mithila in eastern India, which is a contiguous cultual region with Bengal, Orissa and Assam, though Dahi Maach is not popular there – fish is looked upon with affection and emotional attachment and is associated with festive celebrations, apart from being a part of regular diet of the people. Although many fish curries there are very spicy, this particular dish has a mild flavour, because of the tempering effect of yoghurt and is supposed to have cooling effect in summers.

In the most common way this dish is cooked, fish is usually boiled in yoghurt mixed with mild spices till it becomes tender. This is in contrast to many fish dishes which involve shallow frying the fish slices marinated in turmeric and salt till they become golden brown and crisp. Hence, this dish usually has the fish slices very tender because of boiling. In a few versions, grated coconut may be added to the gravy – this of course shows the influence of the coastal area.

I have also come across a version in which they lightly fry the fish slices marinated in turmeric powder and salt – perhaps to retain the fried, crisp taste of other fish dishes that people are used to. The gravy in Dahi Maach has to be mildly spiced and tomato is usually not used – this lends the gravy a yellow tinge because of the predominance of turmeric in the dish. I personally prefer the version with fried fish cooked in yoghurt gravy! But the connoisseurs will tell you that boiled fish brings out the flavour of the fish in this gravy and hence, the fish must be boiled, not fried. In Orissa, they may also add diced vegetables with fish, since Orissa has a strong tradition of cooking fish with vegetables – something that Mithila doesn’t approve of, where vegetarian and non-vegetarian food are normally not mixed. Adding yoghurt to fish is a typical East Indian custom – in South and on the West coast of India they add grated coconut, but not yoghurt. Besides, fish gravy is also much more spicier with a lot of chilly in South and on the West coast. For this dish, meaty fish like the Rohita (a kind of carp fish) is most ideal – and though people in both Bengal and Orissa eat sea-fish, they usually use fresh water fish for this dish. Assam and Mithila are of course fresh-water fish eating regions.

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