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Bangladeshi Hilsa/Illish Curry Recipe

Bangladeshi Hilsa/Illish Curry Recipe

Hilsa (also known as Ilish) is a species of freshwater fish related to herring, it is considered the national fish of Bangladesh. Hilsa curry is a dish made with mustard oil and marinated pieces of hilsa, fried together until the fish is tender and fragrant.

Origin & Cultural Significance

Hilsa is bought for special occasions, for instance in Bangladesh it is traditional to have hilsa for breakfast during Pohela Boisakh, the first day of the Bengali New Year, usually served with rice. Hilsa is also served at Hindu celebrations and may be given as a wedding gift from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.

While very popular in Bengal, this dish is also very popular in South Asia and commonly exported to be enjoyed all over the world. Hilsa is mostly available from February to March, or August to October which are the rainy seasons in Bangladesh. In North America, other similar fish such as herring are used as an alternative to hilsa which may be difficult to buy. 

In Bangladesh, hilsa is cooked in a wide variety of ways; steamed, fried, baked, dried or smoked. Hilsa curry is traditionally prepared by frying the fish alongside fragrant spices and mustard oil and then boiling in water until a curry gravy is formed. 

Hilsa is a main ingredient in many other popular Bengali dishes, for instance Doi Ilish is another mustard-based hilsa curry made with whipped yogurt which gives it a light, creamy texture. In West Bengal, Barishali Ilish is a very popular hilsa curry which is made with coconut and a mustard-yogurt sauce.

Hilsa curry

Hilsa Curry (Bangladesh)

Yield: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Hilsa (also known as Ilish) is a species of freshwater fish related to herring, it is considered the national fish of Bangladesh.


  • Hilsa fish, cleaned and sliced into 2 or 3 pieces - 500g
  • Black cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • Salt - to taste
  • Mustard oil - ½ cup
  • Powdered turmeric - 2 tsp
  • Red Chili Powder - 1 tsp
  • Green chili - 4 chillies
  • Boiled water - 2 cups
  • Steamed rice - to serve


    1. Slice the hilsa into pieces.
    2. Season the hilsa with salt and turmeric, leave to marinate for 15 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, make a paste by combining 1 tsp of turmeric powder, 1 tsp red chili powder and 1/2 cup water.
    4. Heat the mustard oil in a frying pan and fry the pieces of fish until golden.
    5. In another pan, heat some oil and add cumin seeds. 
    6. Add the paste and the green chillies, and stir into the oil until combined.
    7. Next, add the fish pieces to the pan and gently add the boiled water. 
    8. Add salt to season and simmer on medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until the hilsa is cooked through.
    9. Serve your hilsa curry with boiled rice.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 446Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 97mgSodium: 473mgCarbohydrates: 36gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 50g

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