Meet Hilsa, the Beloved Fish That Connects Bengalis

Where and how one sources, cooks, and devours hilsa, the fish beloved across the Indian subcontinent, conveys a lot about one’s Bengali roots. In the 1947 Indian Partition, Bengal was divided along religious lines, and Muslims fled to East Bengal, whil…

Where and how one sources, cooks, and devours hilsa, the fish beloved across the Indian subcontinent, conveys a lot about one’s Bengali roots. In the 1947 Indian Partition, Bengal was divided along religious lines, and Muslims fled to East Bengal, while a majority-Hindu population stayed in West Bengal (an Indian state). Later, in 1971, East Bengal became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Bengalis divide into two major groups: Bangal and Ghoti. “Bangal” refers to Bengalis from East Bengal, while “Ghoti” refers to those native to West Bengal. Perhaps surprisingly, the Bangal-Ghoti divide is largely innocuous amongst Bengalis, sparking fun debates such as how hilsa—a fish adored across the Indian subcontinent, but particularly in Bengal—should be prepared.

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