Vapa Ilish (Steamed Hilsa)

14 Mar

Vapa Ilish or Steamed Hilsa with mustard paste is the Bengali cuisine delicacy. Though it is not the exact time to have it at its prime taste as you may have best quality Hilsa during monsoon in Bengal and they should be caught from sweet river water and not from sea. Then why I am including it right now? Because the fish is full of tiny bones which require training and practice to handle it. Once you mastered the art you will find it worth more than the labour you paid.

Let me first give you some information on Ilish. Ilish or Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha ) is a tropical fish and extremely popular in Bengal and Bangladesh.  It is anadromous in nature, the ilish lives in the sea for most of its life, but migrates up to thousands km inland through rivers in the Indian sub-continent for spawning. Each year a large number of fish is caught at PadmaMeghnaJamuna delta at Bay of Bengal. It is a sea fish but it lay eggs in large rivers. After being born the young Ilish (known as Jatka) then swim back to the sea. That is when they are caught, before they swim to the sea

If you can’t have Ilish you can use shad fish as Ilish substitute. They are fairly similar in  flavour and consistency.

One can prepare Ilish in more than fifty ways, here I am sharing my recipe for Vapa Ilish.

You will need:

Ilish (washed and cut into pieces)                        1 kg (de-headed)

Mustard seed (black, cleaned and washed)            150 gm

Mustard oil                                                           50 ml

turmeric powder                                                    2 tsp

Grin chilli                                                             10 nos

Lemon juice                                                         Extracted from a half of lemon (for flavour)

Coriander leaves                                                   25 gm shredded (for flavour and garnishing)

Salt                                                                     To taste

Preparation time:                                              10 minutes (approx.)

How to prepare:

  1. Prepare the washed fish pieces by marinating them with salt and turmeric powder.
  2. Make a thick paste of mustard seeds with 5 chillies, turmeric powder and a little salt.
  3. Heat the frying pan and pour little oil (30 ml).
  4. When the oil reaches its smoking point add a half teaspoonful or as little as possible mustard seed to it and 2 torn chillies to it.
  5. Quickly add the prepared mustard paste to it and stir.
  6. When there bubbles start appearing place the marinated fish in it without touching one another. They should be dipped into the paste, add water if necessary.
  7. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for 5 min.
  8. Remove cover add lemon juice and cook on medium flame for another 3 min.
  9. Now place them on a serving bowl and add rest of the mustard oil over it.
  10. Garnish with coriander leaves and chillies.


Your yummy dish is ready to serve and have. It goes well with plain white steamed rice. I hope you already mastered the art of cooking and having it so enjoy your delicious dose of omega-3-fatty acid!


Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Taste & Treat


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2 responses to “Vapa Ilish (Steamed Hilsa)

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