Moromor aita…

by Sunita on January 23, 2009

Moromor aita ( pronounced ‘aye-ta’ )…dear grandma…yes, grandmas , or as we, in Assamese say, aita, are very dear, aren’t they? I haven’t had the pleasure of ever meeting my deuta’s(father’s) ma, but I feel lucky to still have my ma’s ma! And isn’t she the dearest person ever!

Last weekend, I was talking to my ma, back in Assam, and she sounded so happy, so excited. The reason, she and three of her sisters (two couldn’t make it) were at my aita’s place. They were there to celebrate an important occasion for the family . But what was even more exciting was the fact that aita had six of her eight children ,including my two mamas(ma’s brothers) around her, at the same time, which is quite rare . Aita sounded ecstatic too..the house reverberated with laughs and stories and leg pulling and reliving memories.

When I talked to aita, that day, over the phone, I could almost  see the smiles on her small, bright, wrinkled face. I could almost see her bustling about the house, especially about the kitchen, as she always does, even now at her age, rustling up one delicacy after another. I could almost see myself watching her, with wonder, chopping those vegetables, and oh, so artfully, that each piece would probably, perfectly fit on top of another. I could see her every now and then trying to join in with her girls, now mothers themselves, and one (my ma) , who was even an aita herself. I could almost see her daughters trying to pull her leg, and aita, giggling, and not minding it at all. I could almost see her looking proudly over her brood, like a mother hen, as if they still needed looking after. Ma mentioned how aita was already fussing over her that she had lost weight and trying her best to fatten up her eldest child in the few days that they shared. And of, course, ma didn’t mind the fuss too. I can also see the wistfulness and mist in her eyes, as she remembers my late koka deuta (grandfather), who expired quite a few years ago.

Rengoni and Agastya love to hear tales about their  aju aita (great grandma). When I was talking to her that day, over the phone, Rengoni asked me if aju aita had recovered. You see, a month ago, she had a fall and was in  a very serious way. But, ma said, there was hardly any sign of it…one wouldn’t even realise if not told about it. She was her usual,  active self. Actually, god bless her, aita’s falls are quite a joke in the family…she has probably had the most number of falls and fractures than any other person that I’ve known. Not they are capable of keeping her in bed for long, though…she literally has to be forced to do that.

I longed so much, to be there, by her side, laying my head on her lap, while she stroked my hair. I longed to listen to her stories, teasing her at times, longed to take in the wonderful aromas from her kitchen, which we thought was quite magical, when we were young. We talked over the phone,for quite a while, that day. Aita wished us, and like always, gave us her blessings and mentioned , quite proudly, how we were, after all, a part of her, a branch of the tree that she was, and that wherever we may be, a part of her will always be with us…I could not agree more. When Rengoni was on the phone, I realised that there we were, four generations of women, separated by oceans and lands, talking to each other, all bound by a common thread. Amazing, this thing called ‘family’ is, isn’t it ?

After all this talk of familiar lands, it is only fair that today’s recipe is an Assamese speciality…‘Saru maas diya adar jool’( Small fish in  a light ginger gravy).

The Assamese are great fish lovers….proximity to the mighty river Brahmaputra is probably the main reason. The fish curries that we make usually have a light, soupy consistency, but are packed with fresh, natural flavours. Fish, both big and smaller varieties are found in plenty. With the smaller variety, dishes like the one mentioned above are quite popular. They are  made in relatively small quantities, as a side dish, to accompany plain rice, dal and vegetables.

The kind of small fish that we use in the UK to satisfy those cravings, are called sprats. Back home, before putting the fish in the curry, they are always pan fried. This time, just on the spur of the moment, I popped the sprats in the oven, and they came out beautifully crisp as ever, and that too , without any oil at all. They make for lovely, crispy snacks too.

I will mention both the ways below…

What’s needed-

10-12 sprats or any other small fish, gutted and washed

1C water ( may need more)

1/2 tsp +1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 tsp salt + extra for seasoning the gravy

1 tsp cornflour (level) mixed with 2 tsp water

1 bay leaf

1 whole red chilli, halved

1/2 tsp of paas puron

2 and 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and smashed

1 tsp of mustard oil + extra for shallow frying the fish

How to-

  1. Heat the oil in a pan. Rub the 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder over the fishes and shallow fry them in the hot oil.(If you want to bake, rub them with the salt and turmeric; arrange in a single layer on a baking tray, lined with foil ; place the tray in the top rack of a pre heated oven (220 deg C) and bake till nice and crisp; turn over once)
  2. Heat the 1 tsp of mustard oil. If you’re frying the fish, use some from the remaining oil.
  3. Add the paas puron, bay leaf and chilli halves. When the seeds splutter, add the ginger and 1/4 tsp turmeric powder and fry over medium heat, stirring constantly for a few seconds or till the ginger begins to leave it’s wonderful aroma. Do not let it burn though!
  4. Add the water, cornflour mixture, salt and stir well, to remove any lumps. Bring to a boil. Simmer for a few seconds.
  5. Lower the heat and add the fish. Simmer for about a minute so that the gravy is infused into the fish…the later will soften. Add a little more water if necessary…the gravy should be quite light.
  6. Serve hot.

That’s it! Very easy to make, but with beautiful flavours. If you’re a vegetarian and would like to enjoy this curry, you could add some small dalir bor /bora ( red lentil fritters) to the gravy. We had our jool with plain rice, dal and labra ( a mixed vegetable dish). Of course, it would probably not match my aita’s culinary skills, but it did not do that bad either :-)

On another note,

The February edition of Think spice is being being guest hosted in Greece by dear Ivy . Think spice is a nice way to know more about regular spices and also to discover unusual ones along the way. Ivy  wanted to choose mastic gum, which is unique to Greece. But, as we were not sure whether the spice would be available in any other part of the world, and at the same time did not want to leave out an unique spice, I have made an exception and allowed two spices to be featured in this edition…mastic gum and fennel seeds So, next time you Think spice, think twice. Head over to Ivy’s to read more of the rules.


Have a great weekend everyone!

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Happy Cook January 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Beautiful picture sunita.
I would love to have that fish curry. I have not had them after beeing in India.
It is always a special occasion when all the kids can come together.
Last time we kids came together at the same time was 8 years back.
Always one of the other sister can’t make it , so we have not been alltogether at home for a while.


2 Sunita January 23, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Thank you HC…and yes, it’s nice when the family comes together :-)


3 Asha January 23, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Don’t know much about Assam, so far away from B’lore, eh? It’s nice to read about new names we call grandmas and the new culture. Family gatherings are always fun, specially for old generation! :)

Great looking meal, love the photo.

Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend. Monday is off school day here and another Orthodontics appointment to keep for Tushar. He wore braces for almost 4 yrs, it came off last week and now being discharged with a metal thing to wear for next few weeks! :) )


4 Sunita January 23, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Yes, family gatherings are real fun :-)

Glad you like the meal…hope everything goes well for Tushar :-)


5 sandeepa January 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm

What a sweet post !!!

I love small fish in a curry, will try putting them in the oven, frying all of them crisp needs a lot of oil

Your meal looks damn lovely


6 Sunita January 23, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Thanks Sandeepa…do try to bake them…we love these little sprats, but frying them does put me off every time..that’s why tried baking them…comes out crisp as well…just watch them like a hawk though :-)


7 priya January 23, 2009 at 6:11 pm

the sprat looks so much like sardines………….and the story brings back so many memories for me of my own childhood


8 Sunita January 23, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Thanks Priya…and yes, they do look similar, don’t they

Memories are always precious :-)


9 Shreya January 23, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Hi Sunita, lovely moving post! Love the preparations, and I mdae some fish fry yesterday. My mother made pomfret fish curry today. The pictures are heavenly, love those white plates and the stark contrast red in the background. Such a simple yet delicious meal too…


10 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:28 am

Simple meals always give the most omfort, don’t they :-)


11 indosungod January 23, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Sunita, family gatherings are precious aren’t they. Sad for us we miss most of them living so far away.

The fish curry looks fantastic and the platter just delicious.


12 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:27 am

Thanks, and yes, one does miss those occasions :-(


13 Usha January 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Beautiful post, enjoyed reading it……


14 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:14 am

Thank you Usha :-)


15 Soma January 23, 2009 at 8:58 pm

What a beautiful picture you ahve painted Sunita. I miss everything so much…..

Its been eons since I had “choto maacher jhal” (in Bengali):-)


16 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:20 am

Thank you Soma… tumi jano, ami bangla khoob bhalokore bujte pari …a bit rusty now, so please overlook any mistakes I might have made :-)


17 Cham January 24, 2009 at 2:44 am

Sounds the family in Assam is having a blast … The fish curry looks delectable and baking fish (i would have never thought- was it fishy smell all over the house?)- The dry fish fry will look like exactly like this… I am drooling over the second pict the most.


18 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:22 am

Fish does leave it’s smell, but we’re so used to it :-)


19 Maya January 24, 2009 at 4:55 am

How wonderfully written Sunita..Grandmom’s place is the best place, lots of memories attached. The fish curry looks nice and simple. Don’t knw what Sprats is, but they sure do look a lot like Sardines.


20 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:24 am

Thank you Maya :-) …Sprats are small oily fish…you can use other types of smaller fish as well.


21 snookydoodle January 24, 2009 at 7:10 am

I really enjpyed reading about your family I could feel the love there is between your family generations. amazing. This fish curry looks awesome :) so colourful too :)


22 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 10:24 am

Thanks snooky…being so far away, one does miss the special family occasions a lot :-)


23 Munni January 24, 2009 at 8:16 pm

I’ve been reading your blog for a while, love the new look, Nice write up about your family and great food !!


24 Sunita January 24, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Thanks Munni…do drop by to say hello :-)


25 Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy January 25, 2009 at 5:16 pm

What a nice post! It must be hard for you to be so far from family. I can tell how close you are. Your fish curry looks lovely! I like that you tried baking the fish instead of frying. Much less messy!


26 Sunita January 26, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Thanks Susan…one does tend to miss one’s family, especially during special occasions.

As for the fish, baking them also means doing away with all that oil too :-)


27 Ivy January 25, 2009 at 7:09 pm

I love your family stories Sunita and your aita was very lucky not to sustain any severe injuries. Your pictures are stunning and a lovely recipe as well.


28 Sunita January 26, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Thanks Ivy :-)


29 Sig January 26, 2009 at 1:55 am

I love getting a glimpse into Assamese culture through your posts Sunita! And that fish curry is super tempting, in fact that picture of the oven roasted fish is driving me nuts. I want some crispy fish now, but I am too lazy to go and get some fish now, what a dilemma! :)


30 Sunita January 26, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Thanks Sig.

As for the fish, try it sometime..we’ve stopped frying them nowadays and bake them instead, and always keep some for munching…R and A love their share of ‘crispy baby fish’ too :-)


31 Jyothsna January 26, 2009 at 6:53 am

That’s a sweet way to call grandparents. Family gatherings are always fun and when we stay away we tend to miss them much more. Nice picture.


32 Sunita January 26, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Yes Jyothsna…distance does make the heart grow fonder :-)


33 Maya January 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I started to miss home as I was reading this. Would fresh sardines work here?


34 Sunita January 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I haven’t tried this with sardines, but do go on and give it a try, should work :-)


35 bee January 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

you know what, i’d have eaten those baked sprats before they got into any curry or anywhere else. gorgeous. dish. and your aita sounds like a real gem.


36 Sunita January 26, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Bee, I always keep aside some for munching…the kids love it too.

And yes, aitas are special, aren’t they :-)


37 Rupa Sengupta January 29, 2009 at 3:22 am

Yummy recipe … umm crispy fish…. love them.

I am suddenly missing my own grandma so much after this reading this ! She is at the moment in W.Bengal and she had a big fall and fracture recently ….So I can actually relate to all that you have written…. Family is really an amazing thing. thanks for sharing this :)


38 Sunita January 29, 2009 at 7:46 am

Yes, it’s hard sometimes when one is far from family…hope your grandma has a quick recovery:-)

Btw, we have a special relationship with W. Bengal…both our kids were born there ( Kolkata, to be precise :-)


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