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Shutki: Dry Fish, North-By-Northeast

Shutki: Dry Fish, North-By-Northeast

Though the stuff is made in the coastal regions, where the catch is dried in the sun, its aroma wafts all across the northeast and Bangladesh, where the very hot and spicy curry is a daily happening as well as a delicacy

It’s a one-way-ticket to the moon!

Shutki maachh… ahaaa!

Let me not get into translations and dry dictionary meanings.

The crux is, it is dry, very, very dry!

Just as I took the turn on my left, inside the bazaar, the aroma of shutki maachh ran up my nostrils. Ummm!

There was rohu, katla, tangra… all sorts of fishes… dry and with the peculiar aroma that eloquently spelt ‘north-by-north-east’!

Well, now let us get to the brass tags: in English, they call it dry or fermented fish.

As the name suggests, it’s the fish which gets dried up in the sun and is consumed by a majority of the people in the northeast.

Simple to prepare, served piping hot, with the taste of red, hot chilli, garlic, onion… and “shidol”, or shutki will take you to a tour of the constellations up there.

The uniqueness of this dish is its exotic smell which cannot be concealed.

Dry fish can be preserved for longer duration.

The coastal region is the place where shutki is abundantly made and found.

Aaj shutki banabo” i(we shall make the shutki today) is a random line but very soothing for most (though not all) Bengalis to hear it.

My husband initially couldn’t stand the smell of shutki. He used to say “eto fresh maach thakte who eats dry maach” (Why have this smelly dry fish when there is so much fresh fish available?) But now he longs for shidol bora. And my daughter cries because it is very hot, but she finishes every bit of it

When I was a kid, this name “shidol” didn’t make much impact on my taste buds but gradually, being a Bengali foodie, I started craving for it. Now me, along with my brother, and now my husband, have also joined the club.

In Shillong, Khasi women make a fermented fish chutney known as “Tung Tab” which in my last visit to Guwahati, I relished in a village hut kind-of setup in the outskirts of Shillong.

It is brownish-red in colour, and is made of bhoot jholokia (the hottest chili in the world).

Its taste will blow your mind; it clears your nose, tongue and eyes – in short every sense is awoken.

When I used to fall sick with common cold or fever, it worked wonders for me.

Last time when I visited my in-laws, (they are Sylhetti Brahmans settled in Agartala, Triupra state in northeast India) I saw that in every household, shidol is made with different spices but that adds flavour.

So, I tried to jot down the recipes.

My husband initially couldn’t stand the smell of shutki. He used to say “eto fresh maach thakte who eats dry maach”(Why have this smelly dry fish when there is so much fresh fish available?)

Another famous line from my husband was “Please spray some room fresheners, the neighbours were complaining about the smell.”

My shutki was also termed as a rotten rat by my neighbours. It deeply saddened me, but who cares!

I have seen and also heard Ghoti people (typically, those from West Bengal) are not much shutki lovers. They find the smell very foul, but like I always say, beauty and taste depends on your taste buds and the habit of seeing it from childhood.

Like you know, Bengalis and fish go hand in hand.

Now it is evident that not only fresh fish, but dry fish finds its place above all.

Some say Tripura has a low mortality rate and the credit goes to shidol, though it is not scientifically proven.

We know, probiotic value increases with fermentation, makes it digestible and appetite takes the upper seat.

A famous shidol recipe which is coming to my mind is gudok.

A pot-stewed dish prepared with shidol and few seasonal vegetables like pumpkin, brinjals and jackfruit seeds.

It is an enriched, wholesome food rich in proteins.

Shidol is something which is transported to all corners of India and to far-away lands across the globe.

In Bangalore, whenever my parents pay a visit, they don’t forget to bring shidol. It’s invariable.

My father’s duty is to pack the dry fish with 10-12 wrappers, so that the fish doesn’t smell in the flight.

It is an intangible food heritage in the history and geography of the northeast.

Shidol Bora, a delicacy in its own wayShidol Bora is the recipe which my husband longs for now, but that is not something which I get here easily.

Chow Chow leaves (squash pata), is the rarest item found in Bangalore. The fish is charred over fire and pounded using a flat stone pestle, which in Bengali, we call a shilnora or muller.

It is mixed with raw onion, garlic, chilli and mustard oil and the taste is heavenly.

Anytime we get some unexpected guest, my mother quickly prepares shidol.

I prefer shidol bora with rice and lentils.

My daughter cries because it is burning hot to taste, yet she finishes every bit of it.

My dida’s(Grandmother’s) shidol maach – I salivate till now, something which is unbeatable.

Later I learnt from her how to grind those spices to make the shidol chilli hot, tangy and spicy.

The story of shutki is vast, and in every house there is a story of shutki, which highlights the love and passion for the divine shutki.

See Also
Dol Jatra and Mutton

One can’t resist its temptation when it comes to shutki, its heart soul and love of Bangals (people from erstwhile East Bengal, especially those from Sylhet and Chittagong).


Now How De’Ye Make It!

Preparation time is 30 mins

Take 30 gm of shidol, clean it with warm water and remove the head first, which my mother does and I have seen it from her.

Cut vegetables like brinjal, tomato into slices (tomato is optional).

Cut onion -1

Oil -4 Spoon (Mustard oil)

Garlic cloves -4

Red Chilli /Green Chilli -5 to 6 (Depending on your Taste.)

First fry the Shidol and keep it aside

Put the onion in hot Oil and keep it frying till the colour changes.

Grind the garlic and put it after the onion is fried properly.

Now is the time to put all the fresh vegetables, salt and turmeric.

Lastly put the paste of green chilli and let it get fried.

When the vegetables become soft put the fried dry fish and close the lid.

Keep on stirring till the vegetables and shutki are mixed and thick in consistency.


If required put little water, but a little dry is better.


Enjoy this palatable dish with plain rice.

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View Comments (8)
  • Relished every bit…today is a Vegetarian Day in my house…else would have rushed to the kitchen and started preparing Shidol! Very well written…and yes, I wish I knew your address in Bangalore right now ?

    Keep writing more of such mouth watering cuisines!

    • Dear Nandini, we know there will be a few million people across east and northeast raising a toast to Shidhol, and thus, to the article in East India Story. When you scripted that letter, it was a veg day at your home. So now that it is over, go cook the stuff descended from heaven and let your family revel!

    • Thank u so very much. Do drop in bangalore sometimes I ll get company to relish shutki nd some chit chat with it will add up the fun.. Thanks once again.

  • Loved this article, literally (मुंह में पानी लाने वाला) it is the mouthwatering article.

    Shidol shutki has been my all time favourite and have never missed it even when I was miles away from India. I used to double, triple pack them and ensure that during check in at the airports, I have enough justification to convince the customs. Only once while flying via Doha got into a long discussion.

    Priyasha, I have always loved your quotes on FB timelines and I knew that you have it in you. Your view always tell one thing that how matured you are at this age only and it clearly reflects in your unbiased, rational, to the point and taking a stand for what is right.

    Looking forward to more and more articles from you.

    Once again Team EastIndiaStory, thanks for creating such a good platform ✌✌

    • Thanks Apu Das. Yes, that was a rather excellent article on an ‘aromatically rich’ issue. Fish itself is such a ‘hot potato’ for people from the east, as also for many communities of Tamil Nadu, coastal Karnataka and Kerala. On top of that, Shutki or dried fish? Ummaahh!! Thanks for writing to us. May the almighty ensure you have your Shidhol anytime and all the time!

    • Love love love to u Apu da much love ? for all the exaggerated appreciation. I feel so obliged. Its not my writing its the essence of shutki and north east which are in our blood and sweat so I guess shutki is the reason of appreciation.

  • Heavenly narrative and the best discussion a Sylheti will treasure… Extremely well written.. It is a masterpiece… The pictures are inviting too… Thanks..

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