Guest Post by My Mother: Noakhailla Nona Ilish (Salted Hilsa)

The illicit happines of eating Nona Ilish
Being from Noakhali (coastal area) Nona Ilish is almost staple for my parents.  My ma tells ‘During the months when Ilish is in abundance in fish markets, our cooks would buy them in bulk and salt them for later use. Ilish was always served when there was an important meal at home, which we often had. On the months when fresh Ilish was not available in market, our cooks would use the nona Ilish so as to take away the pain of not getting fresh fish’.
The tradition continues. I am in love with nona Ilish and we still get nona Ilish from Bangladesh, thanks to my didon (maternal grandmother). I am not sure about the process of making the nona Ilish. My mother tells that usually fish is cleaned and cut. Then salted and stored in a terracotta pottery underneath the kitchen floor (their kitchen floor was mud made for a long time. Now it is concrete). However, my father thinks otherwise. He thinks all you need to do is clean and cut the fish. Then salt them properly and store them in fridge. He thinks his version is the modern way of doing the nona Ilish. I do not know how the fishmongers would react to it, but the nona Ilish my mother cooked is made by my father using his modern method. He proved himself quite right.

For the uninitiated, this fish does not smell like ‘shutki ‘(dry fish) nor does it taste fermented. Salt actually works as a preservative for the fish. It also gives distinct taste and texture. I always thought it is the Bengal’s who eat salted fish. However, I realised that Tesco in UK sells salted fish in World food section.  There are bottled salted fish that many uses in salads.  My mother was very excited to hear this as if it was her own creation being eaten by global people. It also gave a sense of superiority to her: as if, rest of the world has learnt to eat salted fish from Noakhali. That is how important it is to her!

Note: this cooking does not need any extra salt.


4-pieces of salted Hilsa (Ilish)

2-onions cut into thin slices

½-teaspoon turmeric powder

1-teaspoon red chili powder (you can use less hot variety as well)

Lots of oil (4/5 table spoon or more)


1.     Soak the salted fish in warm water and clean it properly

2.    Soak it again in warm water until the fish is soft

3.    Meanwhile , take the onions in a bowl and mix them with hand to make them soft

4.    Heat oil in a pan and add onions

5.    Add the turmeric and red chili powder and fry the onions until oil separates

6.    Throw the water from the fish and cut them into small pieces

7.    Add the fish with onions and fry for 5/10mins

8.    Add little water and cover

9.    Cook until fish is cooked and onion soft and oil has separated

10. Serve with white rice

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Guest Post by My Mother: Noakhailla Nona Ilish (Salted Hilsa)
Print Recipe
Guest Post by My Mother: Noakhailla Nona Ilish (Salted Hilsa)
Print Recipe

3 thoughts on “Guest Post by My Mother: Noakhailla Nona Ilish (Salted Hilsa)”

  • Simon, grr8 to see someone cooking Nona Ilish and publishing it in a blog. Lovely recipe and picture.

    My mother is originally from Noakhali and when she got married, she had brought some wonderful recipes of Nona Ilish along with her. I love thin gravy of Nona Ilish with wedges of eggplant and my all time favorite, Nona Ilish in a bed of onion strips wrapped with a gourd/pumpkin leaf pan baked.

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