In the northeastern Bangladeshi region of Sylhet, shidol chutney is more than a mere condiment. It’s a cold remedy, a pervasive scent, and a spicy challenge.
Cooks begin with small, freshwater fish called puti maach. After the creatures have been sun-dried, shidol-makers line an earthenware pot with a mixture of mustard oil and oil from the fish’s guts. This vessel, called a motka, is then packed with the dried fish, sealed, and buried for several months.
After the fish have finished fermenting, families from around the region buy the pungent product (the smell clings to kitchens for ages) to enhance a multitude of dishes. After cooking the fish in heaps of spices, such as garlic, turmeric, and red chili, chefs will add it to curries for a bit of tangy, fishy heat, or simply wrap it in pumpkin leaves and fry into crispy nuggets.
The mixture is often prepared with so much spicy powder that diners sport runny noses and teary, red eyes while eating. Though the spice is painful, locals in Sylhet swear it’s a remedy for colds and headaches.