| Prawn dishes have become common on the dining table thanks to increased supply
An abundance of prawns is making up for the absence of hilsas from the monsoon fish platter.
Shoppers are being greeted with baskets full of tiger (bagda) and scampi (galda) prawns at fish sellers across the city.
Fish lovers see divine justice in the spike in prawn supply and the consequent drop in price in a year when a ban on exports by Bangladesh and dwindling local harvest have made hilsa too expensive for most.
Salt Lake homemaker Madhumita Chatterjee, who generally cooks prawn only on special occasions, has been preparing Chingri Malaikari and Bhapa Chingri on alternate days for a couple of weeks.
My 12-year-old son is sold on prawns, said Madhumita, who buys prawns from CA Market.
A slump in exports to Europe and the US because of the economic downturn and increase in the production of tiger prawns in regions affected by the Aila in 2009 have resulted in easy availability of prawns.
The export to Europe and the US has dropped by 80 per cent, said Anil Sen of Calcutta Seafoods Private Limited, one of the biggest importers and exporters of fish in the city.
Syed Anwar Maqsood, another exporter, put the figure in the region of 50 per cent.
Japan, another big consumer of prawns from the state, has been rejecting consignments after finding that the fish had been fed antibiotics. Bheri owners have been mixing antibiotics with fish feed for a long time. Other animals like buffalo and goat are also administered antibiotics, said Sen.
Moreover, the production of tiger prawns has increased gradually over the past three years as saline water, in which they thrive, has been entering bheris in villages in North and South 24-Parganas since Cyclone Aila hit the state.
In my 10 years of buying fish, I have never seen so many prawns in the market. Vendors who do not usually sell prawn are selling them, said Joydeep Ghosh, a 35-year-old bank employee, who stays in Gariahat.
Abundant supply has meant lower prices.
In New Market, tiger prawns are selling at Rs 180-Rs 200 a kg. The price was Rs 400-Rs 450 a few months ago. A bigger variety is selling at Rs 300, down from Rs 500 a few months ago.
The price of scampi has also come down by Rs 50 and Rs 80 a kilogram.
In comparison, hilsa which is usually available for Rs 250 a kg this time of the year, is selling at Rs 600-700.
Since prawns are available relatively cheap this year, people are buying them. I am only trying to cash in, said Bablu Dutta, a wholesaler and retailer at Maniktala market.
According to many fish sellers, their prawn sales have doubled. I used to keep only a small amount of prawn since very few could afford it. But now I have been selling 30-35kg of prawn every day, said Nazrul Hossain, who has a stall at Shyambazar.