Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big Fish Eats Small Fish

"I want to eat fish for every meal of the day" I said during lunch today. To which I got a prompt response if you were from Kerala that would be the norm. Well I'm not and fish in my mind is very exotic. Since I've been back, I've been very excited about trying out all the local seafood. Though I grew up in Mumbai, my exposure to seafood was very limited. Mum is vegetarian and dad only likes chicken. It was a rare occasion once a year maybe at China Garden we would order a crab and I would nibble at the white crab flesh unable to understand what the big deal was.
Chicago definitely changed that for me. I became more adventurous. I started experimenting with fish in different kinds of cuisines - Sushi, Korean anchovies, Mediterranean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Brazilian, Swedish, English, Zambian, Tanzanian, Ivory Coast, French you name it. I was expanding my very very limited knowledge and was even cooking up a storm in my kitchen. Grilled red snapper, buttery poached salmon, fried tilapia, curried prawns, mussel soup, king prawns on the grill, smelt chips, fried anchovies even Sushi. I tried various preparations and really started savoring the taste- fresh water fish as well as my beloved Seafood.
But I still had never tasted the local Mumbai and coastal fish, once a Goan preparation and once in Cochin. Thats it. When I got back I started reading more about it. Malwani, Mangalorean, Kohli, Goan, Karnatak, Kerala. Even in Kerala there 4 or 5 types I've been informed- Malabar Hindu, Malabar Mapplah, Travancore and Travancore Christian. Wow my knowledge in this matter was totally limited and my taste buds were dying in anticipation to try.
I read about the National Matsya Mahotsava (The Great Fish Festival) on Sassy Fork's blog. I was intrigued. This morning a random Facebook message from Rushina of A Perfect Bite swayed me to go attend and see what all this fish was about. So Janu (Ms. Cultured Purl), Rushina and I met up this evening at the Fish Festival- and for anyone who might be interested in this- today was the last day.
We skipped all the information stalls and headed straight for the food. The first food stall was run by a group of gregarious Kohli women who lived in Versova. They were giggly and happy to serve us food. Then they danced for us. I asked what they did otherwise. They were basically fisherwomen who sorted and sold fish to the sellers. They told me I could visit them in Versova after 5pm any day. I sure will. We ate some of their King Prawns, masala clams, masala prawns, fish curry, and a stuffed pomfret with the rice roti. It was delicious. Janu could not believe what she was eating. I loved the pomfret. I love fish- did I say that enough.
We decided to walk around and see all the stalls before we ate again. Stall after stall, interesting preparations. The food cuisines were limited to Konkan, Malwani and Indian Chinese. None the less the variety of fish and the preparations were great. But even better were the people behind these counters, their laughter, their celebration to share their incredible food, their smiles, their eagerness to make sure we like what they made. It was heart warming to be amongst them, they are proud fisher people, they know their fish and know how to make it. It was like chatting with various mums, they loved posing for my camera. They danced to the music, it was a party, the Kohli party. I was surprised not enough people came here. We did return to tasting the food. Tilapia manchurian, chili prawns, fried smelts with a dash of lemon, fried Bangda. We further indulged in two crabs that were stuffed with an incredible corriander chili masala, tandoori surmai and a shark curry. The tandoori surmai was probably the most delicious fish I have eaten. The flesh was buttery sweet. The shark had an after taste almost like that of shark liver oil pills. I did not mind it but no one else seemed to care for it.
Even my friend Slogan of Mumbai Paused joined us for a bit as he photographed the behind- the- scenes cooking which I joined him to see. Can't wait to see his clicks. Rushina bought a Surmai which the gang of fisherwomen are posing with. It was a lovely evening.
Did I say it enough- I LOVE fish.
As usual I had a hard time sorting, but I really wanted to share the spirit of this evening.

Janu is thrilled.

 The fish roe-
 The party begins
 Stuffed pomfret was simply incredible

 The Kohli Dance party
 Crab curry
 Sweet fried banana

 Dried fish, prawns, for chatni
 The stalls

 More dancing
 Dried fish decoration

 Tiger prawn pakoda.
 The space- almost empty for this wonderfulness

 The stage for performance
 There was veg food too
 I actually love dried fish too.

 Making the rice roti

 The Chinese style tilapia and shrimps
 Frying up Bombil
 Frying up some smelt
 Simple masala of turmeric, chili powder and salt
 My favourite little munching snack- smelts
 The bangda was delicious too
 Head first- Janu eating the head of the smelt for the first time.
 Rushina gingerly picked the flesh off the little fins, while I gobbled the whole thing
 I did that to the Bangda. All bones
 The masala crab
 The chef helping us break open the legs
 Janu absolutely loving the crab legs
 The crab graveyard
 Fresh Fish
 Rushina's Surmai

In the kitchen

 From the kitchen
 Chopping up Rushina's Surmai
Finally big fish eats small fish


  1. i love this post! It takes me back to my bombay days...and this little konkani/malvani place ratan used to take arundhati and chaitanya and me to after we had been working nights. And I would pig out on sol kadi and prawn koliwada and tisri masala....ooooh.

    i did not know they had tilapia in bombay. which is not strange... since i dont know the english names of indian fish! like surmai for instance. hmm.

    Also Jyotika - what kind of bombay foodie are you to not have exhaustively covered bombil fry? go cover!!

    Also, last time i was in bombay, the tandoori pomfret at gajalee was soo good i nearly died... or alternatively multiple orgasamed at the table.

    AnneeHEW. TA.

  2. Hey Megoosie. Thank you. I love how you still remember the names of the dishes. I should make better notes. The tilapia was being promoted as American. So I dont think its local. And I have tried prawn stuffed Bombil in Jaihind but yes I need to do more.

  3. Fabulous pictures and always! :)
    So glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.Going to such places gives me a high.
    Thanks for the mention

  4. Delhi can never have a fish festival!!! We do have a few joints that serve coastal cuisine and thank god for that!!

    Have heard so much about Malwani cuisine, hopefully someday I''l get to try it.

    And one of my favourite fantasies is settling in Goa and gorging on all the yummy curries with the crusty Goan Pao.

  5. here's a link to my previous post on Koli Festivals

  6. Awesome. Thanks for telling me about the festival. I loved it.

  7. This looks so fun and delicious. I was just talking to my cousin (who is married to an Italian) about their traditional "Seven Fishes" christmas eve meal. Read some more about it:

  8. Zazuuuuuu - this was so much fun!!! I also think this is one of your most fun and colorful posts - love the title - so very clever. Again - I dont think I could have enjoyed a festival like this with two better people - Rushina and you! This post will help me savior each impression in my memory!!

  9. Also - I think that this post (as opposed to your squid post) would make any vegetarian turn in their grave!! haha! :D

  10. Malvani and Mangalorean curries are some of the most difficult to photograph

  11. @Sassy Fork- What fun. Yes this rocks my boat too. I almost had a dance session with the ladies.
    @Purba- Mumbai is calling .. and I think with every post you talk abt your Goa fantasy :)
    @Slogan- I should have photoed u as well.
    vanessa- Wht a lovely idea a seven fish feast. I think I had 3 seven fish feasts then.
    Janu- I am so happy to have u around. I miss u always.
    The Knife: And.. so you like these pics I take it?

  12. Loved your blog and this post was a real treat .
    Clicked in here from Purba's blog n i am happy i did so.

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