“Fish to taste right, must swim three times, in water, in butter and in wine” says a Polish proverb With a massive 7517 km of marin...

For the love of fish

6 May 2016


“Fish to taste right, must swim three times, in water, in butter and in wine” says a Polish proverb

With a massive 7517 km of marine coastline, India is one of the major fish consuming and exporting countries in the world. Naturally, the seafood preparation changes with each community every few kms. Born into a CKP (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu) family, I have practically lived on fish my entire life. My adoration for Prawns and their kind has taken me to places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise. With all the places I have been to, a few have left a lasting impression and I find myself going back again and again. These are my top tried and tasted recommendations for anyone who lives on seafood.

Chiplun

A last minute weekend getaway to Guhaghar, a sleepy coastal town in Konkan brought us to Hotel Deepak in Chiplun. Four hungry souls marched in to the only place we saw open en route. Super tired after a long drive we could barely register the menu that the waiter parroted away to us. Fish Thali! I heard that. Yes. I want that! And soon enough a huge plate of my favourite Surmai (King Fish) Thali glided on the table. One by one, our individual orders came through and it was nothing short of a feast.  There was Surmai (King Fish) and Bangda (Mackerel) thali and Kolambi (Prawns) Masala and Mandeli (Anchovy) Fry. The thalis had a generous helping of fried fish and Kalvan (Curry) along with Bhakri, Rice, pickle and the must have Solkadhi.

The tempting Prawns Masala
Solkadhi, to those who are not aware, is a typical Konkani drink usually consumed after meals. It is made from coconut milk and Kokum. Solkadhi is known for its digestive properties and is a specialty of the Konkan region. Considering the not so good condition of the hotel, the food was unexpectedly delicious. 

A typical Malvani Fish Thali
It had an acute homely flavour that satiated our souls. The shallow fried fish was perfect with the right amount of spices and marination and the curries reminded us of the summer holidays with our grandmom. The hospitality of the staff even though we had arrived beyond their work hours was heartwarming. 

Since the first visit, we have a made a point to eat there at least once during the course of our journey. We have become their regular family of customers and ambassadors of their tasty food!

Anchovy being fried. A popular fish in the coastal regions, Anchovy is not easily available inland
Must Try: Mandeli Fry. 
Address: Hotel Deepak, NH 17, Dhamandivi, Chiplun, Maharashtra
Beach Access: Guhaghar beach is approximately a One hour drive

Though there are no statistics to prove it, 'Chal Goa Chalte Hain' is probably the most often used phrase when it comes to making spontaneous travel plans in India. Be it a teenager just out of school looking for his first cheap beer or a working professional just wanting a break, Goa is the go-to place. The laid back atmosphere and the plethora of food options is a major crowd puller. It is a paradise for seafood lovers. Kingfish is the most popular seafood consumed. Other varieties include Pompret, Tuna, Prawns, Lobsters, Crab and Squid, which is a delicacy.

No trip to Goa is complete without sampling the local food and visiting my favourite hang outs. As the Portuguese ruled the state for a long time, the Goan cuisine is influenced mainly by Malvani (due to its proximity to Malvan, a town in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra which is home to the Malvani cuisine) and the Portuguese style of cooking. Their love for food is seen through the many methods of preparation like Balchao, Xacuti, Sorpotel, Cafreal and Vindaloo. 

North Goa

My love for the Cafreal, which is a masala mainly consisting of coriander leaves, green chillies, lime and herbs took me Florentine, famous for its dishes prepared in Cafreal masala. It is not a sea side shack as one would expect but a brick and stone structure little away from the shore. The restaurant thrives on word of mouth with little or no advertising. Florentine is a few decades old and has maintained its charm and taste through the years which is evident by the fact that one can find the restaurant jam packed at any given time of the day.

The special and family secret ingredients added in the Cafreal masala prepared here has earned them a loyal set of followers in both, locals and tourists. The Kingfish Cafreal at Florentine was one of the most sumptuous meals I had in a long time. The fish tasted fresh and melted in my mouth. The masala was to die for. Never before have I licked off everything from my plate so as to not even waste a morsel. If you are the type that loves to sample local cuisine, Florentine is the place to try it out. Don’t be alarmed by the crowd or bother about the hygiene around you, just dig in. 

Must Try: Fish in Cafreal masala, obviously!
Address: Chogm Rd, Muddavaddi, Saligao, Goa
Beach Access: Calangute Beach is few driving minutes away 

South Goa

Located in the sleepy town of Betalbatim in South Goa, Martin's Corner is famous for its seafood and relaxed ambiance.  A close friend recommended this restaurant and one hot day we finally made it there. The Football WC was in progress and the football fever was at its peak. Goa being a football crazy state, the restaurant was adorned with flags of all participating nations. A popular hangout with both the locals and tourists, they probably serve the best Butter Garlic Prawns. The prawns were brilliantly cooked and there was a generous amount of the butter garlic sauce to go with them. The sauce was beautifully prepared and there were no negatives I could point out.

One of the best Butter Garlic Prawns I’ve had. Don’t they look yummylicious?
After a more than satisfactory start to our lunch, we moved on to the traditional Goan Fish Curry Rice on the recommendation of our server. Cooked with local flavours, the dish usually uses Mackerel (Bangda) for preparation. The curry is a mix of spicy and tangy flavour brought in by the use of tomato. The dish is prepared almost every day in Goan homes. The dish was appetizing but I would've liked some more of the Mackerel that was diced into small pieces. The quantity of rice and the curry was enough for two people and we left the restaurant content.

The traditional Goan Fish Curry Rice
Being close to the sea helps them source fresh and high quality seafood. Coupled with a good chef, many of the dishes at Martin's Corner are usually on every tourists list.

Must Try: Butter Garlic Prawns & Goan Fish Curry Rice
Address: Binwaddo, Betalbatim, Salcette, Goa 
Beach Access: Colva and Majorda Beach are close by. 

Bandhavgarh

Wondering what Bandhavgarh is doing on this list? No, it’s not a hidden seaside town. It is the famous National Park right in the middle of our country. Though I visited Bandhavgarh with the intention of catching up on some elusive wildlife, the freshwater fish served at our resort was a bonus.

Having lived on seawater fish my entire life, I was not keen on getting into unfamiliar territory. I have heard stories of how freshwater fish if not cleaned properly tastes muddy and was in no mood to verify that. Reluctantly, I bit into the soft piece of flesh just lying there on my plate and was relieved. Not bad! Definitely not muddy. The fish tasted oddly sweet though but that might have been the local method of preparation. A few more bites and I was enjoying it. Surprisingly, I ordered for more and relished the entire portion too. The fish (name unknown) was prepared using locally available herbs and spices and was shallow fried to perfection. 

Bandhavgarh does not have many stand-alone restaurants and the resorts that you stay at offer full meal services. Ask your resort manager/chef to prepare it. They will happily oblige. 

Malaysia

When you leave your home town to travel, your driver is your best friend. Not only does he show you around but will also engross you in stories that you will not find in any guidebook. Hoping to sample local Malaysian cuisine, our driver took me to a non-descript road side stall. 'Try the Fish Ball soup', he said. Trusting him, I ordered for one. Not knowing what exactly was going to be served, I patiently waited. The old lady at the stall gave me a warm smile as she brought me a large bowl. I'll be honest, it did not smell great. I hid my disappointment as my driver was staring at me expectantly. He started explaining the ingredients and the preparation method just as readied to taste the soup. Chicken broth and fish bones. What?? Yes, fish bones were boiled in chicken broth to add flavour. If that seems weird, the fish balls that were floating in the soup were made out of finely minced fish until it turns sticky and paste like.  Add salt and herbs to taste and bring them to boil in the soup. Include a few vegetable and noodles as an option and voila, fish ball soup. Though it was not a taste I was used too, it did not seem so bad after a few sips. The soup was flavourful and fish balls tasted okay. 

Malaysian Fish Ball Soup. Just try it once, okay?
The fish used was locally found and unfortunately they did not know the name for it in English. If you ask me whether I would eat it again, then probably not. But I would surely recommend trying it once. You never know, you might love it!

Fish Ball Soup is a popular food item in South East Asia and the Orient. From road side stalls to decent restaurants, you will find it everywhere.

Mumbai

With more than half my extended family in Mumbai, summer holidays were always spent by the sea. The commercial capital of India is also a foodie's paradise. From inexpensive street food to high end restaurants, Mumbai has it all. One such family favourite is Highway Gomantak in Bandra. Started almost 20 years ago, Highway Gomantak is considered the Mecca of Goan/Malvani seafood in Mumbai. A family run restaurant, they cater to a large number of patrons on a daily basis. The restaurant is not fancy and food is usually served in steel plates. Though the fish served was fresh, the smell from the amalgamation of all that was being cooked in the kitchen wafted outside and was not very pretty. The strong smell left me overwhelmed and unimpressed. I found it difficult to concentrate on the menu and order. My father encouraged me to ignore the smell and dive in and taste the food. 

The exterior of the famous non fancy Highway Gomantak
I ordered the Kolambi (Prawns) Fry, a safe choice. Considering the crowd, the order came through sooner than I expected. I heaved a sigh of relief as the food was served. My prawns looked so so good. They tasted even better. Though they looked spicy, the masala was a perfect blend. I had no complaints. The prawns were succulent and of a decent size. They source their fish fresh and it was evident. The start was good and I was keen on sampling a few more dishes. Their menu is extensive and after much deliberation, I settled for a Rawas (Indian Salmon) Curry and rice.  As expected, it was spectacular! The fish was soft and cooked well. The curry was a Malvani style preparation with coconut milk as a base. The spices used were sourced from Konkan and provided the distinctive flavour. The food served was wholesome and fulfilling. We left the restaurant counting the days to our next visit. 

Must Try: Items in their special masala
Address: 44/2179, Gandhi Nagar, Behind Maratha Store, Service Road, Bandra East- Mumbai-51 

I was introduced to the taste of freshwater fish in the most unexpected way and in the most unexpected of places. The incident strengthened my love for seafood. I am in the process of creating a list to go on a fish eating spree. West Bengal tops my list , I would love to savour their favourite Illish and the huge variety of freshwater fish available in their numerous rivers and ponds. Another seafood type I have wanted to try is the Squid. Long ago, a friend described the taste but unfortunately I am yet to find a place that serves good Squid. I guess I might end up buying them from www.fishvish.com and cook it myself. Thankfully, they also have recipes for people like me. Obviously, I’ll first have to learn to cook for that. Maybe someday I can be proud of my cooking skills as I am about my eating skills. Till then, I will concentrate on finishing my list. 



About the Author
Nupur Pradhan is a traveller at heart. Self-confessed Potterhead. And is finding a way to make money while living out of a backpack.



Image Credits

Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: Malvani Fish Thali
Image Credit: Fried Anchovies
Image Credit: Fish Ball Soup
Image Credit: Highway Gomantak
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