A tale of fish curries from across India & the IFBA 2015 best Culinary Travel blog win

The IFBA 2015 best culinary blog award


I want to share some good news with you.

The IFBA 2015 awards night was held at the J W Marriott Juhu in Mumbai on Friday night. This is organised by the Indian Food Blogger's Association in a function that sees bloggers, journalists, chefs, marketers, hoteliers and restaurateurs attending. 

The awards are decided by a jury of eminent folks from the world of food (70 pc) and public voting (30 pc)

Finely Chopped won the best Culinary Travel Blog award this year! This is a category in which we have won in each of the three years that the awards have been given so far.

Big thanks to all of you who read the blog, voted for it and to the jury and to FBAI. And of course to K for planning all our lovely holidays together and not minding my writing while we are on the road.

Felt really great to get the award home. 

I am now gearing up for the next phase of my life inspired by this quote from Daisaku Ikeda, the president of the Soka Gakkai International.

"To strive even higher, to do even better—the creative process is a desperate struggle to go beyond what we were yesterday. It is a battle against resting on our laurels, against the fear of losing what we have. It is an adventure into unknown territory."

Featured contributor in MW October 2015


Since this award is about culinary travels, I am going to leave you with an article of mine which was published in the October 2015 issue of the MW Magazine.

The article is on fish curries from across India. The article scratches the surface of the variety of fish curries you get across India but will hopefully tempt you to go on an expedition to try them all. I really enjoyed writing this which is rather strange given that I hated fish curries while growing up.

Exploring the variety of fish curries available across India made me change my mind.

The article in MW


Here's the unedited version of the article which first appeared in MW Magazine October 2015:

                                                                  The Fish Trail

If you were to attend a conference in a Mumbai hotel you would always find the usual suspects in the buffet.

Sweet and sour soup, veg au gratin, Manchurian balls, kali dal, butter chicken and something called ‘Goan fish curry’.

Of course if you talk to my friend, Gia, you will realize that there is no one thing called Goan fish curry!

To start with there is a difference in the fish curries Goan Catholics make, which have vinegar, unlike the kokum based, vinegar-less curries of the Goan Hindus. There are some Goan curries which use freshly grated coconut. Then there is the ambotik which is a lot more fiery and gets its red colour from the chillies used in it. Plus there are curries such as the guizad which are pretty light, more like a stew and is Portuguese influenced. Goans also have a more yellow curry which doesn’t have too many red chillies in them.

Actually the Portuguese have influenced quite a few of the ‘traditional’ coastal curries of today. The Parsi saas ni machhi is one example as Parsi food historian and caterer, Dr Kurush Dalal points out. It is a very interesting curry which is set in an egg custard at finish. Some say that even Keralite meen moilee is Portuguese influenced too though the jury is out on this.

The moilee is a good example of how much diversity there is in fish curries from the Southern coast of India.

The moilee is a light, non-spicy, coconut milk based curry where the main flavouring comes from fresh turmeric.

Then there is the equally famous gassi from Mangalore in South India, which uses grated coconut, tamarind, chillies, is red in colour unlike the yellowish moilee, and is a lot sharper, pungent and more fiery in taste than the latter.

The phrase ‘Bengali machher jhol’ (fish curry) is as clichéd in its use as the Goan fish curry’ of Mumbai hotel buffets.’

The varieties of fish curries in Bengal, like in Goa, are endless and there is no one Bengali fish curry. They can range from watery sauces (jhaals) which are subtly flavoured with green chillies and nigella seeds to the more robust and regal kaalias, which are special occasion dishes, and have onions, dry red chillies and garam masala at their core. Then there is the much revered shorsher jhol made with crushed mustard seeds.

The preferred fish in Bengal is fresh water fish unlike in say a Mumbai where it is all about salt water fish fresh from the local seas.

The thing about Bengali fish curry dishes is that they use mustard oil as the base. Moreover, unlike in the South of India where it is not so, the fish is always fried before it is added to the curry in Bengali.

No wonder cardiologists and gastroenterologists are always upset with their Bengali patients!

Maach bhaaja or fried fish is another Bengali favourite.

However, Bengalis don’t always fry their fish. Patoori, where the fish is marinated in a mustard and green chilli paste and steamed in a banana leaf, is an exception.

Just as the Bengalis in the east have their patoori, Parsis in the West have their patrani machhi. The fish is steamed in banana leaves here too.

That’s where the similarities end though.

Pomfret is preferred in patrani unlike the bhetki or hilsa chosen for patoori. While the fish in the patoori looks yellow, thanks to the mustard marinade, it is green in patrani because of the fresh coriander leaves, coconut and green chilli used in the marinade there.

Both patrani and patoori are prized in wedding meals.

Steaming fish in banana leaves is a practice in Assam too. Gitika Saikia, who does Assamese pop up meals in Mumbai, says that one version is made with mustard and the other with ginger, garlic and onion and no mustard.

They also make a dish called masor tenga in Assam which gets its tartness usually from tomatoes, a vegetable which is fairly new to India. In fact most Bengali fish curries, in contrast, don’t traditionally have tomatoes though a lot of modern Bengali houses use them now.

Coming back to fish fries, the Bombay duck (which is a fish) is a good example of how there can be regional variations in the way the same fish is fried.

The Parsis of Mumbai call it tareli boomla and like their fried Bombay Duck fry to be nice and juicy. Maharashtrians, on the other hand, prefer to flatten their Bombay duck under a stone before frying and like it to be crispy.

Talking of Maharashtra and Mumbai, the fishing community here are called Kolis. Unfortunately there is no restaurant  in Mumbai where you can try out their food. Your best bet is to look out for the Koli fish festivals which are held in winter.

All the big seafood restaurants of Mumbai…. Trishna, Mahesh, Apoorva, Gajalee…are Mangalorean owned.

Go to areas like Dadar and Parel in Mumbai to try out traditional Malvani fish preparations from coastal Maharashtra. These small, no frills restaurants had come up to cater for folks who had moved into Mumbai from the Malvan region to work in the mills here.

The Malvani curries have a greater proportion of coconut in them than Koli dishes from Mumbai. They are similar to Gomantak or Goan Hindu curries and it will really need an insider to tell the difference.

What about the north? Do they eat fish in the land of tandoori chicken?

“They are fine with fish here if the fish is fried, not served as a curry AND as long as it tastes like chicken!” said chef Kunal Kapoor while we waited to have the fried sole and singhara fish in Amritsar’s Makhan dhaba.

In case you have not guessed by now, I am Bengali and can talk for hours about the world of fish and we have just scratched the surface here when it comes to traditional fish dishes in India.

That’s enough for now though. It’s time for you to head out to your local market to buy fish.
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