India has a vast coastline and the population living along it is dependent on the abundant marine life as a source of income as well as food.
Since the fishermen community depends on marine life for food, staples such as fish curry and rice can be found in most coastal regions.
Coastal culinary styles
The type of seafood and style of cooking varies from state to state and coast to coast.
The states on the western coast of India have their unique culinary style. The flavours are often fiery – whether it is Malvani or Malabari, Mangalorean or Goan.
On the west coast, coconut and chillies are used in most dishes alongside a souring agent like vinegar or the delicious kokum (mangosteen). Other alternative souring agents are bimbli (a kind of sour fruit) and young, green mangoes.
Goa’s fish curry and rice mostly uses the plump bangda (a species of mackerel) and the curry is thick and coconut-based with kokum.
By contrast seafood dishes on the east coast hardly ever use coconut and the souring agent is commonly tamarind or tomato.
On the east coast in West Bengal, the curry will be thinner with turmeric, tomato and potatoes. The Nellore fish curry from Andhra Pradesh packs a punch and uses both tamarind and tomatoes.
When to enjoy seafood in India
All year through, one can enjoy India’s seafood dishes. Except in the monsoon. During the rainy season (June to mid-September), fishermen take a break and hang up their nets. This is partly because the sea is rough at the time, and storms are frequent. Also, in most places, monsoon is considered to be the breeding time for fish. Since seafood is scarce, people preserve fish by salting and drying or pickling them. In places like Goa, local restaurants buy fish in advance, sun-dry them, and store in airtight tins with a few mango leaves to preserve them.
Buying fresh seafood
In the eastern states of Orissa and West Bengal, it is customary for men to go early morning with a small thaila (bag) to the fish market to haggle and buy the best catch of the day. In some places along the coast, it is common to see people gather on the beach, waiting for the fishermen to bring in the day’s catch in their boats, and then bargain like crazy to get the best wholesale prices before the catch hits the markets.
In some areas like Kerala and Goa, the seafood or fish is brought right to your doorsteps in a basket by a fishmonger on a cycle.
In most places, tourists can try their hand at fishing, picking up tips from local fishermen or alternatively you can also buy fresh catch from the fish market or the beach and have them cooked at shacks or restaurants on the beach.
In many homestays your host will be able to give you a cooking demonstration and teach you how to cook your seafood catch in the local style. When you are back home, you will know how to recreate the dish and share some coastal Indian flavour with friends and family.
Fish curry recipe
A staple found along every stretch of coastline in India, fish curry is a delicious way to serve up some fresh seafood. Try this authentic tangy Goan fish curry recipe for yourself.
Goan Fish Curry (serves 3)
- 1 medium size firm, white fish (like pomfret or kingfish)
- 1/2 medium size onion, chopped fine
- 1/2 tsp tamarind paste
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- Spice paste (4 dry red chillies; 4 cloves garlic; 4 peppercorns; 1/2 tsp coriander seeds; 1 cup grated coconut)
- Firstly create the spice paste by grinding finely with a little water all the spice paste ingredients together.
- Pat dry the fish with a kitchen towel. Apply salt and turmeric and keep aside.
- Heat oil, put in chopped onion, stir.
- Add ground paste and a cup of water.
- Bring to a boil on low heat.
- Add tamarind paste and season with salt.
- Finally add fish slices, bring to a second boil then simmer for a few minutes.
- Serve hot with rice.