In India, a seafood dinner isn't about marinating a few store-bought fillets and frying them to perfection. It is an event, starting in the morning when the lady of the house trudges to the fish bazaar with a brightly striped nylon bag. There, a motley bunch of fisher-women vie for her attention by screaming out to her.
Don't let their pretty sarees or the flowers in their hair fool you, these women can leave a used-car salesman speechless. They employ all sorts of tactics, putting down the size of the other fisher-woman's prawns or resorting to emotional blackmail like "you haven't bought anything from me in so long" (the tone sweetens, but the intent is just as fierce).
The lady will ignore their pleas, secretly assessing the catch as she takes a walk around the market. After a once-over she will hone in on a fish. And then the drama begins.
The fisher-woman will quote a price and the lady will cut it by half. After much verbal sparring, walking away, and promises of never selling fish to her again, there comes silence; when they both settle on a price and the duel stops. The lady smiles. The fisher-woman says she'll see her tomorrow. And each is safe in the knowledge that she has got the better deal.
Basic Indian fried fish is very simple to make and totally delicious. There are variations from region to region, but one I personally enjoy is this simple Bangda (mackerel) Fry. It employs just five ingredients and gives great results each time. Even if you don't have to haggle with the fishmonger.
The aromas of fish-frying mean a lot. They're memories of bazaar trips with our mothers, where we learned that delicious food should be exciting from produce to plate.
About the author: Denise Dsilva Sankhe is a writer & creative director by profession. But that's only when she isn't eating her way across India. She recreates this delicious cuisine in her Mumbai home, which she shares with her newly-married husband, who has long since given up his determination to have salads for dinner.
- For the Mackerel
- 2 medium sized mackerels, cleaned and gutted.
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon ginger garlic paste.
- 1 1/2 Teaspoon red chilli powder (or to taste).
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder.
- 1 tablespoon lime juice or 1/2 tablespoon vinegar.
- Salt to taste.
- 2 tablespoons oil for frying.
- Lime wedges for garnishing.
Gut the mackerel, keep it whole and make 2 or 3 diagonal slits along it's length on both sides.
Mix ginger-garlic paste, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, lime juice/vinegar and salt in a bowl.
Apply the marinade to the fish, making sure that it gets into the slits. Allow it marinate for 8 to 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a pan till shimmering. Slide in the marinated mackerel and fry on a medium flame for about 4 minutes on each side till golden brown, taking care not to break the skin while flipping.
Serve hot with a sprinkle of lime.