The Fish That Smelt Like Fruit

It was around 6 in the evening when I reached Varkala. I was hoping I would get to see the sunset or some of the fishermen sort out their nets or set sail, but missed both. With only one option left, I left to get a glimpse of the laid-back “night life”. Varkala, in Kerala, boasts some of the best coastlines in southern India, but I was there only to taste the  catch on this side of the ocean. And all I can see after my palate partied for two days is- my two days were transcendent!

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Strolling around North Cliff, all I smelt was mild scents of incense sticks, salt in the air, but nothing fishy. Quite frankly, I was disappointed. I was hoping to smell that sweaty, pungent fish frying in oil. But, a few meters ahead, Sid-my best friend for the next two days- welcomed me with a big smile to his station stocked with fresh fish, from red snappers to tiger prawns and squids. It smelt.. not fishy! It smelt like fresh ocean water. I loved it! A general misconception where I come from, most homes avoid cooking fish because it stinks up the entire kitchen, but only here did I learn the most tingling aromas of frying fish!

He suggested tiger prawns grilled with lemon and garlic sauce and served with a salad. BEST prawns I’ve ever had! His men are also great with the grill- perfect amount of smokiness, perfect pinkness and oh, so juicy!

Some of their other catch included mahi-mahi, tuna, butter fish all served either grilled or steamed in tandoori masala or lemon garlic butter. Their specialty was butter fish marinated in coconut and spices, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed to perfection. This comes with a side of coconut rice, which is just the perfect accompaniment!

Watching Sid slide his knife through the butter fish to get the perfect portion for me was some kind of epiphany. I don’t think I will ever have my butcher cut my fish or meat for me.

When I came back home, I tried to fillet my own fish. It was not a clean, neat cut, but I feel like there was some amount of work that had gotten into it, that feeling of doing something from scratch, investing those extra minutes that made the perfect dish. Even if it was me alone devouring the dish, there was a whole new level of satisfaction. The moment you cut into the fish, slather some sauce on the piece, get other components all in one bite and look at the variety and the color, the feeling is kind of indescribable.

Varkala showed this to me. The perks of traveling, eh? I drew so much inspiration from the ocean, I just can’t stop filleting fish!

On my plate is Teriyaki fish, with smoked ginger for fragrance, soy glaze/sauce and a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg. Yes, egg is great with fish!

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Second, is a fairly lighter, more aromatic and fruity dish. Perfectly seared crispy skin fish, basted in brown butter and served with red cabbage puree, grapefruit and grapefruit butter sauce and garnished with dill.

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Of course, more fish dishes will follow! I have enough pictures, sensations, experiences and aromas to inspire me. But here is a glimpse of the tastes of Varkala:

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