We did not eat raw fish or Sushi, we ate the Mackerel or Bangda in Kerala style, in a Kerala restaurant, like you would find it in a Kallu Shaap (Toddy Shop) around the backwaters of Allepey. It was in heartland Kalkaji, in a erstwhile Punjabi refugee neighborhood called simply DDA Flats. This mean little Kerala restaurant was elusive, I found it with walking around and asking, I had spotted one a few years ago, but it moved when I went back. In fact have seen a few more appear and vanish. They are in the category of the Kerala Restaurants in Gautam Nagar (near Green Park in Delhi) and Julena (Okhla, near Escorts Hospital). I have written about them earlier.
Arun Alex Paul (the man who got me started , blogging), and I, constantly, were unable to vist the place and sink our teeth into the grub. We in turn eluded this palce nearly for 5 months. One very warm evening a week ago, we had to bite the bullet. In this case, bite the mullet, sorry mackerel.
Mackerel is a pelagic fish, fleshy ,oily and wholesome. It’s like a small tuna and a large sardine. Actually its somewhere in between (in terms of taste, we agreed). Without knowing that they all belong to the same family of Pelagic fish, I have enjoyed all of them fresh as well as canned. Strangely one sees the most cans with tuna, mackerel and sardines (ever since childhood). Probing further Pelagic fish, has further classifications in terms of taxonomy, Predator fish, e,g Tuna, Shark and Billfish and Forage fish, e.g ,Herring, Sardines and Anchovies. All great fish, but for lesser mortals, as compared to more expensive fish. Even here the salesman’s interest is kept top of mind, to find and appreciate interesting tasty and cheaper fish. Remember, under Rs 100/-
However, the worlds taste for fish are changing, they like, like everything else, more and better, similarly with fish. The last sardine cannery in USA shut in Maine , after 135 years last month in April 2010 (Stinson Seafood plant in Goldsboro in Maine), sad. Once, a mainstay of world cuisine, with idioms, packed like can of sardines and Enid Blyton, Famous Five feasting on Biscuits with Sardines and Lemonade. The famous John Steinbeck classic Cannerry Row set around Monterrey Bay. All these, indicate a healthy market and business for the foraging fish the humble herring, sardines and similar small fish.
Our God (Anthony Bourdain, often addressed affectionately as God among us food writers) declares Sardines, as his favorite fish. Despite all that, its, dying gourmet .But , my recent experience had nothing to do with Monterrey, Maine, Steinbeck, Blyton or for that matter Bourdain.
It’s about Tommy in a chaste Mallu accent it’s more like Taommi, the owner of two houseboats in Allepey and this working class eatery for bachelor Malayalis (men folk from Kerala), some foraging a livelihood in the mean mean city of New Delhi. Sounds good foraging fish for the foraging worker. As a Salesman, you are always foraging, remember.
Let’s cut to the meal, Me and Alex and Taomi in attendance, we order, a Vegetarian Thali with a fried fish (turns out to be a mackerel the star of this post), three kerala parothas (soft and chewy), a beef chilly fry (spicy,served with a flavorful complementary gravy), a plate of egg curry (with two devilled eggs, crowded with rings of orange semi cooked onions), yet another mackerel and bottle of mineral water. All for a handsome price of Rs185/- Yes ! Yes!
When I got back, dearest wife Praveen asked with concern as I slept and the morning after are you all right Sam? (she was mortified how can this guy survive these budget dinner and still wake up the next morning)
Cut To the mackerel, soft, marinated, flesh, falling of the bone, fresh, seldom does a dish so simple and humble move you like this moved me unexpectedly. I was singing and sweating at the same time. Kudos to Taomi or his Uttaranchali Chottu. But the food was nice. I would leave it to Alex, to add the review in t about the rest of the stuff as his comments. But the the next evening Alex was back there and eating , guess what a Thali and Fried Mackerel and he messaged this may be a start of something new.
So do you have a recent and interesting Fish story, I would love to hear it.
So Long !