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Kunal Vijayakar gives a fish eater’s guide to Mumbai

Love fish? Kunal Vijayakar gives you the no-nonsense culinary guide to the city

art and culture Updated: Jan 12, 2017 15:18 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Surmai Fry (HT file photo )

Love fish? Kunal Vijayakar gives you the no-nonsense culinary guide to the city

I’m about to reveal a secret. A heretofore classified piece of information that might undermine, nay, corrode my credibility as a food expert: I don’t like eating fish. There. I said it.

I grew up in a predominantly fish-eating family. After all, I come from a community of bona fide Mumbaikars, the Pathare Prabhus, the earliest inhabitants of this city. We settled on the coastal land in the 1300s, and the fresh catch of the Koli community has always been our sustenance.

Read: Kunal Vijayakar lists some of the most iconic breakfast places in Mumbai

Quality fish, and the acquisition of fresh catch daily, was so important, that though my quasi-aristocratic and hedonistic family had scores of staff members to run the household, male members would go to the fish market themselves, albeit with an entourage.

Sneha Restaurant in Mahim (HT file photo)

To ensure that he got the best size, desired cut, and the freshest produce, my great-uncle would argue, coax, even flirt with the fisherwoman. Some say he had a regular female vendor who he not only courted, but may even have seduced. All for a piece of fish.

The haul would come home in huge cylindrical aluminium tubs, before being sorted and cooked into Pathare Prabhu delicacies like kolambiche khadkahdle (prawns cooked with shells, with garlic and masala), metkutache bhujane (fish cooked with pickle masala, onions and garlic), katyache bhujane (ghol cooked with garlic onions and masalas) or kolambicha athale (prawns with garlic, onion, jaggery and tamarind).

I still don’t like fish. But I cannot resist crustaceans, like crabs, lobsters, mussels, oysters and shrimp. And Mumbai is a heaven for both fish and shellfish alike, thanks to the Mangaloreans, Keralites and Saraswats, who run some formidable, time-honoured fish joints in the city.

Fish Biryani (HT file photo )

Starting with my favourite, Harish Lunch Home, at Irla. Two Mangalorean brothers run this place with great pride. It’s their prawn gassi (prawns in thick coconut curry), meen pullimunchi (spicy, tangy Mangalorean fish curry with coconut and tamarind) and gabholi (fish eggs) tava fry, that makes this joint stand apart. Mop all this up with rice or appams.

For Gomantak or Saraswat Hindu seafood, three places hit the spot. Highway Gomantak and Sadiccha (both in Bandra East), and Chaitanya behind Siddhivinayak temple in Prabhadevi. The Potnis family that runs Highway Gomantak, for years, cooked out of their home kitchen. The surmai or paplet curry thali and the fried bombil served with sol kadhi draws in the crowds.

Sadiccha, right around the corner from Gomantak, serves an array of Malvani fish, but their jhawala koshimbir (spicy mixture of tiny shrimp) and tisrya biryani hit the spot. Sadiccha also makes whole pomfret stuffed with prawns. A gimmick, but it works.

Fried bombil (HT file photo )

Chaitanya Assal Malvani Bhojan Graha, as it is lovingly called, is run by the ever-exuberant Surekha Walkhe. Her masalas, coconut, even her tamarind comes straight from her village in Malwan. I find her food more home-style than both Sadiccha and Highway Gomantak. Fish pros insist that Chaitanya’s mandeli fish curry, bangda tikhale, and surmai fry, accompanied by Amboli or a Ghavane, are unbeatable.

If you are on your way to Marve, try Cherry’s Kitchen, near Orlem Church at Malad. The Kerala meen curry is full of spice, tamarind and curry leaves. On a good day, they serve it with soft tapioca.

The legendary Kerala restaurants will always be Sneha and Medina at Mahim. It’s their fish biryani and fish fry that’s popular, but do order a fish thali. Prawns fry masala at Taste of Kerala and fried squid at Hotel Deluxe, both at Fort, complete your experience.

I want to end with Grant House at Crawford Market. The food is an amalgamation of Malwani, Mangalorean and Keralite cuisine. I grew up eating kheema pav there, but give their fish a chance.

Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar