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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Maska Maarke: Monsoon adventures with treasures from the deep

Wondering whether to eat or not to eat seafood in the rains? Check out my new finds of the season, where the fish is always fresh and lip-smacking good.

mumbai Updated: Jun 29, 2018 21:23 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
(HT Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)

It’s the big question that troubles Mumbaikars as soon as it rains. Everyone asks it, and everyone has his or her own answer. It’s almost Shakespearean. To eat or not to eat fish when it rains, that is the question.

Anybody who lives in Mumbai knows that when it rains here, it really rains. The skies turn dense, dark and forebodingly ink-like. The sea seethes and heaves, and giant waves pound the concrete tetrapods, sending salty spray onto the streets. Taking a boat out into the inhospitable sea becomes a deranged risk and so the Kolis, Mumbai’s small indigenous fishing community, drag all their boats ashore and shut shop.

It is said that this is also a kindly habitude, allowing fish to mate, lay eggs and replenish their populations in peace. It’s only after Narali Purnima at the end of August that the fisherfolk will set sail again. So a simple axiom dictates that if no one’s fishing in the monsoon, the fish available will not be fresh, hence everyone should avoid eating fish in this season. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

But eating fish remains an obsession with most Mumbaikars and in these modern times, when preservation techniques have developed into a fine art, markets, hawkers, cold storages and online marketplaces and are exuberantly swarming with fresh-tasting fish, whatever the season. Be it Bhaucha Dhakka, Mumbai’s biggest fish market, where only the early morning bird can catch a fish, or the Sassoon Docks, where the freshest catch comes ashore, it’s fish time all year round.

Rock Oysters served with an apple chutney, a spicy Asian sauce and Caviar, at Zoravar Kalra’s new restaurant, Rivers to Oceans.
Rock Oysters served with an apple chutney, a spicy Asian sauce and Caviar, at Zoravar Kalra’s new restaurant, Rivers to Oceans.

I grew up in a family and community of fish-eaters. Us Pathare Prabhus have shared these islands of Mumbai with the Kolis for over 700 years. For the elders in the family, good quality fish and the acquisition of a fresh catch daily was an obsessive-compulsive order. And although my patrician Anglophile family had a bevy of staff members to run the household, my great-uncle would go to the fish market in the flesh, to ensure we were fed only the best.

So when seafood restaurants like Bharat Excellensea and Trishna became sought-after and Butter Garlic Crab became a faddy thing to order in the early ’90s, it held no fascination for me.

Prawns, Mussels and Clams were the daily diet at home. Mumbai’s favourite fish, Paaplet or Saranga (Pomfret), Bombil (Bombay Duck), Surmai (Seer), Halwa (Black Pomfret) and Rawas (Indian Salmon), were in abundance at lunch and dinner. And Crab and Lobster were as commonplace as Daal and Rice.

But who can resist the seafood cuisines of the Malabar and Coromandel coasts of India? Both Mahesh Lunch Home and Apoorva in their pre-air-conditioned days were dimly lit bars with generous helpings of melancholy and Mangalorean food — spicy gassi, prawn sukke and fried fish.

The Clam Sukka at Bandra restaurant Ferry Wharf, my discovery of the season.
The Clam Sukka at Bandra restaurant Ferry Wharf, my discovery of the season.

This week I discovered a new Mangalorean restaurant, Ferry Wharf. A very Mumbai and unlikely Mangalorean name. But Prakash Rai’s seafood is spectacular. Red Snapper in Green Curry, creamy and delicately spiced with a slightly refined taste of otherwise macho Tuluva masalas. Clam and Prawn Sukka generously cooked with grated coconut goes roaring well with Neer Dosa and the Prawn Ghee Biryani is red hot and smoky. It’s quiet, tucked away at Bandra Reclamation and is my discovery of the season.

But the big-bang launch when it comes to seafood is Zoravar Kalra’s new restaurant, Rivers to Oceans (R2O). Zoravar, like his father Jiggs, can exhaust you with his knowledge and passion about food. He’s taken over the mantle of innovation from ol’ Jiggs and with chefs Varun Kinger, Saurabh Udinia and chief sommelier Pratik Angre, have launched a Neptunian treasure chest.

The degustation menu, using innovative techniques, textures and tastes, is as good as any nouvelle meal I’ve had anywhere in the world. Starting with a Seafood Cold Bar that included Local Rock Oysters served with an apple chutney, a spicy Asian sauce and Caviar; luscious Scampi Tartare with puffed amaranth and mandarin dressing; a Modernist Salad Niçoise; a traditional combination but a wonderful take on a Leek and Crab Soup, with butter crab sticks in a delicate crisp batter; Mini Lobster Roll; and to finish, a smooth Malabar Soft shell Crab Curry with Malabar Parottas. This seafood drowns you with taste and takes you straight to the bed.

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 21:17 IST