Wondering what made these men so special? Wondering what made these women skip a beat? Fresh catch of seafood they used to bring everyday to our homes!!!! Francis was the guy who used to bring first class categories like Karimeen (Pearl Spots), Neimeen (Seer Fish), Njandu (Crab) etc and Mammali at that point of time, was a new guy in the neighborhood who brought both the exotic varieties as well as the small varieties like Mathi, Ayala (sardines, mackerel) etc and was slowly winning the hearts of women by selling fresh good fish at reasonable prices. Francis always got into a competitive mood whenever Mammali made it to the neighborhood first as he was always worried that the new chap would grab some of his business before his turn and it was fun to watch him trying to chase his competitor, on his bi-cycle with the fish basket tied behind the seat!
The other day I was frying some frozen sardines I got from our recent trip to Chicago and the sizzling sound from the frying pan, somehow gave me a flashing memory of these two men who always found a place in the casual chit-chats between my mother and aunt. From there my memory angel fondly took my hands and walked me through those days when I used to stay with my grandma and waited for the heroines of that neighborhood, Shantha, Leela, Njondi (lady had a limb on her left leg and none knew her name and hence everyone in that community called her Njondi, the one with a limb). I still remember Shantha, a dark plumb woman in her mid 30's, wearing a checkered ‘mundu’ (wrap–around) , green blouse and covering her bust with a ‘thorthu’ (white cotton towel) who would come on mid-mornings with a couple varieties of fish in a big round aluminum vessel lined with some thin black leather sheets and covered with a rugged plastic sack....and sometimes with a bunch of young green mangoes which she plucked from the mango tree in her neighbor’s backyard. After a round of intense bargaining, which typically goes like “ 8 for 5 “ for which my grandma demanded “10 for 5”, Shantha would settle down for a
Ggrandma waited for Shantha and Leela……. My mother and aunt waited for Francis and Mammaali and now wait for the new generation sellers…….who am I waiting for??? None comes to my door-step selling fresh produce or seafood, sit with me and share a story from the leaflets of her life or gossip about the grocery store man in the market who winked at her…..I haven’t even seen fresh fish, caught right from the sea in the last couple of years……instead I wait here looking at the frozen fish thawing in a plastic bowl!!
Mathi/Chaala/Sardines is a popular fish in Kerala and till a decade back, I could easily say that this is a poor man’s fish as it used to be available at a very reasonable price. I don’t know the current market rates but am sure it is no longer a poor man’s choice as it is getting pricey. Keralites have a soft spot when it comes to sardines. This is one of those everyday fish cooked in most of the homes for lunch or dinner. Here is a simple recipe for fried sardines aka Mathi/Chaala Varuthathu.
- 8 nos Mathi/Chaala/Sardines, cut and cleaned
- 3 tsp chilly powder
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ¼- ½ tsp freshly crushed pepper powder
- ½ tsp fresh ginger paste
- ½ tsp fresh garlic paste
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 tsp water
- Oil for shallow frying
- Make 3-4 slits on the fish; mix chilly powder, turmeric powder, pepper powder, ginger & garlic paste and salt with 2-3 tsp water, to make a thick paste. Marinate the fish evenly on both the sides and let it rest for atleast 30 minutes in room temperature, to let the marinade seep through the slits.
- Heat oil in a shallow pan and when it is hot, gently place the fish and shallow fry both the sides, in medium heat, until they are done. The cooking time varies depending on how crispy, soft, firm one wants it to be. Overcooking the fish will make it very crisp; those who want it firm but soft and moist may remove the cooked pieces when the oil starts to reduce spluttering.
Now, fried fish is ready and you are all set for clean up, isn’t it? Wait a second! There might be some leftover oil with fried marinade in the pan….do not waste it! Take a handful of cooked rice and mix it with the leftover oil and fried marinade, in the pan and sprinkle some salt on it and blend everything well and relish. I don’t have a name for this but would like to call this creation, “a sinfully tasty leftover princess!”, invented by some great grandmother or a clever maid who had a blessed palate to discover such a dish, before dumping that pan into the kitchen sink!
We used to lovingly tease our mother calling her, “Mother Mary” as she has this habit of giving the best to her husband and kids and then eating whatever is left, like all those great moms in the world but there is only one dish that could make her a bit selfish or atleast take a couple of spoonfuls before sharing it with us, and that is the rice mixed like this in oil, after frying the fish and now CJJ and yours truly do our little wrestling on the table, to get atleast an equal share :)
Other Kerala Seafood specials from this blog: Enjoy !