Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The soul of a Goan lies in fish

The soul of a Goan lies in fish

Parshuram, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu is supposed to have shot his arrow and created the land of Goa on the western side of India and protected Vedas living there by sustaining himself mostly on fish. I generally don’t approve of Parshuram as he had beheaded his mother upon his father’s orders, but this story of him creating Goa and living on fish as much as I do, in my mind, transferred the major blame of his matricide on his father. Downwards of Parshuram, [as in my case] fish enters a Goan baby’s life, all of it a few months, with simple word ‘meme’ [both ‘me’s to be pronounced as in men with second m a bit nasal], and the baby gets hooked for life. As the baby would grow older, turns into an adult and then gets on with years, for medical reasons, may be advised not to drink milk, but never not to eat (boiled) fish. Only option left would be to put the miserable person on intravenous drips.

Many non-Goans do not understand the affinity of locals towards fish. A typical Goan declaration is ‘if you want to insult a Goan in a simple way, invite him/her for dinner and don’t serve fish’. Most Goan Hindu families do not eat non-vegetarian food during the days of religious functions, but later, with gusto, would arrange a lunch or a dinner where the main item would be fish, not even chicken or mutton. This applies even for Ganesh celebrations, a much-cherished festival for Goans. Many Hindu families get mackerels and cook and keep them in an outhouse for consuming immediately after the immersion of Ganesh on the last day of the festival. Mackerels do hold a place of gastronomical appreciation on this particular occasion. Umpteen times I have heard elders in the family during Ganesh days looking inquisitively at catholic neighbours returning from market with a ‘poti’ in hand. Knowing fully well they would still ask, ‘Kitem hadlem re’. The good neighbour would smile mischievously, ‘Kay na, tumi khay naat tem aayj ani fallyam.’ Rubbing the salt on tormented soul, he would continue, ‘Bangde, best asaat, savvay!’

For some people, the variety in seafood gets over with prawns, pomfrets or king fish; one may, as an afterthought, add crabs to the list, but there are more than 30 types of fish normally eaten in Goa, each having its own characteristic taste. It is said that fruits of labour taste sweet. Nothing could be truer than when dealing with fish, those with a lot of thorns or of smaller size taste better than other varieties. My friend from Belgaum would wholeheartedly agree to this. He once tasted in Sanvordem the fish curry made from nano (tiny) fish called ‘motyalim’ meaning pearly. The shining fish is so small that it cannot be cleaned or cooked individually. As a result, one just washes them in bulk and if fried or curried, eats them in bunches. The taste is divine. The friend added with righteous anger after devouring the meal, “why the xxxx Panaji restaurants do not prepare such lovely curry, ‘motyalim’ are so easily available, no?” I didn’t understand why he should be angry with me for idiotic management of Panaji restaurant guys.

Really, the truth is that most restaurants in Mapusa, Panaji or Margao make a mockery of that delectable dish called fish-curry. Usual practice in most of these is to simply prepare a general sauce of little coconut, slight onion and lot of turmeric and add to it whatever fish is available in the market. Sometimes, even the head of a big fish serves the purpose. Ask a Goan connoisseur, and you will get to hear that when fish curry is being prepared, the aroma emanating from the kitchen should tell you which fish is being curried. So prepared, curry has to have spices and other ingredients specific for the type of fish used. Unfortunately, restaurants while preparing curry with sardines or mackerels have started using tomatoes in place of trifala, a dark green coloured pea shaped, strongly, very strongly flavoured spice, which grows on a thorny tree. [Unfortunately, I have not seen this tree, too, in recent years, may be its ghost lies under some concrete somewhere; tomatoes can grow in colonies of balconies, can’t they!]

In childhood fairy tales, the soul of the beautiful princess could be kept in a parrot on an island; if so, the heart of a Goan would be in a fish, well, any seafood. Take your pick, but mine would be in an oyster, a rock oyster. Take care, an oyster should never be bitten with cruel teeth. One should play with it, live, with tongue. You would never know when it possesses your full mouth and slips inside you. That, I think, is the celebrated union of the body and soul!


Published in the Times of India, Goa edition, 1 June 2008
Kalidas Sawkar
11, Singbal bldg. Tonca, Caranzalem, Goa-403002
9420975758 k.sawkar@rediffmail.com

No comments: