‘Bangdyache Hooman, Viswon Fry ani Xit’- these few words are more than enough to tempt us into sitting down to a traditional Goan meal! The words literally translate as ‘Mackerel Curry, Fried Kingfish and Rice’. Each time we’re in Goa, I can’t wait for this meal to be prepared. The quality of fresh fish and ingredients in Goa is excellent and gives way to a truly delicious meal. A special recipe of my mom Kamakshi’s, we hope you love it as much as we do.
The most interesting ingredient in this curry is a spice called ‘Triphal‘, most commonly found along the Konkan coast of India. It’s a very fragrant berry that has a sharp taste and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Left out to dry on plates in the summer sunshine, the outer covering of the berries turns dark brown and is then used to flavour different curries. The Portuguese called the berry ‘Limao Pimentose’ (pungent lemon) because of its unique flavour. If you aren’t able to source the Triphal, you could try using Sichuan Pepper in its place.
Lost! It was lost! The precious gold coin, a treasured possession of the Nayak family, was missing and poor, little Leela would have to answer for it! She felt terrified at the prospect of having misplaced the family heirloom. What would Aai (grandmother) say if she found the coin missing by evening? “No! No, there has to be a way to find the coin,” thought Leela to herself. The coin had been in her hand, just before she’d taken the vati (bowl)of masala paste from the maid and carried it into the kitchen. “Yes! It must have fallen in the aangan (courtyard) on the way to the kitchen!” she thought to herself, running down the shallow steps, checking every tile of the wide courtyard for the gleaming gold coin. It wasn’t to be found! Where could it be?! She raced back into the kitchen, nearly banging into the large matka (earthenware pot to store water) that stood near the doorway. “Be careful!” said her mother sternly, “I know it’s hot but we’d rather not have a flood in the kitchen!” The women were in a hurry now, putting finishing touches to the steaming dishes, lunch would be served soon.
Leela tried to rummage for the coin between the piles of vegetables but to no avail. What if the coin had fallen into the vati of masala paste? If the coin had fallen into the vati, Jaya kaki (aunt) might have added it to the fish curry by mistake, in the midst of all the bustle in the kitchen. “What do you think you’re doing near the chul (stove)?!” exclaimed Jaya kaki, “That curry is hot! Do you want to burn yourself? The kitchen isn’t a place for a little girl like you. Run outside and find your cousins. Tell them it’s time for lunch,” she said, pushing Leela out the kitchen door. How was she to ever find the coin! Tears welled up in the little girl’s eyes as she slowly made her way past the side of the house to the stream in the fields. She half-heartedly called out to her cousins and then followed them home, feeling even more dejected with every step. What would she say to Aai (grandmother)? Having lost the precious coin, how was she ever going to face her?
Lunch was served in the Nayak household and Leela’s cousins relished the fish curry with slices of fried Kingfish, steamed rice and tall glasses of cool Sol kadi . But she had no appetite that afternoon. She discreetly searched for the coin in the curry she was served but could not find it. Images of one of the family members choking on the coin as they ate, floated through her mind. Thankfully, lunch was over without any incident and watermelon slices were served. Leela washed her hands at the well and slowly walked up the stairs to Aai‘s room.
“Oh! I’ve been looking for you,” said Aai, “Come sit on the window sill and have some watermelon slices.” Aai collected the black seeds on her plate, handing Leela the ruby red pieces of fresh fruit, watching as the little girl ate in silence. “Is there anything you wish to tell me?” she asked as Leela looked at the floor and quietly shook her head. “Do you know, today I’ve had the most expensive Fish Curry of my life! Do you want to know what I found in my curry?” asked Aai, reaching into the folds of her sari for something that she handed to the little girl. The gold coin! It was the gold coin! And Aai had found it all along! Leela wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Aai chuckled, her voice soft and gentle as she said, “Shall we place the coin in the showcase together?. And perhaps henceforth, you can help to make sure that it always stays there?” Leela nodded, as Aai wiped her tears with the edge of her voile sari. The precious coin was returned to its rightful place in the showcase and stayed there for many years to come. But little Leela would never forget the day Aai had a truly expensive Goan Fish Curry.
- 5-6 Mackerel (Bangda)
- 1 teaspoon Salt, or to taste
- 2 teaspoons Lemon juice
- 5-6 tablespoons Water
- 2-3 Green Chillies, slit lengthwise
- 2-3 pieces of Triphal
- 3-4 pieces of Kokum
For the Vatap (Curry Paste):
- 1 cup freshly grated Coconut
- 1 teaspoon Red Chilli powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- 1/4 inch piece of Ginger (optional)
- 1 small ball of Tamarind/Imli (or 1/2 teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate)
Clean the Mackerel, removing the fins and scraping off the scales, then cut the fish into slices. Coat the slices with salt and lemon juice and keep aside.
Prepare the masala paste for the curry by grinding together the fresh coconut scrapings, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, ginger and tamarind.
In a pan, boil the slit green chillies in 5-6 tablespoons of water on low heat, until the chillies turn yellowish in colour. Add the ground masala paste to the pan and rinse out any masala paste that’s stuck to the mixer (blender) with a little water, adding it to the pan so as to obtain a curry-like consistency. Add salt (to taste), Triphal and Kokum pieces.
Boil the curry on low flame, stirring occasionally, until you see small bubbles along the edges of the pan. Do not boil coconut curries on high flame as the coconut milk tends to curdle. Once small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan, add the fish pieces to the curry and boil on low flame for five minutes or until the fish has cooked through.
The fish pieces tend to fall apart if the curry is stirred too often. To prevent the fish from falling apart as it cooks, take a spoon and place it sideways into the curry between two fish pieces. Very gently, shake the spoon to and fro, covering the fish pieces with the hot curry so they cook through. Serve the fish curry with freshly steamed rice or Goan Pão.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.