Don't just sea food
<p> </p> <p>When we say “coastal food”, we normally mean sea-food. And yes, it is true that the food of most coastal communities is fish. After all, not only do they have access to the freshest fish, but many residents in these areas make their living from fishing.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>I love the sea-food that is the central component of all coastal cuisine. And coastal fish dishes from all over the world are justly famous. In Brittany, the blue lobster, native to that part of the Atlantic Ocean, is much sought after. In Marseille, the fishermen use such unusual local fish as the scorpion fish to make bouillabaisse, the fish soup that defines that region. In Singapore, the local crab gave rise --- as late as 1950--- to what is now the city’s most iconic dish: the Singapore Chilli Crab. In Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, the sweet scallop makes for the best sashimi.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>That’s true in India, as well. Goan fish dishes are not needlessly complex but rely on the availability of fresh fish. In fact, some of the best meals to be had in Goa are to be found in beach shacks where they barbecue (or, if you prefer, sauté) freshly caught fish. In Cochin, you can eat well even without enjoying the fabled Malayali cuisine, if you stick to fresh oysters. They don’t travel well and are best enjoyed just after they have been picked in the Cochin coast.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>But here’s my point: you can eat well in coastal areas even if you don’t eat fish.</p> <p> <br /> </p> <p>Yes, that’s true. And so the true coastal delights are not the fish dishes you associate with coastal food.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>They are the meat dishes of these regions. And even the vegetarian cuisine.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>The key to all Indian cuisine is spicing. And coastal areas --- for reasons I have never been able to figure out --- have some of the best masalas in India.</p> <p><br /> <br /> For instance, the key ingredient in the Catholic cuisine of Goa is Peri Peri Masala. You may have heard the name. Nandos prides itself on its Peri Peri Chicken. And even when it’s spelt Piri Piri, it is the same ingredient. Here’s how it happened.</p> <p><br /> <br /> As you probably know, the chilli is not native to India. Europeans discovered it in South America and took it around the world. The Portuguese liked one particular chilli – called Peri Peri or Piri Piri – so much that they planted it in all their colonies, from Africa to Goa. That’s why South African chains like Barcelos brag about Piri Piri flavours.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>The Peri Peri masala, created around the original chilli, is the secret ingredient that makes Catholic Goan food so distinctive. And the masala gives you the same flavours in a vegetarian curry as well.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>Another example of a coastal dish that arose from the intermingling of cultures is the Moplah Biryani of Kerala. For about a thousand years, the ports of Kerala have been used for trade with the Middle East. Arab traders took spices from Calicut and gave the locals access to their pulaos and meat dishes.</p> <p><br /> <br /> </p> <p>It is from this synthesis of cultures that Moplah cuisine developed. It is unlike Kerala’s many other cuisines and is far removed from the celebrated Muslim cuisines of India, say Avadh or Hyderabad.</p> <p><br /> </p> <p>So when you go to a coast, forget, if you can, the fishermen and their catch. Remember that coasts are where ships docked and voyages began. So the cuisines of most of India’s coastal regions are complex and distinctive. They combine influences from all over the world and offer an international taste that the cuisines of the hinterland do not.</p> <p><br /> <br /> These are my coastal delights. Not just crabs and prawns. But masalas steeped in history. </p>
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