Of Armchair Travels & Fish Curries

Of Armchair Travels & Fish Curries

I am craving a fish curry today. Making it is the easy part, deciding which kind is harder. After much deliberation – yes, we take such decisions with a great deal of gravity around here in our household – I settle on making a south Indian style curry, something that will go nicely with rice. But we’re not done yet. Choosing a fish curry from the south of India is like going in to Starbucks to order a coffee. Too many choices. Not that that’s a bad thing.

The southern half of India has a vast coastline which naturally provides access to the freshest seafood you can imagine. And if you were to travel along the coast, you’d find an almost infinite number of fish dishes that gradually vary in character as you cover each mile. And actually, someone has already been there, done that and written a book about it. Possibly even worn the tshirt but I couldn’t say for sure. Samanth Subramanian, in his book, Following Fish, writes evocatively about his travels & piscine meals along the Indian coastline. I have read this book several times – not just for his beautiful writing but also to vicariously relive his experience. If you’re looking for a book of fish recipes, this is not for you, but definitely read it if you want to armchair-travel along the Indian coastline and imagine yourself tasting the dishes that he describes. Be warned though, that envy might rear its head and salivary glands spring into action as you make your way through the book. Or perhaps that’s just me.

Coming back to the here and now, though, I finally settle on a curry I had eaten at a little restaurant in Mangalore, my home town on the south western coast of India. I forget the name of the restaurant as it was a while ago, but I loved the curry so much, I tried, with some success, to replicate it at home. I locate the recipe in my notebook, make the curry, cook the rice and as I tuck in, it’s easy to pretend I am back in my beloved home town with its sandy shores, the salt-tinged air and its tropical weather. I cling to this image on a dark and rainy December day in England and whether it’s this or the meal I cannot say, but I instantly feel more cheered. And that’s what counts when there’s a pandemic raging and travel is practically impossible.

Note: Not all fish curries taste better as they sit in the fridge but this one does. Lucky for the likes of me who want to savour the pleasure over a couple of days. Also, this curry has tiny pieces of ginger in it. If you or someone you know would rather not bite into ginger pieces, you could use 2 tsp grated ginger instead.

A Gingery Fish Curry

The red colour of this curry is indicative not of heat but of presence of tomato puree.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian


  • 500 g firm white fish such as basa defrosted if frozen
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ + ⅛ tsp turmeric powder, divided
  • 30 g coconut oil (measured solid) or any other oil about 2 tbsp
  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • 12 fenugreek seeds
  • 15 curry leaves, sliced
  • 100 g onions (peeled weight), sliced about 1/2 a cup
  • 6 - 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp finely chopped ginger
  • 2 mild green chillies, chopped more for flavour rather than heat
  • 2 tbs tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder this, like paprika, lends colour more than heat
  • ½-1 tsp extra hot chilli powder (optional)
  • squeeze of lime or lemon


  • Cut the fish into chunks about 1½ - 2 inches square. Sprinkle with the salt and the ¼ tsp turmeric. Mix gently and set aside while you make the curry. Keep all the curry ingredients ready near the hob before you proceed.
  • In a medium frying pan set over medium heat, add the oil then add the mustard seeds. When they splutter add the fenugreek seeds, stir and fry for a few seconds until they go a shade darker, then add the curry leaves and stir.
  • Add the onions, garlic, ginger & green chillies and fry on gentle heat for about 5 - 10 minutes until the onion looks golden.
  • Now add the tomato puree, salt to taste, the remaining ⅛ tsp turmeric powder, the two chilli powders and fry for another 5 -10 minutes until oil oozes from the periphery and the mixture looks fried.
  • Add 1 cup of water and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer, then gently add the fish pieces. Simmer uncovered, until the fish pieces are done. Add lemon or lime juice to taste and serve with fresh steamed rice.
Keyword basa, curry, fish, ginger, indian