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On India’s coast, fish is more than just dinner

Idian fishermen put out their nets in anticipation of a big catch on the glistening waters near a beach at Goa, renown for its seafood.  ROB ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images

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India’s coastline is home to an array of fish, which find their way into local cuisine. But these fish play a much larger role than creating area tastes; they shape community history, culture and economy. Each region offers a unique take on the role of fish in daily life. In his book, “Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast,” journalist Samanth Subramanian explores the Indian coast and takes a look at its impact on the changing fishing industry, stopping to sample seafood dishes along the way. Subramanian spoke to Marketplace about his book from New Delhi.

Subramanian on the impact of fishing trawlers in community of Goa:

The traditional fishing community found itself out of a job just because of the advent of large, mechanized trawlers that took their place essentially. These trawlers fish all the year round. They take in such large catches that — for what in Brooklyn might be called the artisanal fisherman — there’s really not much to do. These fisherman find themselves out of work, and the only other industry in Goa to which they can turn is the tourism industry. So they sell their fishing boats, they buy a fleet of motorcycles or a shack on the beach and they set up shop. And from the comfort of our own homes we can bemoan the loss of traditional fishing. But it’s very difficult to put ourselves in their shoes and think about what we would do when it really is a question of economic survival.   

On his favorite local dish:

I go to a town called Mangalore and seek the perfect Mangalore fish curry, which is really a curry that is known well throughout the length and breadth of India. But I really wanted to taste it in a classic Mangalore home, and I do get to do that. The chapter ends with a cook taking me into her kitchen, under her wing, and making this curry for me right in front of my eyes. I fall a little bit in love with the cook. It’s all very complicated, but the dish comes out exquisite.   

Want to try the Mangalore fish curry yourself? Here’s a recipe:

Serves 3


3 mackerel (known locally as “bangude”), cleaned and cut into halves

½ to 1 cup water


To grind:

1/2 of a fresh or dried coconut

8 dried red chillies

1 teaspoon cilantro seeds

1/2 onion 

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

5 fresh, peeled garlic cloves

1 small lemon-sized ball tamarind

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/2 teaspoon carom/ajwain seeds

1 large, cubed tomato

Salt to taste


To season:

1 tablespoon coconut oil (can be substituted with any other oil)

1 handful curry leaves


To garnish:

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves



Take a grinder/blender and wet grind all the ingredients into a smooth, fine paste.

Take a large heavy-bottomed pan and add the ground paste, tomatoes, 1/2 to 1 cup water and fish, and bring to a boil on medium heat until the fish is cooked (about 8 to 10 minutes).

Next, take a seasoning pan and keep on low heat. Add oil and fry the curry leaves. Pour over the boiling fish.

Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

Serve hot with steaming white rice.

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