Following Fish: Travels Around The Indian Coast
Published by Penguin
Reviewed by Kiran Manral
This is THE book to read if you are one who is fond of his fish, fried or curried. A collection of nine essays that explores India's coastline through its fish, the book promptly starts with a state where fish is a revered delicacy, namely, the hilsa in Bengal. The author goes into fish markets, where he learns to distinguish between a hilsa from the Ganges and a hilsa fish from the Padma, and into five star kitchens where he sees how the hilsa is prepared. And finally, he learns, like a true Bengali to chew a piece of hilsa in such a way that he can separate the bones from the flesh with his tongue. Much hilsa is sampled along the way.
From here, the author goes down to the South where he actually eats a live fish stuffed with a miracle cure for asthma. He visits the Bathini Goud family of Hyderabad who offer a medicine stuffed in a murrel fish once every year to asthma patients.The essay is extensively researched and does not offer an answer as to whether the medicine actually has any benefit or just a matter of faith healing, the author leaves it open for debate.
His essay on Kerala focuses less on the fish, and more on the toddy shop culture where he finds, to his consternation, that they are at times, not welcome customers. The fish factor is the spicy fried karimeen which people order along with the toddy. According to the toddy shop owners the spiciness makes people order more toddy, even in a set up where people just come to get a quick high and leave. Rather than sit and drink at leisure.
He goes onto Mangalore, where he searches high and low for the perfect Mangalore fish curry he remembers, only to realise (and taste) that the perfect fish curry will only be found in homes. And in Mumbai, he tries to understand the subtle difference between Malwani and Gomantak cuisines, both of which are heavily fish based.
The collection ends in Gujarat, which doesnt have a fish eating culture as so Subramanian focusses on the boat breaking culture that is part of the economy
Intensively researched, and very well written, Following Fish is a must read for anyone who likes their fish, tawa fried or curried.