If I had a cupcake for each time someone asked ‘why do you love food so much?’ I’d be able to open my own bakery.
Though today I can answer that question as easily as the plotline of The Avengers, but there was some serious soul searching that got me here.
What is it about food that is so damn attractive?
Is it because we love eating? Or cooking? Or feeding people?
If we move away for a second from objectifying food (thank you internet, for visuals of everything dipped in cheese, nutella and all things super-sized) I think we can agree that food triggers our deepest memories of emotions and feelings.
If I ask you – describe your grandmother, how many mentions of her cooking would you give? Tell me about your last holiday- how many instances of new dishes would you have? One thing is pretty clear..
Food = Memories.
Which explains why each dish, cuisine and even ingredient comes with its own personal story. And these stories are handed down from family to family like sweet little heirlooms. No matter where life takes you, your food story travels with you.
This is one such story.
It’s a tale of two curries.
And it begins in the summer of 1498, when a certain Portuguese trader sails to the Indian shores. His name was Vasco Da Gama and he opened up a whole new chapter in India’s culinary History. The Portuguese came with spices, vinegars and vegetables. They settled in Goa, Kerala, Daman, Diu and even Mumbai. They stayed for four centuries and the rest, as they say is Vindaloo.
While they may no longer live in the country, the Portuguese have left behind a sizeable community who’s influence on our cuisine lingers on like sorpotel.
On a recent trip to Diu (click here for a sneak peak) I met Jivabhai, a typical Gujarati gentleman who runs a typical fast food cart in the main market. But if you scratch the bhurji-pav surface, you’ll discover a bowlful of delicious flavours and stories.
Jivabhai’s family, like many others in the region, has Portuguese blood. His family tree is a colourful mix of culture, language and of course, food. He speaks fluent Portuguese, Gujarati and English.
Jivabhai is an ex-shipman who is now leading a content, city life. His day starts in the morning with a trip to the local market where he picks up vegetables, meats and herbs for his food cart. He comes home and gets cooking for the evening. His bestselling item is breaded chicken cutlets which he claims, sell out in an hour. Soon it’s time for lunch, which is usually served with a side of chilled beer and cricket. After an afternoon nap, Jivabhai finishes cooking and sets off with his cart towards the market.
As I wolf down two plates of those chicken cutlets, he invites me home for an authentic Diu-Portuguese meal. The condition is that I have to begin from scratch. And that means waking up at 7am.
I tumble out of an auto rickshaw at 7.30am. Beary eyed and hankering for caffeine. What I find instead, is a glorious jetty and two markets. One selling vegetables and the other seafood.
Now I’ve seen a lot of fish markets in my time, from super sized to the very organized & labeled. But this fish market is very different – its cozy, almost comforting.
It takes a nano second to establish that everyone knows everyone and is somehow related to the other. It seems everyone at the fish market is very clear of their purpose. The women sold the day’s catch, the men bargained and bought. The cats hung around for the bones. And I clicked pictures like a manic rabbit.
Look at that bounty!
Watching Jivabhai expertly navigate the rows and piles of fresh seafood is an absolute delight. He walks around checking the gills of the fish, heads of the prawns and chatting up the ladies for a good price.
For our meal, he picks up two types of fish – Pomfret & Halwa and a whole heap of prawns.
We scamper back to his home where I meet the family – two young boys and a lovely wife, all of who cook together! #familygoals
It was an absolute pleasure to watch the family at work. Jivabhai cleans and filets the fish while his wife starts making the masala. The oldest son is busy chopping tomatoes while the younger one is peeling onions. “This is a regular feature in our home, everyone contributes to the meal. It makes the food a lot more delicious!”
Jivabhai had a simple but hearty meal planned for us – Green fish curry, Fiery red prawns and spicy fried fish.
His agenda was to showcase some of the finest Portuguese-Gujarati dishes passed down through the generations of his family. And while he preserves this culinary heritage, he doesn’t shy away from adding his own twist “Tomatoes and chilies are the two most important ingredients in our food. While we have fish twice a day, there must be a side of vegetables on the table.”
The star of our lunch is a gorgeous Green Fish Curry. This dish comes straight from the kitchens of Jivabhai’s mother who is also part Portuguese.One of the key ingredients to the food is a miracle vinegar which is made from palm and is used to add zing to both curries and salad. It is pretty pungent and needs a steady hand to cook.
The recipe has been passed down through generations like a family heirloom and continues to be main attraction of family events. And much like a good Indian story, this recipe too comes verbatim, from a mother to her son.
And from him, to you.
I am so grateful to Jivabhai for opening up his home and heart to me and my family
Green Fish Curry
For the Green Masala/ Spice Mix
- Coriander – 1/2 cup (Leaves only)
- Green Chilies, Sliced – 3 pieces
- Toddy/Malt Vinegar – 2 tbsp
- Garlic, Peeled & Chopped – 10 pods
- Ginger, Peeled & Chopped – 1.5 inches
- Whole Cinnamon – 4 small pieces
For the Curry
- Black Pomfret – 1 kg (cleaned and curry cut into about 8-10 pieces)
- Garlic, Peeled & Chopped – 5 pieces
- Tomatoes, Diced – 4 pieces
- Oil or Ghee – 3 tbsp
- Water – 1 cup
- Grind all the ingredients for the Green Masala as finely as possible.
- Put a pan on the flame and heat the oil until it is lightly heated. Fry the garlic for a minute and then add the tomatoes. Fry this for another 2 minutes.
- Add the green masala and fry till it cooks – for about 4 minutes. Now tip in the fish and the water and cook till the fish is tender and the curry is about half its liquid consistency. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Serve hot and garnish with fresh coriander.