Deftly flipping the two-inch chunks of pale pink fish fillets, without a fancy $25 fish spatula, she was unable to answer my question regarding the kind of fish with which she was cooking. The quest to find the source of the fish or assure oneself that it’s a sustainable species is not on the forefront of thoughts of a housewife and cook living in India.
The fish consumed there is by default sustainable and fresh, natural and not well-travelled. Fish isn’t purchased at a counter inside a supermarket and bagged with crushed ice. In fact, they reside temporarily in the open-air fish markets that are on every neighborhood corner in cities like Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Panjim in Goa, close in proximity to their final destination: the cast-iron skillet, or in modern homes, the pricy 9000 rupee-worth Calphalon nonstick skillets.
Imagining a picturesque and colorful bustling market with the smell of the ocean air wafting through? No, that’s not what these markets really look like. Driving by, you wouldn’t even notice them—they are that small. Seems that some of these neighborhood markets only sold a few dozen fish and nothing else: no razorneck clams, no crimson-fleshed salmon, no rusty lump crabmeat in plastic tubs, or scallops that look like miniature pillows on beds of ice. The beauty of Indian markets is that each vendor sells his or her own particular product, whether it is a specific meat or fish, a particular type of clothing, or a variety of spices. The growth of supermarkets is just now pervading the larger cities but they are still few in number compared to the small open-air shops.
Mackerel and pomfret are examples of fish caught and consumed in India’s coastal waters, but in this recipe for fish curry adapted from my husband’s cousin who lives in the suburbs of Hyderabad, I use catfish or tilapia. A mild yet flaky foundation for the curry paste to adhere to is the kind of fish desired for this dish. Salmon would be more healthful, but would be a wasteful choice for such a generously flavored masala paste.