22 January, 2021

Those Mean Papas

The sea, the fresh catch, the Kerala fish curry, from Kochi to Kozhikode

Illustration by Namboodiri
Those Mean Papas

“Poooyeeey,” the call of fish vendors, is a childhood sound I miss. Hundreds of such mellifluous sounds, rising from village roads, narrow alleys, and from the small fishing craft plying in the canals in water-bound villages, would add up to a happy Malayali morning. The calls have now given way to honks from horns fitted on fish sellers’ mopeds; the sound, nonetheless, remains welcome as ever.

Fishing harbours are a good place to start looking for how fish get on to dining tables in Kerala. The one in Kochi, among the biggest in the country, is an extraordinarily live place, with each homing vessel, laden with silvery catch, receiving high-decibel welcome. The sound blows the roof off when the auction starts. It’s also the place to catch the usually reticent Malayali at his animated best.

I used to be amazed by the variety of fish at the harbour: matthi (sardines), ayla (mackerel), avoli (pomfret), neimeen (seer fish) and choora (tuna) were common. An occasional catch of seelav...



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