I Grew up in a community where eating fish was followed as strictly as any religious practice. One thing quite peculiar about the Konkani Brahmins hailing from in and around the coastal city of Mangalore is that they are hard core fishitarians. Being from this community, I had by default the license to eat fish without being cast as an outcast. I can talk for hours on various fish delicacies, like how mussel can be prepared in two different ways; one where the meat is extracted by boiling the shell and the other in the Kerala style where the meat is extracted without boiling, both having its own texture and flavor, or how the the full moon crab is filled with chewy meat, while the new moon crab has little or no meat but it makes up for it with its sweet juices which when marinated with a spicy masala creates a dish which tastes out of this world.
Any hardcore fishitarian will agree that home cooked fish kicks hotel cooked fish any day of the year. I used to feel sorry for people who have to go hotels to get a hit from their fish cravings, for home is where the real taste lies. Fast forward, after having shifted into a different city , i was lonely, home sick and missed fish among other important things . In such troubled times, reading through a gem of a book, I came to hear about “Hotel Narayana”, apparently the best place in Mangalore for some fish goodness. It was a surprise that growing up stone throwing distance from Narayana i had never heard of this place. Reading a few more reviews online and a little enquiring I had made up my mind to pay Narayana a visit. Finally when that day came, it so turned out it was one of the hottest afternoons in Mangalore and I had taken a risk by asking mom to not cook any fish, i wanted to give Narayana a real try. My company for the day was my cousin, a serious kind who hardly speaks. But he was the one with the AC ride and had promised me to take care of the bill so i was more than happy with the company.
Narayana lies right next to Mangalore’s local bus stand also know as “State Bank” if you get to the District collectors office near State Bank, you could ask any one for directions. Staying true to the origins of a typical South Canara fish hotel, Narayana is situated in a modest looking build, which can easily be confused for a costal home, with its tiled roofs and veranda entrance. Taking a turn around a alley through the road you get a view of the completely uninteresting building, but your sense of smell is at its euphoric best for your nostrils are filled with the heavy aroma of masala being cooked in coconut oil. With the excitement soaring, I hurried into the crowded hotel to get a piece of the action, and took my place at a table which accommodated 7 other hungry souls.
Food was served on banana leaf with the initial items being restricted to rice and some random fish curry, nothing exciting or good as of yet and after almost being disappointed at the bland taste, enter the chef’s best delicacy!. A tray filled with 4 different varieties of fish and lots
of mouth watering fried masala was placed in front of me. The masala for any South Kanara fry consists of finely ground Chillies(dried ones), Coriander forming a dark red paste mixed with salt to taste is applied to the fish and then deep fried in cocunut oil. What makes Narayan’s fish fry the best is the masala, with each ingredient being present in the prefect proportions and the pure coconut oil in which the fish is deep fried. The time the fish has arrived at my table I was so animated that i was acting like a child, not knowing which fish to taste I ended up having 3 pieces of different fishes. I cant actually explain how it tastes but to give you an idea the masala was a right balance of spice and salt and the fish at its crispiest best with a flavor of coconut oil, but it did taste heavenly and I had completely forgotten about people around, it was like I was in a parallel universe with me and my food. With my stomach completely packed, the meal was ended with some buttermilk to cool off my body and a bill of 450 Rs was paid and we headed back home. I had one of the best fish fries of my life and I was in a state of euphoria, but i was not to betray my favourite chef, my Mom, so easily as she was given a subtle warning “The next time you cook fish it better be very good, cause you have got a competition in town”
Thank you Pai Mam for the Proof reading.