grilled fish barbecued

Meen kolai (Barbecued fish)

All the practical aspects for my blog posts take place out of my house, usually when I’m travelling to different places on official work, or on leave -especially my annual leave which I prefer to take all at once for Christmas. This is a blessing in disguise as I can focus all my energy on my list of things to do and research.  Once I switch off my phone for a month, it is utopia. The Christmas before last, I had heard that the fisher folk of Udupi  have a very easy method of grilling their fish. I did ask the fish wife Yashodha who comes selling fish to our house daily and she told me how it was done and then as usual I got involved with my other projects. It wasn’t time yet for that post.

Last Christmas, 365 days later, I remembered it again and asked her once more to refresh my memory and finally decided to try it out. It is eight months since then, so I’ve had to ask my mother to refresh my memory again. If her memory serves her right, then these are the ingredients that were applied to the fish after it was gutted and washed.

Green chillies, Ginger, Tamarind and Salt. These were ground to a paste and applied to the fish before it was grilled. Whenever I get a chance to verify the method again, I’ll recheck the ingredients and edit them if necessary as they seem suspiciously similar to that of my grandmother’s recipe. I remember Yashodha’s recipe being much simpler. It is not uncommon for mum at her age to forget an ingredient or accidentally add some of her own :P

To make a long story short and get on with posting the photographs, half way through my preparations, mum suddenly remembered how my grandmother used to grill fish so she hijacked Yashodha’s  recipe. So this is more or less how my grandmother grilled fish or rather how my mum remembers it as it was done quite rarely and her younger siblings don’t seem to recollect anything of it. Probably grandma stopped doing it after the number of members in the family increased or it wasn’t economical as you can get more mileage out of fish curry than grilled fish -similar to how you can eat a full tandoori chicken if you put your mind to it but will not be able to eat more than half in a curry.

The chief difference between my grandmother’s method apart from a slight difference in the ingredients, is that the fish was not gutted. According to mum, once the fish is grilled, gently jerking the fish in the right direction will cause all the offal to fall off. This is quite possible as one of the fish (probably Yashodha passed on a stale fish) had its offal fall off into the fire while grilling. You can see that in the photographs.

This method of grilling is called Kolai Voipun in Tulu. I’m not sure what Kolai stands for. I’ve heard the term meen kolai where meen means fish. The word Voipun usually means to pull or maybe in this case to pull off or peel? Probably in relation to peeling off or removing the skin from the fish after grilling. This is just a guess, I could be totally wrong.

Here’s how I made it then… -Enjoy!

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Beg, borrow or steal a few fish. These are Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta), they are called bangude in Tulu and Kannada and Bangda in Marathi and Aila in and around Delhi. These are as fresh as they come as we stay next to the sea -they still come in ice though, as fishermen need to go further away into the sea to get fish, thanks to overfishing
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Step 2 : Keep a wary eye on this dame (Felis catus), as you will be cooking in the open and she is just as interested in this recipe as you are!
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Next, go to the garden (without forgetting step 2) and harvest some green chillies. I like these small ones as they are pretty hot. They are called Dirsale munchi here. Munchi is chilly in Tulu
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Place all the ingredients on the grinding stone, -tamarind, sea salt, ginger and green chillies.
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Grind them coarsely to a paste till you can roll it into a ball
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Now for the grill. I took the next best route to climbing the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) -climb up to my aunt’s roof. Chop down a frond, throw it over the edge and walk down to collect it. The frond of the coconut tree is called a madal in Tulu. I think The central rib is called a kottaligae.
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Get rid of the leaves. This made one of my aunts very happy as she was making some brooms for herself. Then I reduced the thickness of the rib with my fiddleback Maple scaled BHK Bushcrafter knife and cut it to the required length. This was my favourite Bushcraft knife -before I bought the Timberwolf, hence the special mention 🙂
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Test the lengths of the pieces and make any adjustments if necessary
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Build a fire to prepare your coals. Dried coconut leaves burn very fiercely and are excellent fire starters, and coconut shells once they catch fire hiss like a primus stove and give off tremendous heat. However idealy I would prefer wood charcoal. Unfortunately mum burns everything when “cleaning” the garden. Her idea of cleaning is, ‘slash and burn everything’
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Turn it over after a while so that the other side cooks too. Fish cooks pretty fast. Can you make out which fish was stale? It is the one which got auto-gutted while turning over…
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Turn it over a couple of times at intervals till you are satisfied that the fish is cooked. Do not burn it! Note how the skin has loosened all over
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Take it off the grill and bring it in. The eyes of fish turn opaque when the fish is cooked. Once again note what happened to the stale fish
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Now carefully debone the fish and take off the skin. The bones and head can be given to the Felis catus who will be grateful to you for the next 45 seconds.
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Shred the fish a bit, mix it around with your ground paste and your meen kolai is ready. Once more remember step 2 because the hairy mammal is always lurking around.

Credits:

| Manorama Soans | Prabhavati Kunder | Yashodha|

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