Buying fresh fish from the fishermen straight off the seashore in Kovalam… this was kind of an ultimate ode to fish lovers like us. The warm glow of the rising sun, the fresh breeze and the excitement of the buyers added to the bustle of the morning.
It was already 6:30am on a Saturday morning and we hurried. We had to reach Kovalam beach to catch the morning haul directly from the fishermen. Although the beach was very close to where we live, I feared that if we reached late, the fresh catch would be dispatched to the adjoining Kovalam fish market and the surrounding fish markets in the city. As we reached the Kovalam fishing village, a few fishing boats were already parked on the beach. Kovalam or Covelong, is a well-known fishing village near Chennai and has a combined history of French, British as well as Dutch colonisation. Apart from the bustle of fishermen and their fishing activities, the beach also attracted tourists and surfers. The Z-Sisters were expecting squids and calamari, fresh off the brilliant memory of Lil Z’s birthday celebration at Bayview restaurant at Taj Fishermen’s Cove. The resort was built on a Dutch fort, located at the same beach. We have always planned to visit the beach once our new car arrived. However, our conversation at Bayview as we savoured the fresh catch of the day from the Kovalam beach earlier, proved to be catalytic. Hence we ended up the very same weekend, at the beach in the early morning hours with Matree, our wonderful live in lady, who liaised with the fishermen in their local dialect to negotiate on the prices and certify the quality of the fresh catch.
Kovalam Beach to Kovalam Fish Market … it’s a fresh seafood haul all the way
When we arrived at the beach, the fishermen were still unloading the nets and sorting out their catch. The shortlisted ones were thrown on to the boat to be showcased to lure the enthusiastic buyers. The non-shortlisted ones were thrown mercilessly on the sand in the beach. A few lucky ones from the second category were swept back into the seawater by the oncoming waves. We had mostly squids and a big King fish in mind. Crabs were aplenty along with a whole lot of other types of fish. Matree suggested that we also visit the fish market nearby, where some of the morning’s earlier hauls would perhaps be ready for purchase. Contrary to her expectations, the fish market was completely empty. It was the day of the new moon and a lot of Tamilians fasted or ate vegetarian food. Matree explained that this could be the probable reason why the fish market was still not ready. A matronly fisherwoman, whom she referred to as Pati or grandma, caught hold of us and insisted that she a few great catches. Pati shared that her bounty comprised of fish offloaded from the fishing boats which had arrived on the shores around 5am. She took out a Vanjiram, or King Fish from an icebox covered in ice. Matree suspected that the Vanjiram had been frozen. A dialogue ensued to make sure that it was a fresh catch of the day. After a gentle negotiation between the two ladies, the 2.8 kg Vanjiram cost us Rs 2,200. An additional Rs 100 tended to cleaning and cutting of the fish into 35-40 delicate pieces. We also ended up buying Sankara, or Red Snapper at a cost of Rs 450 for 4 pieces, with 2 complementary pieces thrown in generously by Pati. After finishing our purchases at the Kovalam Fish Market, I insisted that we should go back to the beach once more, looking for squids. The fishermen were still engaged in sorting out their catch from their never-ending long fishing nets. We managed to buy a small squid that weighed 500 gms (scroll down to check out for the cutie). Only 100 gms of it was accompanying us back home, after cutting and cleaning. Not a very generous portion for each one of us for our lunch that day, but good enough to try the beer batter fried squid for the first time!
If we were to repeat our experience … this is how we will do it
There’s a variety of fish on offer – from the popular King Fish, Red Snappers, Pomfrets, shrimps, crabs to sting rays, depending upon the season and the fishermen’s luck at the ocean. Since the fishermen are still laying out their catch from the nets, don’t wait if something catches your fancy. I missed out on a big squid and an octopus, thinking that I will first have a look through the seashore. Do explore local fish and try out varieties that you haven’t tasted before. We missed out a 5 kg Parai or a Bluefin Travelly which Matree suggested would taste very much like Vanjiram or King Fish. Going to the seashore around 7:30 am instead of earlier, may be a good idea as the fishermen would have finished unloading their catches. There are also some casual restaurants nearby where one can select the fish to be fried with a special masala marination. Open during the weekends, these restaurants start operating as early as 9 am and closes around 9 pm. I learnt that the fishermen were mostly Christians, while these restaurants were owned by Muslims. Pati and many other fish vendors were Hindus. Kovalam also boasts of a very sacred Durgah, a temple on the beach and an ancient Catholic Church. I have also set out my intention of eating out in one of these restaurants in this fishing village… soon!
The most exciting way to explore a place, for me, is via its local markets. I love the excitement, the hustle and bustle, the animated conversations between the buyers and the sellers… and finally the prized possession of a fresh haul. It’s been quite a long time since I have walked though a market fearlessly. Although I had my mask in place, this was a great reboot to my system. Of course, the Bearded Biker’s navigational skills and post shopping planning (icebox and other things) made the fishy exploration seamless. Our lunch comprised of a spicy preparation of fried King Fish ala those restaurants in Kovalam fishing village, courtesy Matree. Also, Beer battered Squid with Yoghurt and a Tomato-Chilli dip, courtesy moi. Here’s raising a mug of beer to more such fishy and exciting escapades… and delicious meals!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter: Finally calling Chennai home Homemade spicy Chicken 65 Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot Celebrating Pongal with Sakkarai Pongal and other dishes
Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.
100 gms squid, cut into small pieces, approx. 1inch/piece 250 ml yoghurt Mix the olive oil and lime juice in the yoghurt. Garnish with spring onions. Serve chilled. 2 tomatoes
Beer Battered Squid
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp red chilli powder
1 cup all maida or flour
½ cup beer
½ lime, squeezed
salt, as per taste
white oil for deep frying
1tbsp olive oil
½ lime, squeezed
1 spring onion, finely chopped
½ medium sized onion, finely sliced
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
½ tsp mustard seeds
curry leaves – 4
1 tsp white oil
100 gms squid, cut into small pieces, approx. 1inch/piece
250 ml yoghurt
Mix the olive oil and lime juice in the yoghurt. Garnish with spring onions. Serve chilled.