The Land of coconuts, Kathakali and Mohini Aattum, exquisite beaches and serene backwaters with house boats, Kerala is also home to some of the more delightful seafood. Kerala happens to be one of the leading exporters of seafood in India and abroad.
Known for its extensive use of coconut – be it coconut milk, the scraped coconut shred, slices et al, the food in Kerala has a very authentic and distinctive taste from seafood cooked anywhere else. The sea food in Kerala mainly consists of a huge variety of fish, prawns, crabs and small lobsters.
The most commonly used fish for cooking are Pomfret – Avoli, Sardines – Mathi, Indian Salmon – Kaalaa, King Fish or Seer Fish – Surma or Surmai, Mackeral – Ayala, Cod – Mullan or Sarghan, Shark – Sravu meen, Prawns – Chemmeen, JewFish – Neimeen and many more.
From olden times in Kerala, the population of people have consisted of mainly 3 groups – The Hindus, the Muslims and Christians. In general, the Brahmin hindus do not eat fish or meat and are purely vegetarians. However, now with the advent of modernization, some of them have adapted eating non-veg food. Fish has always been a staple diet for the people of Kerala in all strata of society. And each groups have their own style of preparing sea food. The availabity of fish also differs from place to place.
A simple diet would consist a sumptuous fish curry is prepared with garlic paste, onions and red chilies and flavored with mustard seeds and curry leaves with rice gruel. During marriage ceremonies or other festivals, fish curries are prepared a day before so that all the flavour and color sets in.
The state of Kerala has a huge coastline on the Arabian Sea. Places like Kochi and Allapuzha(once referred as the Venice of the East) are famous for having Fishing harbours since olden times. These are also main areas of business for fisheries and port for many international cruises and ships. The State government is now currently taking steps to export ornamental fish. An oceanarium is to be set up in Kochi that would be of immense help to marine research projects.
In Kerala, fisheries are a major source of employment, income and food, and small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. Fish is the cheapest and most substantive source of animal protein poor fishing communities. In the habour of Fort Kochi, there are about 600 boats that set out for fishing expeditions which lasts for 2 to 4 days. Other than the boats, a lot of supporting services on shore like ice plants and marine fueling stations are also present.
Monsoons are the seasons when there is a flurry of activities on the harbour. In case of low rainfall, business goes down and gives rise to cost of fishing which in turn are the common problems that the fish operators face.
As mentioned before, Kerala has many branded leading seafood exporters. This is a big industry and a source of revenue for the government. At a time when the money spinning seafood exports from India have registered a record growth, Kerala’s share in the pie has fallen from Rs 11.37 billion to Rs 10.31 billion. Export of seafood is likely to be worth over $4 billion by 2010 from the current export estimates of $2 billion, provided the capacity of its fleet of fish catching vessels are expanded, more accurate remote sensing tools are deployed and the fiscal assistance to seafood exporters through the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) is substantially enhanced.
Fish markets in Kerala are called ‘Meen Chantha’. These are mainly located at the bazaar areas of cities and towns. Fresh fish comes here from all over the ports in Kerala.
There are also fish sellers who sell fish door-to-door in residential areas. They carry a basket of fish and tie it behind the carrier of a bicycle on which they travel extensively through villages and towns.