Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The foodie explains the Goan fish thali

No visit to Goa is ever complete without having atleast one Goan fish thali, and if you are a Goan, then perhaps no midweek lunch is ever complete without the ‘xit kodi Nuste’ , apparently Sundays are meant for the chicken xacuti, but the Bengali in me wants a Goan fish curry even on a Sunday.

But a lot of travellers and tourists coming to Goa are not very comfortable making the deep dive into a Goan fish thali. The reasons are many, but one of the important ones is that they aren’t sure what is part of the Goan fish thali. They want to have a fish curry rice meal in goa, and many order a prawn curry and rice separately, but when every single table in the restaurant gets these huge platters with tiny bowls, you are left longing for the thali.

I understand , I have been there. I was once a Goan tourist too.

Fish Thali , Kokni Kanteen Panjim. yes seeing all that food can be unnerving

So here is me explaining to the goan fish thali , the foodie way.

1.       The rice: a large mound of rice is the main carb of the meal. You rarely get roti/chapatti in a Goan fish thali, but you can ask for it, if you need to. Rice is also called XIT ,not  pronounced like what the doo doo dogs do, but more like a ‘sheet’ of paper. You can ask for extra ‘xit’ but in most places it is chargeable. (I know in maharashtrian thalis the rice is generally unlimited portions but not in Goa)
Fish Thali Ritz ,Patto panjim

2.       The fried fish: shallow fried and covered in Rava, this is a healthier crisper version of the average fried fish. The rava adds a crunchy texture, and since I haven’t seen rava covered fish anywhere else (and I have had multiple fish fries be it malvani, Bengali or kerala coastal cuisine) I deem that rava covered frying is indegenious to Goa. They even fry potatoes covered in Rava FYI. Now the fish is always fresh day catch, so you don’t get a choice of fish here. They are generally the easy to hand fishes like king fish, or chonak or a pomfret.Many People from North India, are not comfortable seeing an entire fish fins, tails, head and eyes n all on a plate, they can opt for chonak or king fish.

3.       The main fish curry: now this is generally in a bigger bowl than the other multiple bowls. It is a coconut based fish curry, and small prawns are generally the sea food of choice . if you are allergic, do mention it prior to your order that you Do not want prawn curry, and they will give you another one. Mildly spicy , its best consumed with rice, you can attempt chapatti, but its not the same.

4.       Tisryo: Now this was what used to be my biggest fascination. The sea shells I had previously only seen on the beach were now in a sabji/bhaji on my plate! Madeof mussels cooked with grated coconut and other masalas, this tastes just like any indian sabji, except it has shells in it. The shells are NOT for eating, within the shells are tiny morsels of sea food the mussel. It is kind of chewy and rubbery, but worth a taste, and since it’s part of a fish thali and you aren’t paying extra for it, it’s perfect to experiment.


  Kismur: another interesting dish, for non Goans. This is made with a dried prawnor a dried sardines. These salted and sun dried prawns are crunchy morsels packed with flavour. Onions and the dried prawns are fried and then mixed with generous amounts of grated coconut. This dish is texturally great, and the crunchy coconut and the crackle of the dry prawns is a perfect foil when mixed with the rice and fish curry.


6.       Some vegetable sabji: Goans never did master the art of cooking veggies. This one is either beet root, or cabbage, or bottle gourd. Unfortunately always boiled , bland and garnished with grated coconut. If it sounds unappetising, its because it mostly is, it isn’t anyones fault. I heard ones on a sanjeev kapoor show I think, that Indians tend to over cooked their veggies because in olden days it was a good way to kill all the organisms.

7.       Sol Kadi : The digestive drink to end your meal is made of Kokum a sour reddidh purple berry, which is steeped in water, tempered with garlic and chillies, and mixed with coconut milk for a bright pink end to your meal. Ilove my sol kadi enough to have a separate glass of it! But don’t over do it, multiple glasses of sol kadi can lead to acidity, and I should know .

This makes for the average staple Goan fish thali. Sometimes you may get another fish curry, mostly a teek (spicy) or an ambotik( sour and spicy ) fish gravy, sometimes a meagre salad of tomato and cabbage, pickle, and papad. Rarely , almost never do you have a sweet dish part of the thali.

A goan fish thali is your rite of passage from being a tourist to a traveller. You must try it once, and you will keep coming back for more. Why choose it above ordering ‘fish curry and fried fish separetley’? for one fish thalis are cost effect, second it is a single person helping so if you are travelling alone, you can still have a complete meal, without leftovers. PS it is always served for lunch, very few places will serve a thali at night.
fish thali at Kamlabai, Mapusa

Fish Thali at Goan room, Dona Paul

Fish Thali Antique Mardol , Ponda

Fish Thali , Maharaja Hotel Vasco

Fish Thali , Rancheghad, Margao

Places to try

Mapusa:  Spice Goa , Kamlabai
Porvorim: copperleaf, wood’s inn
Panjim: Ritz classic and patto, Anandashram , Kokni Kanteen
Vasco: Sheila (opp St Jacinto island)
Margao: Nanutel hotel, peppers

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