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King Fish Fry

August 12, 2014

King Fish or Tingri (Malay) Fry (Vanjaram fish in Tamil)

Ingredients;

King fish/Tingri in Malay/Vanjaram in tamil – 250-300 gms sliced

red chili powder – 3 tsp

dhania or coriander seeds powder – 2 tsp

turmeric powder a pinch

ginger garlic paste – 1 tsp

lemon juice/curd (dahi)/yoghurt – 1 tsp (optional) or water -1-2 tsp

salt

oil to deep-fry

Method:

Mix all the ingredients well. Rinse the fish and marinate the slices in the spice mix for minimum 30 min. Deep fry in oil both sides to crisp golden brown. Serve hot. But tingri price was 410 bucks for 250 gms 2 weeks back when I ordered it – getting very expensive (off season?) by the day. Still my son and my husband love it – once a month its a must for them if not twice.

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We still call it ‘Tingri’ at home – by its Malay name. East coast of Malaysia is very popular for sea-food. This is where the men in my family came to relish sea-food like anything. After that a stint of 4 years in coastal Andhra where one could get the freshest seafood abetted their clamour for seafood. In Andhra, both Ongole and Chirala beaches used to be deserted and so serene where best and freshly caught sea food came very cheap, straight from the fishermen.

Reminds of a little ‘kampung’ (malay word for village)  in Terengganu. There is this little heaven bordered by sea on both sides – most beautiful hamlet, some 40 km north of Dungun town. Here the backwaters formed this island-kampung which nestled quiet among lush and most natural surroundings. My husband used to get sea food from here direct from malay fishermen, or sometimes he would go for malay cuisine done the kampung style.

Although a vegetarian, I appreciate very much the laid-back malay kampung lifestyle and their healthiest food habits.

Every 30 km in Terengganu had a sungai (river) where fresh water fish was aplenty as well as crab.

The east coast was famous for its crabs – another delicacy. The chinese restaurants in Terengganu served stuffed crabs that was a hit with my family. My family loved and still loves malay/chinese/thai/indonesian cuisine very much – the steamed, sauced ones over our desi hot, masala fries.

One more special from Terengganu for seafood lovers: they have this dried tingri and other fish that we can deepfry like papads – my son loved them as evening snacks and with rice. Tingri size – wow never have it so big here in Chennai.

Taking babysteps in the world of the non-vegetarian…

All our chinese/malay friends regularly fished in the ‘sungais’ and one chinese friend set up a drum filled with water to store freshly caught fish. What we call ‘viral’ in tamil – a fresh water fish called ‘Murrel’ in English used to be aplenty in Paka and Dungun sungai. The fish would keep plopping up within the drum water in daytime. We never cut the live fish. My husband and his chinese friends would come home and do a job with them. I would just vacate the place.

Once a chinese friend came from the ‘site’ with a big sack. He said he had caught live crabs – the size of a 6 ” dinner plate each. He said he was coming home in the evening to steam the crabs. He put the crabs in an electric rice cooker, closed the lid and left it in the dining table. After 1 hour I saw the crabs lift the lid and jump out one by one. Alarmed, I made frantic calls to my husband and his friend. But calls are inaccessible in sites always and this one was a sensitive petrochem one. Ours was this open kitchen that had no door. Finally the call went through but by the time the crabs had wandered upto the living. The chinese friend came laughing, caught them so easily and put them back in the cooker again and placed a weight on the lid.

Evening a whole bunch of guys came and steamed the crabs alive. I cannot forget how as the cooker started heating up the stings grew grew louder and louder and the clatter finally died once and for all. Felt saddest for the crabs. Thanks, God made me not touch such food stuff in my life. “This is murder’ i told the guys but they all laughed like anything at my sermons.

Sameway when we moved to Terengganu from KL, i didn’t know our backside house was leased to a group of labourers from Pak/Bangladesh. Both our kitchens faced each other with barely 10 feet space in between. Some 10 guys lived in that house and worked in a different site. A rickety rusted fence separated both houses. My big kitchen windows directly faced their entire backside just like theirs did our side.

Hardly a week in the new house I saw the guys getting busy with something in their backyard, within a stone’s throw from my window. Before I knew one of them killed a chicken right in front of my eyes. Never seen a chicken butchered before in my life. I left out a scream and ran in and the whole day kept crying. Could not cook. But the guys were waiting for me in the window side by evening. ‘Hindustani?’ one asked and said they were extremely sorry to hurt my sentiments. “But we eat this’ they said and I said ok. After that they took care never to strangle chicken in fridays in front of me.

Made their own kheer and gave me through the fence for Hariraya (Eid) and I returned their boxes with some curries.

Kept my kitchen door that opened to their side in lock and key. I never wandered there because of the presence of so many guys so close. Once when they were at work opened just for a flash of second to clean the back yard. Sprang into my home a monitor lizard the size of a crocodile before I could react. Wherefrom it came i don’t know. I ran to the front of my house and opened the grill with the spare key and let myself in. Roused my sleeping son and got him out and locked the house.  Called my husband again the call wouldn’t go through. One of the guys in the backside had been there after all and had seen what had happened. He volunteered to help, called his friends on urgent mission from site, and 3 of them went inside my home and caught the lizard and threw it out. The operation lasted almost 1 hour. ‘Our duty’ they said.

To the guys who took care of me & son for over 1 year in this house in a way, who entertained me like anything playing hindi songs nonstop (their favourite was Govinda’s ‘mein raste pe ja raha tha’ – i don’t even remember their faces now – i am forever grateful. Hearing the familiar Hindi (Urdu actually) was a great life-saver because over 90% of Terengganu population was malay, a total contrast from KL. There were very few Indians. Otherwise tamil is heard all over Malaysia/Singapore. Sometimes just to make me happy my friends would play a tamil song for a change!

Once I saw them eating during Ramzan fasting hours – an offence in Malaysia, especially in Terengganu with PAS govt elected at state. But one of them said through my window, ‘sister, I have to because i work in site. otherwise i will faint.’ I said I would be the last person to turn them in. All labourers got a break of 4 hours for lunch hour during the Ramzan month and every single day the guys ate when they came home to rest.

Many times I got tempted to share my food with them. But I had a deputy project manager for husband who frowned upon interaction with lower level workers especially pak/bangla labourers. Banglas in Malaysia also had a very bad track record when it came to crimes. My husband hated them outright so I had to restrain myself. Atleast I could return the Eid boxes with some homefood. I think I had made vadas and vegetable biryani for them to fill in the boxes. Put one more big extra box full of aloo curry etc. Passed them on some 6 boxes once and for all. Enough food for 10 men almost to share and eat. That is all I could give them. But even for that they were so happy and grateful. A dozen times they thanked me and said it was years since they tasted homefood.

About the kheer and veg fried rice they sent me – until then I had never eaten food prepared by muslims sorry except perhaps in malay restaurants. It was a first time for me. They assured me it was vegetarian, they said they made it first before touching meat so I could have it. It was clean they said. It was tough on me still. It is like this for born vegetarians – eating anything prepared by meat eaters. I am now ok but back then it was still new to me. But to think that 10 guys went out of the way to prepare veggie dishes for me first before doing the meat moved me. Took me over 2 hours of staring at their food before touching it. My husband refused to touch the labour food. Was furious with the guys for daring to give me food!

So that was the ice-breaker. After that I started eating freely in muslim/christian homes not wanting to think much. I trusted they would give me only ‘clean’ vegetarian. I don’t see differences like labour class or upper class never did. Recently my maid also got me something made in her kitchen – my MIL is not here for last 1 month. If she had been around there would have been a drama. But whatever given out of pure love has to be shown the respect it deserves. I ate every bit of what she gave me.

Malaysia prepared me for middle-east finally. Now no bias, eat everywhere. No religious bias, no class bias, no racial bias, no language bias. Eat in arab/persian/lebanese/afghan anywhere whatever is available in veggie platter. Mostly opt for falafel sandwich which is the safest entry you can find in the middle-eastern fast food chain. In KFC etc, the men get me potato wedges or mashed potatoes. Before touching it, i still ask whether the wedges were fried in the same chicken oil lolz. They have always said no and I trust them at face value. Can eat next to an arab/turkish family tearing down on beef without blinking an eye today, unthinkable some 15 years back. The men in my family have wizened me up and now I cook meat for them which is a world record. My only condition is, they have to rinse their mouths many times etc after eating meat/fish hahaha – and as for my husband he has to compulsorily shower to ward off any residue food smell lolz.

Over 90% of Indian/Hindumen eat meat. My son & husband associate meat with manliness which I find to be very disturbing. So this is how Hindu men are seeing meat today. Our parents, grandparents were all veggies, 100% pure, but my in-laws had 5 healthy children all successful in life today. The vegetarian me had a normal delivery for my son while my christian bank friend who used to be shocked by my food preferences, who ate meat everyday, delivered the same year through caesarian section. Even now she keeps joking about that irony.

If you ask my honest opinion, even now I dread the food smell in muslim homes. Cannot even step one foot in. Our neighbours in Doha are lebonese & syrians and i cannot survive the fridays in our flat, believe me. Switch on all the exhausts to keep off their food smell. But have learned to accept reality, anticipate it and stay prepared. Last year a muslim family invited us home for dinner. Again they took care to include lots of veggie dishes and assured us no beef was prepared in their kitchen that day. They had sprayed a lot of roomspray to keep away any food smell that I felt so bad and cruel. Feel rotten for imposing my views on anyone like that. They weren’t committing any sin and somehow I seemed to make them feel that way. Refusing outright invitations is also difficult.  We do have Bangladeshi muslim friends who understand us perfectly. We have dined many times in their home, they would take extreme care to keep the place free of meat smell. Would separate veg from non-veg in their menu completely. They insist they respect my food sensitivities.

Also in middle-east moving in a big circle of Kerala syrian christians in all of whose dinner beef is an integral part. Love the wine they serve best plus vodka lolz. Hahaha but no meat I am vegetarian. Vine & Vodka are veggie 🙂 Kerala home parties are riot – now I have come to enjoy mixing in these crowds. Food is a sore point though. My family though loves the spread. Everywhere they serve salads so no issues. Eaten at Filipino home as well where there was the additional pork. Hey Ram, what is going on. Only beer there for me lol – prevented my husband from announcing to them I was veggie.

Now I do go to the ‘Buharis’ islamic restaurant chain in Chennai. I get veggie food while the men eat non-veg. Indian muslims are used to respecting vegetarian sentiments and they always segregate food for us vegetarians. It is possible for me to adapt because ofinternational exposure. Most of my friends cannot.  Won’t even drink a glass of water in tmuslim/christian homes. BUT BELIEVE ME ABSOLUTELY NO ILL WILL. Vegetarians are like that. We are changing, changed a lot in last 10 years. Sadly. A majority in India today are non-vegetarians. Vegetarianism is dying a slow death in India.

In last 10 years, there is an explosion of multi-cuisine restaurants even in Chennai, serving both vegetarian & non-vegetarian fare under one roof. Now we are dining in such places regularly, something not possible upto the millennium year. (There have been always those separate non-veg restaurants where usually vegetarians would not venture). How much our world has since changed. Last time in Doha went into Hardy’s serving beef and was witness to many Indian/Hindu families including ladies savouring the stuff. My son wanted chicken there.

My orthodox friends’ circle is also somewhat relenting these days. Getting them into a restaurant serving meat is still difficult but their views are changing. They are sadly resigned to the fact that one day very soon, there won’t be a vegetarian generation left in India and ours could be the last. I think foreign exposure softened my stand a lot on food matters. Food smell – still a big issue with most of us.

VIEWS EXPRESSED HERE NOT TO HURT ANYONE. THIS IS THE SOCIETY I COME FROM. MANY OF MY BLOOD RELATIVES & FRIENDS STILL LIVE LIFE THIS WAY. MEAN NO OFFENCE. THERE ARE NON-VEGETARIAN HINDUS STILL EVEN THEY DON’T EAT MEAT THE WAY FOREIGNERS DO AS I HAVE SEEN. 

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About Kampung food in Malaysia: yes there was a vegetarian dish called ‘kuih’ (like momos) both hot & sweet, made just like our Indian ‘modaks’ and wrapped in banana leaves on steaming.  The outer shell was rice dumpling but in the center was usually a sweet coconut or salted crunchy stuffing just like the ‘poornam’ of our own modaks. These kuihs were sold in ‘pasar malams’ (night markets) sometimes but mostly only the kampungs had it. A chinese friend of my husband would daily send me these vegetarian kampung ‘kuihs’ through my husband – every single evening! Brings tears to my eyes. So much of love from unexpected quarters.

And then there was this chinese vegetarian restaurant in Kuala Terengganu where they served vegetarian dishes that tasted like fish and meat, using soya/tofu etc. Terengganu had a small vegetarian chinese buddhist population that pleasantly surprised me. Been to the restaurant – I was not sure about trying out the menu. But the chef assured me i could go ahead. He served me what tasted like chicken, mutton, fish etc – telling me i could sample those veggie dishes that tasted exactly like real mutton, chicken so I could get the idea of what actually meat tasted like – in case I wanted to know. Yuck, the dishes were still revolting, chewy, gummy.. i would have thrown up then and there. Out of politeness, I washed down the bile swelling up from the pit of my stomach (sorry). I have no curiosity to know what meat or fish tastes like! Enough! Anyway that was only a soy dish. Still.. thank god, I am vegetarian and will stay one until the last day of my life.

 

 

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