It was one of the most important trade centres of the ancient Tamil state and was referred to as the ‘city of Coromandel’ by the Portuguese. The 7th century poetic work, Tevaram, refers to the city as Nagai, and it was only during the Cholas’ era that the word pattinam was attached to it, as the land emerged as an important port.
Nagapattinam is, and has always been famous for its fishing village with sanctified monuments like the Vedaranyam, a neighbouring town in the namesake district which houses the famous Vedaranyeswarar Temple. Besides the temple, the town is also close to the ancient Nagore Dargah in Nagore, which was built in the 16th century.
My school friend Rajini, a great lover of seafood and historic sites, wanted to tour locations in Tamil Nadu to devour some of the best seafood, and also pay a visit to famous places of worship with legend attached to them. So, a road trip to Nagapattinam happened.
When you are comfortable with the car and the company, travelling with thoughts of a delicious meal after having visited sacred places makes it an ideal trip in every way. Rajini had another wish — that whichever hotel we went to, I must convince the chef to allow us to make a fish curry in his kitchen. As we approached a Star Hotel close to the sea after a tiring but a fulfilling trip, I was unsure whether I would be able to fulfil Rajini’s wishes. Prem, the chef, was reluctant at the strange request made, but Rajini piled on her charm, so he agreed and together we cooked a delectable Nagapattinam fish curry. The curry was seasoned with pink Himalayan salt after scattering a few green and red chillies, and curry leaves on top. We had it served with fluffy white rice. That afternoon, Rajini, in her gold and orange saree and gold hoops, savoured the fish curry and rice seated in a cool, glass-covered verandah facing the sea, watching the fishing boats and ships at a distance. She sipped on coconut water as she took tiny breaks from eating, with a melodious flute music in the background. She could not help but close her eyes in ecstasy after each mouthful. I, relishing my vegetarian fare, was glad to see her devour this heritage dish.
An aromatic heritage delicacy with fresh julienned ginger and garlic, added to the aromatic flavours of the Sankara fish curry make this stunning dish an all-time hit.
Nagapattinam inji meen kozambu
Sankara meen/ Red snapper: 1 kg
Raw mango: 2 nos
Shallots: 150 gm
Tamarind pulp: 50 gm
Coconut/sesame oil: ¼ cup
Green chillies: 4
Garlic peeled: 1 whole
Ginger peeled: 1 tbsp julienne
Ginger crushed: 1 tsp
Ginger garlic paste: 1 tbsp
Red chillies: 10
Coriander seeds: 2 tbsp
Pepper: 1 tsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Black sesame seeds: 1 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Thick coconut milk: 1/2 cup
Lemon juice: 1/4 cup
Curry leaves: A handful
Pink Himalayan salt: To taste
- Clean the fish with salt, turmeric and then marinate it with turmeric, crushed ginger salt and lemon juice.
- Peel and cut the raw mango into small pieces.
- Soak the coriander seeds, red chillies, cumin, pepper and sesame seeds in lemon juice.
- After 10 minutes, grind the soaked masala to a fine paste.
- Extract pulp from soaked tamarind and set aside.
- Place a tawa on the stove on medium heat. Pour a teaspoon of oil and gently roast the fish on either side for five minutes.
- Julienne raw mango pieces, garlic pieces and saute. Set it aside.
- Now take a seasoned mud pot and place it on the stove. Pour the oil and allow it to heat up.
- When the oil is hot, season it with curry leaves, shallots (a few cut in half and the rest whole).
- When the shallots change colour slightly, saute the ginger garlic paste in it for about three minutes.
- Add in the tomatoes chopped into small cubes. Next add in the ground masala and saute for another four minutes on medium heat.
- Now add the tamarind pulp, rock salt, turmeric powder and let it all cook for five minutes.
- Add slit green chillies and some more curry leaves. Pour in some fresh coconut milk. 14. Add the fish to the gravy mixture gently, cooking it on medium heat for three minutes, as the fish is already cooked.
- Pour 1/4 teaspoon of coconut oil on top and remove the pot from the heat.
- Serve with fluffy white rice and fried papadums.
- To ensure the fish is fresh, press it on the surface to see if it dents in. The skin bounces back if the fish is fresh
- Never overcook the fish as it will break easily. Avoid stirring the curry after adding the fish
- Always try to use fresh coconut milk in fish curry for extra taste
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of ‘Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes’