Street food takes on different meanings in different parts of the country. If we instantly think of papri chaat and kababs in the north, or vada pao in the west, the east often conjures up images of fish on the streets. You can, for instance, get to eat freshly fried pieces of fish in many parts of the east, or in coastal areas across the country.
There is one kind of fish that has been stealing hearts – and that is fish grilled or steamed in banana leaves. It is not often a part of street food in India, but it is a dish that you will find in different parts of the country, cooked somewhat differently. And, in fact, if you cross the borders, you will find it on the streets of the cities of South-East Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
I think my first banana leaf covered fish was the Bengali paturi. I had a bhetki, which had been marinated with grated coconut and mustard oil and then steamed. I enjoyed it thoroughly, for it was a fillet which had soaked in all the flavours. I also love the Parsi patra ni macchi, where some green chutney is applied to a piece of fish which is then wrapped in a leaf and steamed.
The Kerala style meen pollichathu is again a banana leaf wrapped fish but in this the flavours are very different. The fish is first marinated with turmeric, chilli powder and coconut oil. Then it mixed with a paste of onions, garlic and ginger. Some lemon juice goes into it, and the fish is lightly sautéed with some tomatoes and other masalas, and then wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled.
But my friend Chef Vivek Rana of The Claridges loves his banana leaf wrapped fish when it is cooked in the Thai style.
“Thailand is a heaven for food lovers, especially when it comes to sea food,” he says. “This particular dish of a banana wrapped fish is available in almost every corner of the streets of Thai cities,” he says.
The new head chef, restaurants, is talking about the aeb pla nin, a fish prepared with red curry paste and flavoured with all kinds of herbs and condiments such as lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime and oyster sauce. It sounds good, and since I am now on health food (grilled and steamed, alas nothing fried), I am going to try this out soon.
After all, what could be better than street food that’s healthy?
Banana leaf wrapped fish (Aeb pla nin) – for one
180g red snapper fillet without skin
5g red curry paste
5g lemon grass
5 kaffir lime leaves
1tbsp oyster sauce
5g sambal chilli paste
10ml sesame oil
5g broth powder
1 banana leaf
Marinated the fish with oyster sauce, chilli paste, sesame oil, broth powder and chopped ginger and garlic. Mince the fish fillet and mix it with red curry paste, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves. Wrap a banana leaf around the minced fish. Grill the wrapped fish on top of a griller for 5 minutes on each side. Serve hot on its own or with steamed jasmine rice.