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On the hot stove

Company paintings, commissioned primarily for Western consumption, were made to depict how people in an Indian society lived in the late 18th century. They were later patronised by Indian nobility in the style of European painting. These would highlight the natural environment of India with its local flowers, animals, markets and architecture. In the 19th century, artist workshops emerged with artists like “Fakir Chand Lal and Tuni Lal specialising in costumes and occupation.”

The scenes of Indian men like this one could have belonged to any region of the subcontinent, particularly Murshidabad, Patna, Benaras, Tanjore or Trichinopoly. Although the Portugese and the Italians were also commissioning Company paintings, the British purchased them to capture all their travels in India, when they were fascinated by Indian costumes, festivals, rituals, new types of food and ways of cooking that they’d never experienced before.

Surmai (King Fish/Seer Fish) Fry by Madhura Wairkar

“Fish is synonymous with love for me, reminiscing childhood memories of my home, our travel to our native place in Malvan on the Konkan coast, purchasing fresh catch in the auctions on Malvan beach, but more so of my Aai (mother) cooking them with love and warmth. She still cooks fish for me in various versions, always keeping an extra fillet to relish whenever I visit her. Fish in curry or a fried form is comfort food with warm rice or a bhakri (flat bread made of rice or other millets). However, every Malvani* household, I dare say, may agree with me – the love for seafood, rice, coconut and cuisine almost runs through the veins. If eating fish, rice has to be a part of the ritual; otherwise, it’s incomplete! This mica painting invoked me to share one such recipe that evokes nostalgia – the fish fry recipe from my mother, which I have adopted to cook for my family. Of course, one may encounter variations, but this is the recipe I have always cherished!
*Malvani is a dialect, but Malvan is a town and taluka in the Sindhudurg district. The South Konkan belt of Maharashtra is known for its cuisine with the same name.”

List of ingredients

For: 3 people
Time: 35 minutes
6, ½ inch medium sized fillets of Surmai (King fish/Seer fish)
½ teaspoon Turmeric
2 teaspoon Malvani Masala/ Red Chilli Powder
Salt (as per your taste)
1 teaspoon Lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoon Ginger-Garlic paste
½ cup Rava/ Sooji (coarse Semolina)
½ cup Rice flour (optional)
4 tablespoon oil


Clean and wash the fillets thoroughly. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix ginger-garlic paste, salt (as per your taste), turmeric and lemon juice as a marinade for the fish. The consistency should be of a paste.

Marinate the fish fillets and rest them for 10-15 minutes so the flavours are absorbed.

For the coating, mix rice flour, semolina, Malvani masala and salt. You can use either only semolina or rice flour, but the combination brings in that extra crunch. Coat the fish generously with the flour mixture and shake off the excess flour.

Heat the oil in a pan and gently place the marinated fish fillets. Shallow fry them on a medium flame until they are golden brown on both sides.

Serve hot with fish curry and rice. It’s also very comforting to have as a side with the simple varan bhaat (Maharashtrian dal rice) topped with a dollop of ghee.

p.s. You may use this recipe for other fishes like Pomfret or Indian Salmon. We generally do not use large sized fillets as my parents think they aren’t as tastier than the smaller ones. The lemon juice in the marinade can be replaced with kokum (garcinia indica), a staple to Konkan. If using kokum, rub the pieces on the fillets before applying the marinade (sans lemon juice).