Loaves and fish in Varkala

The grilled Red Snapper is the piece de resistance, and arguably hard to resist

The grilled Red Snapper is the piece de resistance, and arguably hard to resist

We denizens of Kerala’s hinterland are a deprived lot. To us, seafood is less about sea than about wishful gourmandizing. Our fish and prawns came to us over hillocks and ravines, over pocked roads and shit-smeared railway lines, then on the roofs of buses or in lorries along with sundry other smelly things, until they were hawked, wilting in the merciless sun, by a chap on a bicycle in no great hurry to end the day with an empty basket.

More deprivation was etched in my horoscope. Raised Bangalorean for most of my (nearly) four decades, I have a relationship with seafood bordering on the pathological. Eight years ago it was calmed, somewhat, on marrying a fellow Mallu whose roots lay on the coast. Such consummation of my appetite wasn’t by crafty design, as some might argue, but by sheer happy coincidence. On visits to her hometown — more frequent than ordinarily considered necessary — I get more than my share by way of good eating. In fact, on the first few visits I made a gluttonous example of myself and now I am expected to live up to my reputation when I visit, a predicament I do not regret at all.

Bangalore, always, leaves me at sea (sic). The fruits de mer that Bangaloreans pay through their noses to devour is transported over road and railway from either coast upon beds of wet and dry ice and — more recently — in refrigerated containers. It’s pricey and, though my forbears may turn up their noses at it, even tasty. But it’s anything but fresh. Which is why, if you’re eating for two, your gynecologist will roll her eyes.

In Varkala last year, we stumbled on seafood heaven. First off, the scenery makes the eating all the more pleasant. Papanasam Beach, halfway between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam towns, steals a march over the more touristy Kovalam both for its cliffside location and its relative isolation. And then the seafood — it is abundant, not too hard on the wallet, and excellent. Walk along the cliffside in the late evenings and you’ll see the catch laid out to please the eye in the meagre yards of alfresco restaurants, lit by halogen lamps and enticing. Red Snapper, Seerfish, Kingfish, Barracuda, Milkfish, Indian Salmon, Swordfish… and then crab, octopus, squid, shellfish, prawns, king prawns, rock lobsters…

Imagine the violent greed that possessed us when we were confronted with decks of the above, disentangled from the nets barely hours ago and still dripping with brine. We bought more than we wanted, ate more than we could, and generally did our cardiologists a good turn.

Seeing (and salivating) is believing. So I’ll leave you with these pictures.

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