Karimeen - State Fish of Kerala
There’s a lot of romanticism around some animal species. Lions for their brute strength. Other cats for their hunting prowess. Dogs for their loyalty. Cows for being everyone’s Momma. Likewise there are a fish varieties that also get romanticised. Like the Hilsa in Bengal and the Karimeen or Pearlspot (Etroplus Suratensis) in Kerala. Unfortunately for Hilsa and Karimeen, the romanticism ends up in them getting fried or curried on to someone’s plate
In my growing up years, I used to hate fish and it’s smell. I never allowed Mom to cook fish in the house as I couldn’t stand the smell. The parents were quite amused to see me have Sushi a few years ago. I never allowed them to eat fish properly most of their adult life and I now I eat raw fish 😊 Even when I started eating fish, the boneless kinds were far more appealing than ones with bone. But the real flavour’s in the bones. Took me some time to adjust to this. Now I’m fine and even enjoy bony fishes. Karimeen comes from the Cichlid variety of fishes and is flattish and ovate in shape. It has a greyish-green colour and black stripes on its body. With pearl like spots all over its body. It comes mostly from the brackish waters of South and Central Kerala, known commonly as Backwaters, which’s the sea coming inland into a lake or river and hence the water in here’s a mix of salt water from the sea and fresh-sweet water from the lake / river. Karimeen is also known to survive in sea water and fresh water of lakes
It’s quite a tasty and flavourful fish and the best ones are rumoured to come from the Kuttanad region, which goes across Alleppey and Kottayam districts. The fish’s also now extensively farmed, but the best is still considered to be the wild ones from brackish waters. With the rise of Kerala’s might as a tourist destination and the emergence of God’s Own boat rides. The boatmen cooking Karimeen Pollichatthu on these boats, gave it a special identity and over time the romanticism around it came around
2010 was the year Kerala adopted Karimeen as its State Fish, giving the fish variety a formal sort of recognition that’s done no harm to its popularity. Cichlids are usually good varieties for aquariums, but I’m not sure I’ve seen too many people keep Karimeen, which also goes by the name Green Chromide. This variety pairs for life and is very protective about eggs and their offspring post hatching. Not sure how many fish species exhibit this kinda behaviour
You’d mostly get Karimeen to eat in Kerala homes or restaurants. Like Hilsa and Bengali cooking, Karimeen also hasn’t managed to cross beyond the boundaries of Malayali cooking and I’m writing this blogpost with the hope that it does. It’s a versatile fish that lends well to frying, baking and in curries. I’m guessing, it might do well in steaming too. The normal size of Karimeen is 150-250 gm in the market, but it’s known to grow to more than 28cm in length and 800 gm in weight
It’s time our chefs look beyond Norwegian Salmon and discover the goodness of our own brilliant tasting fishes
Chowder on and Curry-meen!!