Soul Stirring Seafood

India’s coastal areas are known for their serene beaches and sumptuous seafood. Seafood, for an Indian connoisseur of food, does not comprise only of fish – though we have some exotic species – but of various other crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, prawns, etc. Compared to red meat – and even chicken – seafood is not only tastier but also more healthy. Recipes of seafood cooked with special Indian spices and herbs have proved popular not only with Indians but even foreign tourists. Ashok Malkani takes a look at the health benefits of seafood and the cuisines which make it one of the most cherished victuals. The desire of the diners for something “different” has also made the chefs try innovative and imaginative recipes with exotic spices.
  
It’s the time of the year when everyone’s thoughts turn to love and those we love. So while romantic dinners and chocolates take up your mind on Valentine’s Day, when one thinks of the month – and the year, as well as the time ahead – you have to show your love for the family through the way we eat.
 
Since February is a Heart Health Month, one way of staying hale and hearty is by eating fish. Research has shown that eating fatty fish like tuna and salmon, twice a week lowers risk of heart disease. One may mention that seafood is a natural source of the heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. These help reduce triglyceride levels (which raise the risk of heart disease), reduce inflammation in our blood vessels and may help reduce artery clogging plaque buildup.

Thus consumption of seafood is good for your health. But how popular is seafood in India and which is the age group that finds this gastronomic delight trendy? What are the health benefits connected with seafood?  

Satej Saigaonkar, Executive Chef, Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway, declares, “Seafood is one of the healthiest food options – low in fat, high in protein and vitamin D, best source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are incredibly important for your body and brain. Fish consumption is also believed to reduce risk of autoimmune diseases, including diabetes. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and strokes. People who eat fish regularly seem to have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and death f r o m heart disease. Seafood contains omega-3 fatty acid, which helps in developing your eyes and prevents deterioration of brain due to old age. Fish helps prevent asthma in children. 

As far as popularity of seafood cuisine is concerned, it is very popular in major metro cities and cities/ regions close to coasts where availability of fresh and local specialties are available. Though worldwide there are lot of people who are allergic to seafood, Indian hotels have seen seafood lovers as their routine customers. Due to this demand, many hotels introduce seafood nights on their business days and seafood promotions on peak seafood available seasons to capture all these seafood lovers.”

He further adds, “Seafood eaters are divided into 2 groups. The 1st group comprises of 40-45 age group, who have been eating the similar seafood cuisines f r o m years and 2nd group is that of the younger generation (20-30 years) who want to explore cuisines, local specialties and classics.”

Akshay Pandit, Executive Sous Chef, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel & Lakeside Chalet – Mumbai, avers, ”Seafood, as a whole, is a far better choice compared to red and white meats and there is enough evidence for the fact, as explained below: . 

Low In Fat: There is hardly any fat on seafood that needs to be trimmed, it is the best lean meat available and been advised by sports professionals and dieticians.

Fish is Low In Cholesterol: Cholesterol is an essential part of all living animal tissue. But levels of cholesterol can be too high if we eat too much saturated fat. Seafood has very little fat of any kind and what it does have is mostly unsaturated fat. Eating fish two or three times a week can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Seafood Is High In Protein: Seafood is an excellent source of top quality protein.

High In Vitamins & Minerals: Seafood is an excellent source of many important minerals, including iodine, zinc, potassium and phosphorus. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are present in large numbers in oily fish and to some extent even the less fatty fish. Omega-3 plays a vital role in the development of the brain and retina of the eye.”

He continues, “Seafood is one of the most popular choices available and is really region specific. Freshness is the key to great seafood and hence it’s more popular in the coastal regions as against the central part of the country. Every coast has its own indigenous seafood specialty and each is unique to itself. The tastes vary incredibly as variety of seafood and the spices used differ f r o m coast to coast.

I believe that there is no particular age grouping as such. Seafood is loved by all for different reasons, some like it as a great source of protein while some love it for its taste and aphrodisiac qualities. However eating seafood is an art and one needs to be really skilled to eat a bony fish or shuck out the meat f r o m a crab claw.”

Chef Vikas Pant, Director Culinary, The Suryaa New Delhi, states, “As guests these days have become health conscious, so seafood is really good for them as it is a low fat diet. Also, due to increasing heart disease, doctors prefer white meat over red meat. Seafood is low in cholesterol and hence it is good for heart health. It is also good for joints, eyesight, skin and brainpower. Another benefit is that it is high in protein, vitamins and minerals.    

Seafood is quite popular among our guests. People prefer fresh sea food rather than frozen ones. Seafood is not only popular among the millennials but also aged group equally like it. Thus everyone f r o m 20 to 50 loves seafood. Guests prefer seafood also because of its nutritive value.” 

Mayur Ramachandran, Executive Chef, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Race Course, Bengaluru, asserts, “Inclusion of seafood in our diets (2-3 times a week) leads to reduction of bad cholesterol. Omega 3 fatty acid found in Seafood helps the buildup of good cholesterol. It is a very good and natural source of Vitamin D. Many may not know that Fish and seafood are natural and source of top quality protein. Seafood is an excellent source of many important minerals, including iodine, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.

Seafood is an integral part of states with a coast line. These regions give a lot of impetus to locally abundantly available resources, which includes seafood, fish, seaweed etc.  These cuisines are highly popular due to the sheer variety and diversity in taste and textures. Cuisines with seafood in its armory have always been right at the top in terms of popularity and demand. 

Seafood dishes are extremely popular amongst all age group. They are highly recommended for youngsters and pregnant ladies due to its rich protein source, though children under the age of 5 may be susceptible to allergies and food borne illnesses.”

Raju Chatterjee, Jr. Sous Chef, Banjara Restaurant, Mumbai, disclosed, “seafood is full of protein and you can barely find fat in seafood so, guests who are diet conscious can easily eat fish and fish product. It is also full of nutrients and vitamin D, it lower risk of heart disease, it is helpful at Rheumatoid Arthritis.

People love to have seafood dishes. Some people take it as legacy and traditional people like it as they have had it f r o m ages. Mumbai is a coastal area and we get fresh seafood in and around areas like bhaucha dakka, Sassoon Docks, Khar Danda. So, people like to have fresh and quality fish.

Rajesh Shetty, Executive Chef, GVK Lounge by Travel Food Services, T2 Terminus Mumbai, affirms, “Seafood has multiple benefits as it is low in fat, high in protein and also good source of essential vitamins and minerals.  Prawns are a rich source of selenium which is an effective antioxidant. 

Seafood cuisine is very popular in India due to the vast varieties of seafood available. Fish and other seafood are lighter options for travelers who are trying to eat healthier food. We offer a variety of dishes to satiate the craving of all guests by serving a large range of dishes - f r o m comfort food to global flavours and dishes. We have an extensive selection of seafood items on the menu. Our menu includes dishes ranging f r o m Lobster, Scallops, Salmon, Jumbo Prawns, Squids, clams and more.”

Vivek Kalia, Executive Chef, Indore Marriott Hotel, discloses, “Fish is high in many important nutrients, including high-quality protein, iodine and various vitamins and minerals. Fish fats are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins D that provide many health benefits that can include stronger bones, lower blood pressure levels and healthier cholesterol levels. It is also recommended to expecting and nursing mothers to make sure that they get enough omega-3s. Shellfish’s that includes shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, etc. are rich in minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium and vitamins. The best part is that they are low in calories and are a rich source of lean protein. They contain healthy fats and several micronutrients. 

“Indoreans have started to understand the benefits of Seafood, as they are a good source of high-protein and is low in calories; they are high in vitamins and minerals. They have also learnt the various methods in which it can be prepared, that has made it their preferred choice on the menu. At Indore Marriott Hotel we have seen seafood gaining popularity amongst Indoreans, especially during the winter season.

Nothing Fishy 

When one talks of seafood the first thing that springs to mind is fish. True fish is consumed in large quantity in India but there is other seafood which is delectable too. Prawns, lobsters, crabs, etc are also consumed by connoisseurs. But since all these can be found easily only in coastal region the question that arises is which are the most preferred seafood dishes and can they be served in non-coastal regions?  

Rajesh iterates, “Seafood is definitely more popular in coastal regions as it is available fresh and easier to obtain with minimum handling. However, modern day engineering has now made it possible to freeze and ship seafood to various parts of the country thus not losing the quality and flavour of seafood. Seafood now is available around the country and people are using them in their cuisine more than ever.

Lobster is the most popular seafood item on the menu at GVK Lounge by Travel Food Services.  We have used them in different ways and with every distinct recipe it is always the most loved item on the menu. People also order for Jumbo Tiger Prawns which are cooked in the tandoor and served with chilli jam and Pan fried Scallops with Caper Beurre Blanc.”

Vivek states, “Seafood in India has gained a lot of popularity in all regions of India including the Midlands, However, there has been a challenge (sometimes) in getting fresh produce. Indore has its local catch that is the Singhara and Bhetki that are quite popular fishes. However prawns are still the most popular amongst seafood lovers. We have a special seafood display at our Sunday brunch at the One Asia restaurant. It has become quite popular amongst our guests since its launch.”

Raju reveals, “Fish is more popular in coastal region as it is easily available, but states like Hyderabad and Uttar Pradesh also have great recipes for seafood dishes. Today, seafood does not mean only fish. It also includes species like squid, prawns, crab etc. Most popular seafood in Mumbai is pomfret, prawns, Surmai. These are always appreciated by Mumbaikars. In our restaurant, Banjara, some of the popular and famous dishes are ghee roast prawns, Surmai tawa fry, pomfret Rawa fry, Mangalorean fish curry.”

Akshay avers, “Seafood is available at most places but it’s always better to have locally available seafood as against the frozen and shipped ones. The meat of seafood is tender and moist; the moment it is frozen, stored and then thawed it loses its moisture and flavour. Hence, freshly caught-and-served is always the best principal. Secondly, seafood is a staple to the people of the coastal regions and as such it is bound to be as popular as meat is in the northern and central parts of the country.

Seafood in general includes both fish and shellfish and they both have their fan following. Fish – more specifically fish steaks or fillets – is the easiest to eat while one needs to get used to seafood. There are more intricate dishes like the sea urchin and puffer fish which requires a great amount of skill and even certification to have it processed for public consumption”

Vikas declares, “Now, seafood is not restricted to any region or place or city. Due to globalisation, every food is available everywhere. People sitting in non-coastal regions may also relish seafood without any hindrance. Seafood is easily available everywhere. So, seafood lovers do not necessarily have to go to coastal region to enjoy their favorite cuisine.

Seafood can be divided into fish and shellfish. Shellfish, further, is classified into molluscs, crustaceans and echinoderms. Generally, fish, prawn and lobster are quite popular among the guests at Surya New Delhi. “

Satej asserts, “Seafood is available and popular in coastal regions and area close by. Apart f r o m these, since all major metro and bigger cities are well connected, they too get good fresh supply f r o m the coastal region.

The term Seafood, in hotels, is considered for any form of sea life considered as food by humans. Seafood prominently includes fish and shellfish. Shellfish include various species of mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms. Edible sea plants, such as seaweeds and microalgae, are widely eaten as seafood around the world, especially in Asian countries. Mollusks - include snails, clams, squids and other cephalopods. Crustaceans- include crabs, lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp. Echinodermata - include sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, sea lilies. Echinoderms are found at every ocean depth”

Mayur maintains, “Because of the advancement in today’s technology and storing techniques, increase in the shelf life of raw materials is observed and hence seafood can be savored all around the country and various other regions besides coastal regions. Along with fish, a host of other crustaceans and mollusks are very popular. People these days are willing to experiment with flavours, tastes and ingredients.  Scallops and lobster are highly popular seafood items.”

Popular Cuisine

The general concept seems to be that seafood is consumed, mostly in Goa and when one talks about seafood cuisine many believe that it is Goan cuisine. 

Akshay concedes, “Goa is indeed very popular for seafood due to the abundant availability, simple cooking and the Portuguese influence. However, seafood dishes f r o m other states are no less. Kolkata is known for its popular fish curries and fish chops and every Bengali will swear by its taste. The fish curries f r o m Pondicherry are great too. My personal craving is for the seafood f r o m Kerala. The tastes and preparations transport you to a different world. 

As such there is a wide array of selections available to select f r o m but here in at our hotel Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel & Lakeside Chalet – Mumbai, Goan dishes still reign the best due to easy accessibility, availability of ingredients and familiarity. This is true for all food outlets in Mumbai.”

Raju concurs by stating, “No doubt Goan cuisine is famous in Mumbai but there are some recipes f r o m Mangalore, Bengal and Kerala which are equally popular. People f r o m different region have different tastes. Bengali guests at our Restaurant, Banjara, prefer mustard oil fish and that too fresh water fish but guests f r o m Kerala will have salt water fish with coconut.  

Guest mostly prefer Goan and Mangalorean cuisine as they have variety in its cuisine. In our restaurant dishes like prawn’s ghee roast is very famous and liked by guests.”

Rajesh is of the opinion that “All seafood cuisines are popular but since people associate Goa and South India with seafood, Goan cuisine and Thiruvanthapuram cuisine with coconut base are more popular amongst travellers.  Robust and bold spices are used in the preparation of seafood that are distinct to these regions, giving them their traditional diversity.  

However, recipes f r o m Kolkata like DoiMaach, MacherJhol and ChingriMalai are also gaining popularity on our menus at GVK Lounge by Travel Food Services.”  

Vivek declares, “In Indore, the most ordered dishes are mainly f r o m North India such as the Amritsari Fish, Chinese salt and pepper prawns or the Kolkata style MachherJhol. Goan dishes have a peculiar taste and have less demand than the North Indian dishes. North Indian Seafood cuisines are the most preferred dishes, ordered at Indore Kitchen restaurant and the Sichuan at One Asia restaurant in Indore Marriott Hotel.” 

Vikas reveals, “When I was working in Goa, guests mostly preferred Goan cuisine. Some of the most popular and preferred dishes were Goan fish curry, prawn periperi, rawa fried fish and prawn balchao. I think Goan seafood cuisine, Kolkata seafood and Kerala seafood are the preferred choice of the people.”

Satej states, “Goans are very passionate & particular about their seafood & preparations. Some of the famous preparations are:  Goan fish/ prawn curry, Fish Recheado, Crab Xacuti, Shark AmbotTik, Prawn balchao, Sorak, Kodi. Goan, Bengali, Kerala, and Mangalorean seafood cuisines are the preferred choice.” 

Mayur admits that Goan cuisine is pretty popular. But, he adds, “The demand isn’t restricted to it. People are extremely fond of “Malvani”, Karwari, “Mangalorean”, “Keralite”, and “Bengali” cuisines as well. One may say that Goan, Keralite and Bengali cuisine are more in demand and more preferred cuisines as far as seafood is concerned.”

A twist in the tail

But one gets tired eating any dish which is cooked in a routine manner. So what are the ways that chefs give a twist to these dishes keep the diners’ interest alive?   

Akshay declares, “Mostly food, at its simplest, tastes the best. However we often end up experimenting with the dishes at hand and come up with something interesting. Inspirations come in the form of latest trends, new ingredients, trying an unexplored cuisine etc.

Lately we, at Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel & Lakeside Chalet – Mumbai, have been trying our hands on Tribal Seafood Cuisine that comes f r o m our neighbors in the Aarey Forests. We are trying to understand the many different varieties of seafood available in the lakes and different methods of cooking them. This definitely intrigues a lot of our guests and customers who are as anxious to know the cuisine as we are.”

Vivek avers, “To sustain in this competitive space, we need to constantly be on our toes to grab the interest of the current new age foodies who are fond of experimental dishes. They are amused by the new flavours and the unique preparation methods. Paper baked fish, Macha fish with multigrain risotto served with orange reduction, preparations of crabs and lobsters are some of the dishes that customers at Indore Marriott Hotel can relish when they crave for seafood.”

Rajesh reveals, “We try to continuously evolve and find ways to use seafood with a variety of recipes and cooking techniques. Lot of research goes in to find traditional recipes and recreating them and also find ways to modernise them if needed. 

Tandoori Lobster, Scallops Moilee, Maple and Miso Salmon are some of the dishes that have gained popularity on our menu at GVK Lounge. When people try some of our experimented dishes they are surprised with the combination of flavours and the cooking process.”

Raju states, “In our kitchen, at Banjara Restaurant, we experiment with new recipes. We try innovative dishes and if we find that the taste is as good as the presentation then we keep it as dish of the day for our guests to try and give us their feedback.”

Satej asserts, “We, at Holiday Inn Chennai OMR hotel, do lot of experiments with seafood. We get good supply of local and international seafood, which we introduce on our menu, special buffets and food promotions. Major preparations are based in curries, cold preparations and live cooking. People love these selections, spread the word though social media and through their friends, making them popular”.

Mayur reveals, “We, at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Race Course Bengaluru, experiment with different ingredients and spices. With availability of new age spices and modern techniques, newer pairings and flavour combinations can be developed and these are then put together with staples/accompaniments to make up for a wholesome dish.

People these days look forward to interesting combinations and are very encouraging in this regard. It provides an opportunity to do better and keep trying interesting combinations.”

With chefs trying innovative methods to make seafood cuisine interesting and exciting by adopting new techniques of cooking and using a blend of spices that will add to the taste not only is the GenX agog with the new lip smacking tastes but even the older set is excited about the experiments and eager to savour them.

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