Malayalees, the indigenes of Kerala, are famous for their love of fish when it comes to their cuisine. And the delectable dish called karimeen pollichathu can set every malayalee tongue watering at the very mention of the name! This star food of Kerala mainly involves broiling Karimeen fish marinated with a rich blend of spices and then wrapped inside green banana leaves. The end result is a dish so deliciously soft and flaky that it oozes out its spicy juices when opened up. If you have tried this lip-smacking delicacy once, there is no way that your taste buds wouldn’t crave it again and again! It’s best served with rice. Keralites prefer eating parboiled rice as against the milled white rice preferred by other communities. The karimeen fish is also delicious when fried or made into a fish moilee.
Karimeen, also called the pearl spot fish, is considered a delicacy in Kerala. It is not a sea fish (salt water fish), nor is it a river fish; in fact it is a little bit of both as karimeen is found mainly in the backwaters of Kerala. Its natural dwelling places include ponds, rivers, backwaters, lagoons, reservoirs, paddy fields as well as low lying wetland areas. It is basically a bottom dweller and lives off food like algae, insects and plant materials. This hardy fish is available throughout the year in both Kerala as well as Sri Lanka with no special season attached to it. The backwaters of Allapuzha, Kottayam and Kollam in Kerala bear a higher population of this fish. The backwaters of the Ashtamudi Lake are a favorable breeding location for this fish. What could be better than a houseboat cruise paired up with a heavenly meal onboard of karimeen pollichathu made from freshly caught karimeens from the lake? In fact you can even assist in catching your dinner! A treat for both the eyes as well as the taste buds. Holidays couldn’t get any better than this in Kerala!
Ashtamudi Lake. is located about 4km away from the railway station and a scenic 70km drive away from the Trivandrum Airport. There are numerous hotels available along the way as well as in Kollam city which is located on the right-sided bank of the Ashtamudi Lake. The five star-rated hotel, The Raviz, is located close to the scenic lake edge and can cater to all the gastronomic needs of weary tourists.
The pearl spot fish has been honored with the title of being the State fish of Kerala and is a favorite of both the Keralites as well as the tourists visiting Kerala. Its body is covered with black colored scales, hence the name Karimeen, which literally means ‘black fish’ in the local Malayalam language. Its body is oval and laterally compressed with eight transverse light colored bands on the body as well as a few irregular black spots on its abdomen. This fish is a little on the expensive side and isn’t always affordable by the common man.
The fish grows to an average of about 20cm in length and Kerala has an annual karimeen production rate of about 2000 tonnes; the government is trying to increase this to 5000 tonnes through aquaculture as it’s a great source of income. As karimeen is so hardy that it can even breed in ornamental cisterns, temple tanks, step wells as well as irrigation ponds, it’s ideal for fish farming along with mullets and shrimps and provides additional income to the farmers.
However the best tasting karimeens are those that grow naturally in the backwaters of Kerala and enjoyed as tongue tingling karimeen pollichathu when they have been freshly caught and cooked.