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Mumbai learned to eat fish even before it got its name!

Yes, Mumbai, or Bombay, or Bombaim, or Mombayn, or any other similar sounding names that ‘The Maximum City’ has smilingly borne down the ages, has a more than 2000-year-old history of the fishing community, called ‘Koli’ in the local dialect, who were the first occupants of this region and lent the name of their goddess ‘Mumba’ to the city. Those hard-working, happy harvesters of the sea laid the foundations of one of world’s top 10 centres of commerce.

As a toast to their forefathers and a rejoicing of kindred souls, every year the many Koli communities unite in their celebration of the bounty of the sea. And as a salute to that ancestry and in the right spirit of a seafood loving foodie, I return every year, sleeves turned up, stomach roaring like a stormy sea, diving into the depths of some of the most beautiful aromas and tastes in the galaxy!Some say the Versova Koli Seafood Festival in Mumbai is past its prime. After all, how do you sustain excitement around smelly (aromatic?) seafood? Or keep people coming back for the same stuff every year, for 8 years?? And seriously, how much seafood CAN you eat, right? WRONG!

Stuffed Crabs at Rs. 75-100 a pieceLast weekend this Koli festival was a triumph over all cynics, doubters and traitors, with its surging crowds till 2 am on all 3 days, frantic fish stalls selling every possible local preparation of any kind of seafood available in the Arabian Sea, and booming live music that, like the Whole Squid in Green Coriander Masala, just melted away before you could put much thought into it.

After a few platefuls of Stuffed Crabs, Roe Curry (the Great Indian Masala Caviar) and Crisp Fried Surmai (Kingfish Mackerel), the world seems like a better place to most… And the world was right there, scraping away at lobster shells and sucking off juicy little bits from crab legs – Seafood loving crowds gathering from far and nearpeople traveling from Japan, Australia and UK were mingling with scriptwriters, lyricists and producers from the Bollywood fraternity who were in turn sharing tables, story ideas and a drink or two with young members of the Koli community. Real fish nets used as canopies over food stalls The numbered stalls, more than 50 of them preening under canopies of large fish nets, became meeting points for enthusiastic groups of foodies, as friends from far-flung city suburbs converged by the sea with just seafood on their minds. For the world of seafood lovers, the sight and smell of Surmai (Kingfish Mackerel), Halwa (Pomfret), Rawas (Salmon), Bombil (Bombay Duck), Bangda (Mackerel), Tisrya (Clams), Kekda (Crabs), Mori (Shark), Jhinga (Prawn), and Shevand (Lobster) is enough inspiration to get the saliva and the creative juices flowing, much before the first delectable bite of the delicacies!

No one has to, but every stall has servers, cooks and order takers dressed in brilliantly colored traditional Saris (Navvaris) and seriously heavy gold ornaments, shining bright under the beaming night lights. No one has to, but every prawn-frier, pomfret-marinater, crab-roaster, fish-slicer or table cleaner welcomes you with a smile so warm, you wonder for a moment if you are actually related to them!

No one has to, but almost everyone (and their Aunt!) turns up next year for this annual fish pilgrimage in search of foodie peace and seafood salvation!

Plate-Licker’s Wisdom: (Yep, it’s back! Didn’t I mention the creative juices n all?) If you are in Mumbai during this fest, don’t miss it for all the fish in the world 🙂

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