It was four thirty in the morning and pitch black when we crawled into Chef Babu’s car. A quick drive down the hill and we crawled back out to roam the huge dock that’s home to Kozhikode’s Fish Auctions.
Lights blared from the top riggings down a long line of trawlers backed into the wharf. Muscle bound crews on board these vessels retrieved their haul from the icy slurry keeping them fresh in the belly of each boat. Buyers, all men, wrapped their traditional dhoutis (sarongs that can be made into shorts) up to shorts length to avoid getting wet from the slick surface where the catches are bartered for.
We were glad to be with chef. He’s a familiar face here and made our presence and our cameras acceptable. Pauli-Ann and I both find fish fascinating. For Pauli-Ann, it’s the textures, patterns, sizes, shapes and colours. For me, it’s the condition of the catch and the variety to cook with.
Catch of the Day
I began to evaluate each vessel’s bounty and Chef and I sized up the quality. The bulge of a fish’s eye tells the story of how many days out of the water it is. They should protrude. Never buy a fish with sunken eyes. Some of the fish here were so vital, they were still breathing. That would be “fresh” in terms of fish. The variety was also pleasing.
A four-foot-wide skate fish took several men to lift. Plastic totes that looked like Leggo blocks in orange, blue, yellow, white, and green began to fill and be sorted. They’d be loaded onto lorries and headed to restaurants that would feature this true “catch of the day” on their menu that evening. A parade of men carried them from dock to delivery vehicle. Sometimes the blocks on their heads towered five or six totes high.
Daylight crept over the land behind us and still a parade of fish passed us by. Now, they were mostly in smaller buckets on the heads of those thick-necked men in bright orange shirts. Metre long eels, bright red snapper, seerfish, pomfrets, prawns and the area’s famous Green Lip mussels we recognized. There were a dozen other we did not.
Gradually, the action quieted at the Kozhikode’s Fish Auctions. We noticed a few coffee shops on the street where the trucks exit, so we ventured in for a quick chai before heading back to the hotel for breakfast dosas. We had a full day of exploring other aspects of Kozhikode’s culinary delights before our cooking lesson with Chef in the late afternoon. More on that soon. For now, please enjoy the short video below and Pauli-Ann’s capture of the faces, this place, and those fish!
Thank you to Chef Babu from The Taj Kozhikode for guiding us through the Kozhikode fish auctions during our visit in 2017.
All words and photos are our own and were not shared with the sponsors before publication.