Why learning to cook Pulicat’s food is important to save this ecologically sensitive wetland

Activism and seafood make for an uncommon, however unexpectedly persuasive, meal.

As a part of the continuing Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha, an all-star solid not too long ago mixed forces to convey Pulicat and its fishing group to town, by serving up a meal that was a artful mixture of prawn biryani, crab curry and hope.

For this intervention, cooks of Sea Salt joined forces with the ladies of Pulicat to edit generations of their culinary heritage into one, neat seafood thali, with inputs from Divya Karnad and Chaitanya Krishna of InSeason Fish. And Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha’s most participating volunteers, social activist-writer Nityanand Jayaraman and Carnatic music vocalist-author TM Krishna stepped in, wielding music and knowledge, to clarify why Chennai wants to be extra invested in Pulicat.

The outcome: a set of distinctive group gatherings for lunch and dinner over three days, utilizing Pulicat’s freshly caught, small, candy crabs to set off conversations about sustainability.

Discussing how the restaurant was full of appreciative diners, Chef Harish Rao, who hung out with the ladies in Pulicat to be taught their recipes, says that the food was an eye-opener.

Fresh catch from Pulicat

“There are various villages that come together there: they have an organisation where fisherwomen sit together for meetings. We went to their office premises to meet them,” he says, including that the cooks shortly realised that the recipes had been distinctive for 2 causes. “One is the fact that they have the backwaters, and the sea. So they get a variety of seasonal fish… all line-caught, or with a net,” he says.

Network of communities

So the cooks had been ready to incorporate contemporary ladyfish, silver biddy and mackerel into the thali, as well as to the prawns and crabs the realm is identified for.

The second is a wealthy culinary heritage born from this community of Hindus, Muslims and Christians residing and cooking aspect by aspect. “These women knew each other’s recipes, so we learnt from all of them, together,” says Chef Harish.

When requested for the speciality of the realm, the ladies cooked up crunchy prawn karakal, an ingenious dish that includes boiling contemporary prawns until the water evaporates, then roasting them until crisp in the identical kadai, with sea salt and purple chillies. “It just opened my eyes,” says Chef Harish, who has spent years collating recipes from communities throughout South India. He provides, “I had never seen anything like it.”

Every meal featured a classical vocalist. On Saturday evening, TM Krishna carried out, opening with a robust, and disarmingly informal rendition of the now acquainted ‘Poramboke’, which was launched in 2016 as a part of the marketing campaign to save Ennore Creek and the Kosasthalaiyar river.

Special meals

As he walked between tables singing — after wryly commenting, “I’ve been told I have to sing for my supper,” — the Sea Salt group started serving thalis, that includes mackerel puttu, dainty prawn vadais, crab masala and woman barbeque, as well as to a aromatic prawn biryani, and a cool, creamy rose kheer.

Discussing why this occasion is an important a part of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha, Nityanand stated, “Pulicat is one of the most important wetlands in Chennai. And it is under threat.” He spoke about “the danger of large industrial projects coming up, which threaten to smother the wetlands…”

Head to Pulicat

  • The Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha concludes with a day at Pulicat on February 16, beginning with a Nature path from the ocean to the backwaters, traversing over sand dunes. This will probably be adopted by lunch, cooked by the Pulicat group. It culminates in a live performance with dance and music, at 4.30 pm.
  • Buses are being organised. Check out the pageant’s Facebook web page for particulars on registration.

The Hindu reported in August 2019 how, with the Kattupalli port growth plan getting the preliminary nod from the Centre, the locals — fishermen and farmers — concern a lack of livelihood. And how, continued industrialisation of town’s far North has left a fragile, already polluted ecosystem gasping for breath. It provides that representatives from villages across the challenge Master Plan publicly opposed it, saying that the growth will imply the destruction of an ecology that sustains the livelihood of round 50,000 fisherfolk in and across the Ennore-Pulicat area.

“When they fight this battle, it is important that we support them,” added Krishna, “For our own survival, we need places like Pulicat.”

He then launched right into a music of the fishermen, pausing solely to clarify that almost all fishermen don’t sing any extra since mechanised boats lack the rhythm of the row boats. By the second verse, everybody was singing alongside.

In these occasions, chaotic with dangerous information and frenetic social media campaigns, Krishna and Nityanand have realised that essentially the most highly effective method to join with a distracted city viewers is to connect compelling faces to causes.

Even amidst an empathy burnout, it is tough to flip away after consuming a meal cooked by ladies just like the smiling G Rajalakshmi, who urged diners to get pleasure from their meal, including, “We are fighting this battle using food as our weapon.”

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